Rosemary is one of the most decorative herbs and is well worth growing for its appearance alone. Dependent on the variety, it has small, profuse flowers appearing in late spring which range from dark blue through pale blue right down to white.
Site and Planting
Rosemary prefers a light soil, a sandy soil will fully satisfy its meagre feeding needs. Having said that, rosemary is tolerant of most soil conditions as long as they are not water-logged. Rosemary prefers a slightly limey soil (the opposite of acid) because this results in smaller plants with more fragrant leaves. True to its origins, rosemary prefers sunny and sheltered conditions. It will stand severe frosts if conditions are not windy and wet as well.
Seeds are readily available from most major seed merchants, although only for Rosmarinus officinalis - we have not seen any seed for sale for the other varieties. Sow the seeds in potting compost around mid-May time and place in a sheltered position in the garden - unfortunately you will only achieve a success rate of about 15%. The seedlings may well take up to 2 months to appear so don't give up hope until maybe 3 months has past.
The best method of propagating Rosemary is by taking cuttings, mid-May or June being the best time.
Select a healthy looking plant with lots of new growth on it.
Use a sharp knife to take 7.5cm (3in) cutting from young shoots either just below a leaf joint or torn off at the stem.
If tearing off a cutting, trim the "heel" to remove most, but not all of it.
Strip of the leaves from the lower 4cm (1½in), pulling them off with your fingers.
Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with standard potting compost and insert one or two cuttings in each pot. Water the compost from below and place in a propagator or cover it with a plastic bag.
A temperature of 15°C to 20°C (60°F to 70°F) is needed for the cuttings to root.
A windowsill out of direct sunlight is an ideal position. They can be transplanted to their permanent position when they have rooted, this will be in roughly 8 weeks time.
Rosemary can used fresh or dried for cooking, but it's best picked from the garden and used within a day or so. If kept in the fridge, fresh rosemary will last about a week. It enhances the taste of many meats and vegetables including lamb, veal, pork, chicken and more exotically rabbit. When roasting meat simply place a sprig or two of rosemary on top as it cooks. If you are traditionally roasting lamb, cut about ten 2cm (1in) lengths of rosemary stem and insert them into small cuts in the meat before roasting. The flavour is delicious!
It is often added to stuffings to give a strong flavour. Simply strip the leaves from the stem, chop them up finely and add to the stuffing. Rosemary imparts a superb flavour when the leaves are finely chopped and added to the traditional British dish "bubble and squeak" (cooked mixture of potatoes and cabbage). Rosemary goes well with most potato dishes. Try sprinkling finely cut rosemary over potatoes before they are roasted.
Rosemary is also a traditional ingredient in Italian dishes, chop the leaves finely and add them to pasta dishes and tomato sauces. When you've finished stripping off the leaves the remaining stem makes a superb barbecue skewer which will add a subtle rosemary flavour to the meat. If you want to add scent to barbecue smoke, simply throw five or six stems of rosemary onto the hot barbecue. The aroma may well encourage the neighbours round for a share of your barbecue, so beware!
Rosemary is often used to flavour salad dressings. Add a sprig or two to a bottle of vinegar, leave it for a week to let the flavour mingle, then combine with olive oil to make a salad dressing fit for a king.