Rosemarinus officinalis, or rosemary, is an evergreen, woody herb native to the Mediterranean region. An ancient herb steeped in myth and tradition, it’s well-known and beloved in the kitchen for its sweetly pungent leaves and flowers.
Masses of tiny blue, white, pink, or purple flowers appear in late winter and early spring, covering its stems in blossoms for a striking early-season display. This mass flowering also makes it an important early food source for pollinators and cold weather hummingbirds.
Rosemarinus is Latin for “dew of the sea,” and officinalis indicates this is an official variety used in medicine, or that the plant is considered to have medicinal properties.
Slow-growing in its first year or two, it will grow up to 4 feet tall with a spread of 6-8 feet, depending on the variety you’ve chosen.
Grown for culinary, cosmetic, and ornamental value, rosemary is easy to grow and care for when given the right conditions.
In the Kitchen
This classic herb has long been used with meats such as lamb, pork, veal, and stews, and it’s a natural with poultry and fish.
Along with other herbs – like marjoram, oregano, savory, and thyme – rosemary is an ingredient in one of the essential blends of French cooking, herbes de Provence.
With its delicious and distinctive pinewood flavors, it’s also liberally used with veggies and in dressings, vinaigrettes, butters, jam, breads, and stuffing.
The leaves, or needles, give their best flavor when used fresh, but they also store well by either freezing or drying.
And a chunk of dried wood from pruning, or green stems placed on the barbecue grate, add a sweet, smoky taste to many grilled foods.
Pour Les Toilettes
With intense fragrance, the essential oils are popular for use in perfumes, lotions, and toiletries, while the dried needles and flowers are a favored addition for linen sachets, potpourris, and aromatherapy.
The oil is often used as a stimulant said to boost memory, concentration, and mental clarity. It’s also often found in dental health products, such as mouthwash, due to its astringent, antibacterial properties.
You can also enjoy its aromatics in your own bathtub.
Bundle 4 to 6 tender tips together. Then, tie them in a piece of cheesecloth to make a sachet. Add to your bathwater, and once it’s been warmed, gently squeeze the sachet to release the oils, and breathe deeply. Repeat until dreamy…
For the Ornamental Garden
With its fragrance, profusion of tiny flowers, shape, and robust growth, the many cultivars of Rosemarinus are also useful and handsome ornamentals in the garden.
A ground-hugging cultivar such as R. officinalis prostrates ‘Clera McHenry’ can effectively be used as a ground cover. Tall, upright varieties such as R. officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ make a handsome hedge, or can be used as anchor plants. And dwarf varieties like ‘Roman Beauty’ can easily be trained and trimmed into bonsai shapes, or standardized.
There are two main varieties, upright and creeping, both of which are highly fragrant. Uprights are better suited for shaping and as specimen plants, while the creepers are good for ground covers, or to add slope stability.
This garden stalwart also makes an excellent companion plant, as few pests find its intense flavor and fragrance to be palatable.
It may become susceptible to powdery mildew when crowded or grown in a wet environment. Ensure your plant has plenty of sunshine, good drainage, and adequate air circulation to restore health.
When needed, prune hard after flowering by cutting back by one-third to one-half. And savor the intense aromatics as you remove the cut branches – it’s like being at the spa!
Also, you’ll want to save the larger pieces of wood after a hard pruning.
Stripped of their leaves and branches, a chunk of rosemary smoking on the barbecue adds delicious, savory flavor to grilled foods!
Cultivation and Care
Rosemary is easily grown from seed and stem cuttings, which you can learn about here, and loves an environment similar to its native habitat.
Give it a full-sun exposure in a well-drained location, with average soil. It requires only moderate amounts of water, and a top dressing of organic material in the spring will round out its care requirements.
It can’t abide wet feet and enjoys soil that has a bit of texture from sand or small rocks to improve drainage.
Collect seeds from the stems in summer after they’ve dried, and sow in early spring. Or, after flowering, take stem cuttings from old wood with a bit of new growth at the tip.
For aromatherapy and perfume, the essential oils are most concentrated just before the plant flowers, but needles can be harvested at any time of the year.
For a Fresh, Potted Supply
Rosemary does grow in pots, but it won’t thrive in containers the way it does when grown in the ground.
With minimal care, this bushy herb will grow with abandon, often growing 12 to 16 inches in a summer. But if grown in pots for too long, plants can lose their vigor and become stunted.
To ensure the most tender, flavorful leaves for the kitchen herb garden, replace your container every spring with a fresh plant.
For a steady supply of young potted plants, take several stem cuttings each spring and plant them up in two 6- to 8-inch pots. Leave them in a sheltered spot in the garden with morning sun and adequate moisture until the next spring, when the pot with the best growth may be moved to the kitchen garden.
The second pot can come indoors in autumn to overwinter if needed. Find a bright spot to grow indoors, water regularly, and mist the needles weekly to help to provide humidity.
To keep rosemary compact, pruning should be done after flowering in late spring to mid-summer. And avoid pruning in autumn or winter, as this tender perennial needs to harden off to survive cold weather.
Rosemarinus officinalis Plant Facts
- Easy to grow.
- Propagates best from seed or stem cuttings.
- Belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae.
- Needs good drainage, can’t tolerate wet roots.
- Does best in full sun.
- Requires only moderate watering.
- Prefers average soil with some sand mixed in.
- Feed once in spring with compost or a 10-10-10 fertilizer.
- Pick stem tips in the afternoon for best flavor and fragrance.
- Reliably winter hardy to Zone 9.
- Cold-hardy cultivars are now available as well.
Where To Buy
Live rosemary can be bought in 4-inch pots, like these organic ones that are available on Amazon.
Grown in Oregon at Stargazer Perennials, this ‘Arp’ variety has a hardiness rating to Zone 5 (with some winter protection) – a good option for those with cold winter climates.
And you can also buy rosemary seeds online, like these available from True Leaf Market.
From Flavor to Fragrance
You can read more about this fascinating and healthful herb on our sister site, Foodal.
For a feast of garden-fresh carrots, this recipe for Roasted Rosemary Carrots is a must-make!
Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn is another flavor option, if you’re in the mood for a quick snack. The Domestic Dietitian shares the recipe.
Or, for the main dish, try infusing lamb with the flavor of fresh herbs employed as a cooking implement, with these gorgeous Grilled Rosemary Lamb Skewers. Get the recipe now from Vintage Kitty.
Try your hand at growing this versatile herb and see for yourself how easy and rewarding it is for the kitchen, bath, and in the garden.
Really, all you need to remember is that it requires full sunlight and good drainage. Provide these two elements, and this is a plant that will practically look after itself!
How about you folks, any thoughts or questions about rosemary that you’d like answered? Drop us a line in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page!
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Product photos via Stargazer Perennials and True Leaf Market. Recipe photos via The Domestic Dietitian and Vintage Kitty, used with permission. Rosemary carrots by Felicia Lim, and all otherwise uncredited photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Lorna Kring
A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!