Rosemary is a pretty little bush from the Mediterranean. There’s also a prostrate form, var. prostratus. Both types can be used in the same ways. Rosemary is quite tender, and has a tendency to keel over without warning, so it’s best to have a couple of plants, although you can go the gardener’s route of taking cuttings regularly – I guess it depends on how many friends you are likely to be able to pass any extras on to!
Because it is from the Med, it likes hot sunny positions with a bit of shelter, and does not like frost or cold wet winters at all. It grows best in poor light alkaline soil with ample lime.
Sow indoors March to June, barely cover seed, transplant to 8cm (3″) pots, or outdoors May to June 1cm (½”) deep, thin to 15cm (6″) apart.
Put in final position Fall or Spring when there is no risk of frost. Pick a sheltered spot, if possible.
Tidy the plants in Spring, and after a cold wet Winter take cuttings, as the plant may die unexpectedly. Prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth.
If you can bring it into a porch or conservatory in the winter (a full sized plant will be in a pretty big pot), it will appreciate it, or you can cover it with fleece or a cloche – or rely on the aforementioned cuttings. It doesn’t like having its roots disturbed, so if you will be bringing it indoors, grow it in a pot from the get-go.
Collect leaves and flowering tops in Spring and early Summer for immediate use, drying or distillation for oil. Traditional gardening advice is to prune back to stop it getting straggly after it has flowered, and this would be a good opportunity to get some drying material for use in the kitchen. It’s a slightly bitter herb but makes a great addition to lamb or chicken if used fairly sparingly, as well as lots of other uses.
In Herbal Medicine:
Rosemary is one of the best herbal remedies, but before I go on, I need to point out that anybody who suffers from high blood pressure or epilepsy should not use rosemary in large amounts or as herbal medicine. You should be fine using it sparingly in cooking, though.
A standard infusion made from 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves steeped in 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water for 15 minutes to 4 hours, before straining and use, is the normal way to use Rosemary.
You can add honey to make it sweeter, if you prefer. It’s used for depression, headaches, migraine, nervous exhaustion, indigestion and other digestive problems including gall bladder disorders, and for PMS. Pregnant women should restrict intake of this infusion to no more than one cup a day, diluted half and half with water.
You can also use the infusion as a mouthwash, and as a final rinse when washing your hair to treat dandruff and as a hair tonic for dark hair (blondes should use Roman chamomile for this instead).
The same infusion can be used externally for muscle pain, arthritis, rheumatism and as a skin tonic.
A cold compress, made by dipping clean cloth into a cooled standard infusion, and putting it over the affected area, will help to ease the pain of neuralgia, although it is unlikely to provide a complete cure.
You can make a rosemary oil maceration by filling an airtight jar with fresh rosemary and covering it with good quality oil (olive oil is good, go for the cheapest variety for medicinal purposes). Cover and leave it on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks, shaking it every day, then strain it and store in brown glass bottles, making sure to label it.
This oil would be great for a hot oil treatment for your hair. You can also use rosemary essential oil diluted at a rate of 1 drop essential oil to 2ml carrier oil (15 drops to 1/8 US cup). Warm up the oil (not too much – despite the name, hot oil treatments actually use warm oil) and apply it after washing your hair, massaging it well into the scalp.
Wrap your head in a towel and leave it for 2-3 hours (or overnight), then wash out with a mild (non-medicated) shampoo. You can use the same method to treat cooties (headlice) if necessary. The oil will suffocate the little blighters, and the rosemary aroma is also a deterrent.
Rosemary is pregnancy safe with a maximum dose of 1 cup a day of half-strength standard infusion. However, it’s best to avoid using rosemary oil maceration during pregnancy.