Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!
The plant is also sometimes called anthos from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”. Rosemary has a fibrous root system. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue. Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).
The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”. Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 – 1350, referring to rosemary as “Coronary”. Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” Rosemary root was “seethed in wine vinegar” and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm. The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 – 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 – 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will “doth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.”
Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly”. Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.
Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.
Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…). The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:
“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.”
Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.
In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.
Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.
Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture. Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.
Mum’s Herby Bread
-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil
For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing
Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
-1 medium sized potato -2 serving spoons of Brussel sprouts -1-2 generous tsp of cranberry sauce
Preheat the oven to 200C.
You have the option to either boil or microwave your potato. If you are boiling, cut the potato up into large chunks and place in a pan of boiling water. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft a cooked through. If you are microwaving it, pierce holes in the skin and microwave for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until the potato feels soft when squeezed.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and place in it the Brussel sprouts that have had their outer leaves removed and crosses stamped at the bottom of the stems. Boil for about 8 minutes or until soft.
In an oven proof container, layer the potato, followed by the Brussels. Smear the cranberry sauce over the top, with the option to mix it in.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. The cranberry sauce will be hot an bubbling.
Serve with a side of fried mushrooms or cheese for protein.
I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.
Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.
It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!
River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake
– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.
So… making raspberry curd and it using to make a pink cake just wasn’t fun enough. I had to try blackberries too!
We’ve had such a good harvest of blackberries this year thanks to the delightful rain we have in Surrey currently. Really, it can stop now, we’d like summer back please.
I made good use of the harvest by trying to make another berry curd.
After making the curd I tried to create another fruit curd cake. I was afraid that it was going to be quite bitty because blackberries have so many seeds, but honestly I didn’t even really notice it. It tasted very fruity, was a pink/purple colour with dark purple speckles from the bits of berries. The cake had a crusty top but a soft, light sponge. It was very quick and easy once the curd was made.
If you don’t fancy the cake or have far too much curd left over, try using it as a topping to ice cream – my brother recommends it!
– 4 egg yolks – 250g sugar – 200g butter – Zest and juice of 2 small lemons – 200-300g blackberries
In a pan, whisk together the yolks and sugar until combined.
Mix in the butter and lemons. Over a low flame, whisk the mixture, as if you are making custard, until it has thickened. This should take 20-30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the raspberries so that they breakdown and the mixture becomes pink coloured.
Leave it to cool completely before using it in a cake, spreading it on bread, or storing it in preserved jars in the fridge for up to a month.
So I didn’t get a lot planted this year because I was away from home for a couple of months, but we did get the potatoes in and the beans are being harvested now – last year’s beans!
We left our bean roots in the ground rather than dig them up by accident three years ago. We grew other things in the same trench over the winter so it was heavily guarded with double portions of horticultural fleece that protected it from the frost. We were in awe when the next spring, our old beans grew back. Since then, we have tried to protect all of our bean roots that we leave in the ground. This year we have a few that have re-grown for their third harvest, we have more that our on their second, and my mum managed to sow a few extra this year in another trench while I was absent.
I have been enjoying delicious beans boiled for dinner almost daily for a week now. I had to of course have them as part of my favourite dinner of all time – Baked Potato, Cheddar Cheese, Baked Beans and Runner Beans.
Preheat your oven to 200C. Cut out slug damage (if homegrown potatoes) or prick holes in the potato, to let the steam escape while cooking. Bake the potato in the oven for an hour, I like to leave mine in for another half an hour so that the skin is really crispy.
Boil a pan of water and add the sliced runner beans, turning the hob down to a low flame. Remove from the heat after about 8 minutes, drain.
Heat the baked beans in a pan over a medium flame. Remove from the heat once hot.
Grate enough cheddar cheese to serve.
Remove your potato from the oven, cut in half and mash a generous amount of butter into each part. Add the runner beans and the baked beans to the side and sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top of the potato and butter.
All of our raspberries are harvested and frozen for this summer’s season. I am using them to make lots of jam, but not only am I trying to make room in the freezer again for the runner beans (oh dear) but I am trying to use up the eggs of our many chickens and ducks that are laying non-stop.
My mum showed me this great idea – raspberry curd.
I thought of an equally good idea – raspberry curd cake.
I’ve already been making my lemon curd cake for a few years now, so why not try raspberry curd instead? Uses up raspberry and eggs, perfect!
Well, the curd was a little runny and when I created my cake mix, it looked bubblegum pink. This kind of frightened me a bit. It looked alright once cooked. When I cut a slice, it was very pink. I carefully tried a bit, with extra curd as a sauce, and wow, I actually thought it was alright! To me, it was better than the lemon curd cake, despite being pink!
If anyones curious to try it, the recipe is below. Have fun!
– 4 egg yolks – 250g sugar – 200g butter – Zest and juice of 2 small lemons – 210g raspberries
In a pan, whisk together the yolks and sugar until combined.
Mix in the butter and lemons. Over a low flame, whisk the mixture, as if you are making custard, until it has thickened. This may take some time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the raspberries so that they breakdown and the mixture becomes pink coloured.
Leave it to cool completely before using it in the cake (below), spreading it on bread, or storing it in preserved jars in the fridge for up to a month.