Rosemary imparts a delicious flavour and aroma to food. It is a healing herb for the body and soul, a beauty herb for hair and a fragrant air freshener for the home. In the garden it is a versatile plant that can be clipped into a neat hedge, shaped for topiary, grown in containers, or left to ramble abundantly in the garden.

Growing rosemary

All rosemary varieties do best in full sun and in soil that drains well. The preference is for rather poor chalky or stony soil but rosemary is surprisingly tolerant of most soil types. If your garden’s soil is too heavy, rather grow rosemary in a large pot or window box. As the ‘dew of the sea’ name suggests, rosemary is a good choice for coastal gardens, not minding the salty air and free-draining sandy soil.

This evergreen herb can be grown in really cold areas but should be placed in a position that is sheltered from frost. It would need to be trimmed after it flowers in spring. As a slow grower it needs to be planted where it has room to grow. However, it can also be grown and clipped into a neat hedge.

Rosemary is a good companion plant for beans, carrots, and cabbages – its aromatic property repel aphids and discourage snails, slugs, caterpillars and cutworms.

Old favourites

Rosemary ‘McConnell’s Blue’ is the most widely grown rosemary. It bears small blue flowers in summer and grows slowly but surely into a large bush. Prune and shape it regularly if you want a smaller, more compact shrub.

Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ is also called braai rosemary because its long straight stems can be used as sosatie or kebab sticks, imparting a delicious flavour to the meat. It has distinctive blue flowers.

Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus is a drought resistant, low-growing shrub with thin, grey, needle-like leaves and blue flowers.

Rosemary ‘Pink’ is an extremely hardy variety with pink flowers that grows into a small shrub.

Rosmarinus ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ A compact, erect shrub with light blue flowers in spring and summer. A medium sized plant that can be used as a low hedge and should be trimmed after flowering.

Indigenous rosemary

Wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) is a small, multi-branched shrub with clusters of small silver hairy leaves that smell like Vicks when crushed, and white or slightly purple flower heads. It has medicinal properties similar to that of R. officinalis as it has traditionally been used as a medicine for ailments like coughs, colds, flatulence and colic. It is an excellent plant for a low-maintenance garden.

Reasons to plant rosemary

  • Beat the heat by making rosemary syrup and adding it to soda water as a thirst quencher. Freeze the blue flowers in ice blocks and drop them into the drinks as well.
  • Rosemary is a classic flavouring for roast chicken and lamb. The leaves are rather tough so remove the sprigs before serving or strip the leaves off the stem and chop them finely.
  • Use rosemary sprigs and flowers to flavour marinades, vinegars, oils and dressings. If used sparingly, rosemary is delicious when added to stewed apples, sorbet, cakes and biscuits.
  • Add dried rosemary leaves to potpourri or use them to fill insect-repellent sachets to place in cupboards.
  • For anyone writing exams or just wanting to improve concentration, drink rosemary tea. It stimulates the circulation of blood to the head, improving memory and concentration.
  • Rosemary is also a tonic herb that helps relieve mild depression, aids recovery from long-term stress or chronic illness, and generally raises the spirits. Make a rosemary tincture or just sniff its aromatic leaves.
  • Rosemary water (a strong infusion) can be used as a hair tonic and rinse for dry hair and dandruff.
  • Rosemary is an excellent first-aid herb. It’s a natural antiseptic that can be used to wash wounds, cuts and scratches. A rosemary tea (infusion) helps relieve colds, flu, headaches and fatigue.
  • Relieve aching joints and tiredness by adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil or making a strong infusion and adding it to the bath water. Essential oil is also used in massage for muscular pain.
  • For a fragrant braai or winter fire, throw dried or fresh sprigs onto the fire. In days gone by rosemary was burnt like incense to mask bad smells.

Note: Please consult your doctor before using rosemary for any medicinal ailments.

The Gardener