Friday, February 17, 2012

Plant profile: Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Latin name: Rosmarinus officinalis ("roz-MAR-in-us oh-FISHY-nal-us")
Common name: Rosemary
Originally from: The Mediterranean
Blooms: Little violet blue flowers cover the stems in early spring. Some varieties have white or pink flowers.
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: The middle back bed has a large one, and there are two in the Mariposa Center Garden.

Rosemary is a classic Mediterranean climate plant, and popular for good reason. It's very drought tolerant, it has a tidy upright or cascading form depending on the cultivar, and thick, aromatic evergreen foliage with small flowers that are just a bonus. Grow it to eat, or as a well-behaved shrub in your dry garden.

The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, derived from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" because in many locations it needs no water other than the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live. And you'd better believe it. In sunny Potrero Hill we have several rosemary plants at PG and on the roastingly-hot and zero water Mariposa Center Garden that are happy as can be.

The aromatic scent of rosemary wafts around the garden in hot sun, when rain hits them, or if you brush past. And oh that smell! Reminds me of all the roasted meats and delicious stews and barbecues I've ever had.

Aside from it's many culinary uses, rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance. It's been found that carnosic acid, found in rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. So I guess there's some truth to the memory thing.

Wikipedia syas:
"In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew, it was a good omen for the union and family. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieves says “A rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.” If a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love.

Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb. Several herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. They were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly."

I have to say that your average wench in the Middle Ages probably had bad teeth and foul breath and never bathed, so a nice scented poppet went a long way to making her more attractive!

UPDATE June 2016:
Rosemary is one tough plant. Seems drought proof! Just remember to keep it pruned into shape each year after flowering.
 

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