There is probably not a more versatile plant in our landscape than rosemary. It makes a great hedge, tolerates salt spray, dry sandy soils, smells great, has medicinal properties and is a tasty spice. This fragrant shrub lends itself to formal or informal pruning and fills a niche most landscapes.
Rosemary, a woody perennial herb, can grow to six feet tall but is easily maintained at well below that. Some varieties are trailing. Rosemary responds extremely well to pruning and is one of the few woody evergreen shrubs that grow well in oceanfront applications. It thrives in sun to partial shade. The pleasing distinctive smell makes it ideal around a porch or patio.
Dense needle-like leaves usually display slight variegation. Blue edible flowers emerge in spring. Some cultivars may have white or lavender blooms. Petals liven up and add color to salads, biscuits, and jellies.
Leaves add flavor to vegetables and meats. I think they are almost indispensable in marinades and stuffing for poultry, chops or fish. Don’t leave rosemary out of your marinara sauce either. Use leaves fresh or dried. Place foliage in a saucepan on the stove with plenty of water. It makes great simmering potpourri. Stems, especially blooming ones are great for wreaths and floral designs both fresh and dried.
Rosemary is hardy here, but not too far north of this area; so many people grow it in pots and place them in south facing windows during winter. They prefer humid conditions but should not be over-watered. Plants are easily propagated by seeds or cuttings, so you can have plenty to share with neighbors.
Besides landscape beauty, culinary uses, and air freshening, rosemary is used extensively as a medicinal herb. Leaves are high in antioxidants and aid in cell maintenance. Plant oils have blood thinning properties and are a strong diuretic.
Due to these traits significant doses generally reduce blood pressure and are often used for that. However, if you are already on blood pressure medication don’t consume high quantities of rosemary without clearance from your doctor. Small amounts used in seasoning are inconsequential.
Rosemary infusions are used topically as anti-inflammatories for arthritis. Preparations are also used to relieve menstrual cramping and water retention, but pregnant women should avoid high doses. Research shows there might be an increase in the chance of miscarriages. Again, spicing food isn’t a problem.
Rosemary is often used in many hair care products. Part of the reason is its fragrance. However, numerous sources claim regular use of rosemary oil helps stimulate follicles and allows hair to grow longer and stronger. It is also believed that regular use of rosemary oil slows down premature hair loss and graying of hair. Some commercial dandruff preparations include rosemary oil.
Research is also being conducted on the effectiveness of rosemary in treating various cancers, specifically breast and prostate cancer. Powerful antioxidant chemicals are a likely reason. For centuries herbalists claimed rosemary was effective for preventing memory loss. Research is ongoing for using the herb to treat Alzheimer’s.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.