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 in a nutshell

  • 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.

Rosemary Roasts

Braai or roast – that’s usually the choice when planning the family feast. Rosemary, of course, is the perfect partner for either.

For the braai:

Use this tasty marinade for lamb or chicken: 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, ½ a cup of lemon juice, 1/8 of a cup of olive oil and 1 lemon, sliced. Let the meat marinate overnight. Use sprigs of Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ as meat skewers or rosemary branches as a basting brush.

For the roasts:

Chicken (or turkey): Stuff fresh sprigs of rosemary into the cavity so that the flavour infuses from the inside. If the chicken is stuffed, simply add sprigs above and below the bird while roasting, and tuck some into its elbows. Remove the sprigs when cooked. The gravy will have a delicious rosemary flavour.

Lamb: Rub finely chopped rosemary and garlic mixed with lemon-juice onto the meat and roast. Alternatively, stud the leg of lamb with garlic and sprigs of rosemary, and let it rest for at least an hour before roasting. Add more garlic and rosemary sprigs, with veggies, to the roasting pan.

Rosemary roast potatoes: Toss par-boiled potatoes (halved) in butter, salt and chopped rosemary. Place on a very hot baking tray and roast in the oven for 45 minutes or until gold and crispy. Turn a few times while cooking.

Rosemary Oil

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-decorated candles

Candles always add to the festive atmosphere, and the heat will also release the rosemary fragrance. Make a rosemary wreath as a base for the candles or tie a piece of hessian around a plain white candle using rough string, and push in a twig of rosemary.

Rosemary wreath

Use rosemary to make a festive table decoration or even an edible wreath! To make an edible wreath, make a rosemary wreath using a florist oasis ring, push in toothpicks and spike on tasty snacks like stuffed olives, gherkins, cheese, and peppadews.

Rosemary cocktail

For a rosemary-flavoured cocktail with a kick, bring a handful of rosemary sprigs, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2/3 of a cup of water to the boil, and simmer for five minutes. Strain and pour the cooled mixture into a jug full of ice cubes, and top with 450ml chilled ginger ale and ½ litre of orange juice, and finish by adding vodka or flavoured cane spirit.

Rosemary tonic

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.

Rosemary remedies

  • 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.

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.

Growing Rosemary

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.

READ MORE: Learn more about growing rosemary

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!

The Gardener