Winter Ways with Rosemary
Frost-hardy rosemary is a boon in winter: it makes the perfect protective, edible hedge, infuses a steamy bath with its invigorating essential oils, helps take away winter blues, and is an essential ingredient of the most succulent, winter-warming roasts. We often take rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) for granted. Once it is in the garden it is just there – it doesn’t demand water, over-grow everything, or mind excessive heat or cold. Winter is a good time to get reacquainted with this herb. It flavours succulent roasts, can be added to bathwater for a reviving soak, freshens the home, and is a tonic for dispelling winter blues. Cut a sprig, inhale it deeply, and you will discover its power.
How easy it is to take rosemary for granted. Once it is in the garden it is just there – it doesn’t demand water, doesn’t over-grow everything, and doesn’t mind heat or cold. Winter is a fine time to become reacquainted with this herb. Cut a sprig, inhale it deeply and you will discover its power. Then take it further and try some of these winning winter ways with rosemary.
• Rosemary is a shrubby, frost-hardy, perennial herb.
• Does best in full sun and in light soil that drains well.
• Is drought tolerant and disease free, and its’ aromatic foliage repels pests.
• A good companion plant for carrots, and its flowers attract bees.
• Both spreading and upright varieties can be grown as individual specimen plants, as medium high hedges, or in containers.
When roasting chicken, lamb or pork, lay a few sprigs on the bottom of the roasting pan. As you baste, the pan juices mixed with rosemary will give the meat a delicious flavour.
Also add a sprig or two to oven-roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes or baby potatoes.
Quick tip: After boiling baby potatoes, squash them open, grind over coarse sea salt, add a sprig or two of rosemary, drizzle with olive oil, and then roast.
Make rosemary oil and rub it onto meat before roasting or grilling, drizzle over vegetables and onto pizza bases, and combine with wine vinegar in salad dressings. Here’s how:
• Pick 200 g fresh rosemary and let it dry. Lightly bruise the leaves and put into a sterilised bottle. Pour in 500 ml oil, making sure the herb is completely covered.
• Seal the jar and put it on a windowsill or near a warm stove. Avoid a position that gets too hot or the herbs will become musty.
• Shake the jar at least once a day. Within two weeks, the oil should be ready. Taste the oil and if the flavour is not strong enough, repeat the process with fresh herbs.
• If the flavour is strong enough, strain out the herbs or leave the sprigs in the bottle. The oil will only last about 3 months
Rosemary has an age-old reputation as an invigorating tonic herb that helps relieve mild depression and stress – especially after flu or other winter ailments. Make your own tonic in the form of a rosemary tincture. Take 2 ml, twice a day, in water. You will need fresh rosemary, vodka or apple-cider vinegar, and a glass container with a lid. Put 240 g finely-chopped herb into a glass container. Pour in 500 ml vodka or apple-cider vinegar to completely cover the herbs, and close the container tightly. Label the bottle (herb and date) and put it in a warm place, away from direct sunlight, for 2 weeks, and shake it well every day. After 2 weeks, strain the mixture through a muslin cloth, and wring out all the liquid. Pour the tincture into a dark bottle, label it, and then keep it in a cupboard.
• A rosemary infusion relieves headaches, because it stimulates the circulation of blood to the head. Take 50ml every three hours.
• A gargle of rosemary infusion relieves a sore throat because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
• As a tonic, it helps recovery from chronic illness because it is thought to stimulate the adrenal glands.
• A long, soaking bath is one of the rituals of winter. A strong infusion of rosemary added to the bathwater revives the body, especially easing tired, aching muscles.
• Rosemary has an age-old reputation as an invigorating tonic herb that helps to relieve mild depression and stress, especially after flu or other winter ailments.
Although indigenous to the Mediterranean, rosemary is grown around the world because it is so simple and rewarding to cultivate, especially for beginner gardeners. The most commonly grown varieties are ‘McConnell’s Blue’, a creeping variety, and ‘Tuscan Blue’, a more compact, upright growing variety. Unlike the more delicate herbs, rosemary makes a statement. Being evergreen, it can be clipped into hedges, shaped as topiary, pruned into a standard or just allowed to grow into a single specimen plant that’s covered in blue or white flowers in spring and autumn. It also makes the perfect pot specimen. All rosemary needs is full sun, well-drained soil and not too much water. Although frost hardy, it still needs a sunny, protected position during winter. To prevent it from becoming straggly, prune hard in summer after flowering, but don’t cut back into the old wood.
Rosemary room freshener
During the Middle Ages, rosemary was used as a strewing herb to mask household smells and keep insects away. A modern application of this is to make a strong infusion, add a cup of vinegar, a squirt of dishwashing liquid, and then use it as a floor and surface cleaner. Hang up bunches of fresh rosemary and rub fresh leaves over counter tops, tables, and windowsills.
Four traditional uses for rosemary you probably didn’t know about
• Place among books to keep moths at bay.
• Sprigs left under the bed prevent nightmares.
• Planted at the front door, it protects those inside from evil.
• It was grown at law courts for the protection and enjoyment of the judge, and to help his memory and concentration.
TIP: Plant your rosemary in front of lemon or orange trees – they make smart companions, the rosemary helping to deter the aphids attracted to the citrus, and the needly, grey-green and textured rosemary leaves complementing the broad, lime-green leaves of the citrus trees beautifully. What’s more, the true-blue flowers of the rosemary offer the perfect contrast to the yellow or orange fruits of the citrus. To cap it all, rosemary and citrus are often complementary cooking ingredients too!