- Last Updated on 08:08 AM 02/05/14
- BY Gale Washburn/Special to The Gazette
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, a member of the mint family, thrives in mild, sunny regions as in the desert-like conditions of the Middle East. Herb of legend and of Christmas, rosemary is the herbal symbol of love, loyalty and remembrance.
Rosemary, Rose of the Sea, Dew-of-the-Sea and Rose of Mary, is not mentioned specifically in the Bible but is a plant of ancient lineage. Precious oils were used to anoint and heal the sick and are mentioned 188 times in the Bible.
Biblical lore claims that a rosemary plant will never grow higher than six feet so as not to stand taller than Christ. Another legend explains that the flowers were originally white, but changed to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on a rosemary shrub while fleeing from Herod’s soldiers with the Baby Jesus.
Rosemary has a reputation for strengthening the memory, perhaps because of its strong, stimulating fragrance. As a result, it was used in weddings, in bridal bouquets and worn in the bride’s hair as a symbol of remembrance. At funerals, rosemary was buried with the dead to signify that they would not be forgotten.
Rosemary has many historical uses. The aromatic branches were burned as a disinfectant to prevent disease. Different preparations of the plant were used for toothache, headache, gout, coughs and even baldness.
Pharmacologists use the oil of rosemary, in a diluted form, as a tonic and digestive aid. There is some evidence that the plant is effective in controlling muscle spasms. Used to improve memory and to lift the spirits, it has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. The potent fragrance will invigorate the senses.
Rosemary is a shrubby, semi-hardy, evergreen perennial. It can grow three to six feet tall with spreading, woody stems and needle-like leaves. The foliage is dark green to gray green and has a strong, piney fragrance. Lavender pink to blue blossoms cover the plant in spring or even during mild winters. Frost hardy varieties include Salem, ARP and Hill Hardy. Prostrate varieties are less hardy.
Like other Mediterranean herbs, rosemary requires full sun and sharp drainage. Sandy or gravelly soil ensures good drainage. Rosemary is well-suited to rock gardens, raised beds and containers. It can be propagated by mid-summer cuttings.
Rosemary leaves can be used fresh or dried. It is most aromatic in July and August, so best picked then for drying. The flowers also can be used. Harvest year-round or after flowering to promote full growth, but don’t cut back into old wood. Cut stems of rosemary and use as skewers for potatoes or grilled meat to impart its wonderful flavor. Chop the fresh or dried leaves and use in a dry rub for meats. Use sparingly in baked goods. Spice up tea or lemonade with fresh leaves or flowers.
The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of local enthusiasts interested in learning and sharing knowledge of gardening, crafting and cooking with herbs. Members come from Halifax, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte counties.
The society meets on the third Saturday of the month. On May 3, the society will be participating in Flora Fest with the Charlotte County Master Gardeners by offering a herb plant sale and an herbal luncheon with a French theme.
For more information or to purchase luncheon tickets, contact Kathy at 434-454-4208 or e-mail
Grilled Herb Burgers
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
• Combine ground beef with all of the above or one’s choice of herbs. Shape into four patties. Grill, covered, over medium-high heat for five to six minutes on each side or until cooked through. Serve with fresh from the garden tomato slices on crusty rolls.