Rosemary is an aromatic herb that has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes. This versatile herb has a pine-like scent and works well with various foods including meat, fish, vegetables, and even desserts.
Beyond adding flavor, rosemary contains antioxidants and compounds that provide many potential health benefits. Read on for 14 fascinating facts about this useful herb!
A Little Botany
Rosemary, with the botanical name Rosmarinus officinalis, is an aromatic evergreen shrub that belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae. It’s related to other herbs like lavender, basil, thyme, and oregano.
Some quick rosemary plant facts:
- Grows 2-6 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide
- Has needle-like leaves with a leathery texture
- Flowers can be white, purple, blue or pink
- Native to the Mediterranean region
- Thrives in hot, dry climates
1. Folklore and History
The name rosemary comes from the Latin words “ros” meaning dew and “marinus” meaning sea. According to legend, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, draped her cloak over a rosemary bush when she rose from the sea foam. The flowers turned from white to blue, creating the rosemary we know today.
Rosemary has a long history of culinary and medicinal use dating back to at least 500 BC by ancient Greek scholars. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies – a tradition that continues today!
2. Potential Health Benefits
Current research shows compounds in rosemary including rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid and carvacrol may provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Some potential benefits being studied:
- Improved brain function and memory
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Better immune health
- Enhanced liver detoxification
- Anti-anxiety effects
- Protection against macular degeneration
More research is still needed, but adding more rosemary to your diet could be beneficial!
3. Evergreen Shrub
Unlike many other herbs, rosemary maintains its needle-like leaves year-round. It doesn’t die back in winter like basil or mint.
In warm climates, rosemary will keep growing for 10-15 years. In colder zones, it can be grown as an annual or brought indoors during winter.
4. Fragrant Pine-Like Scent
One of rosemary’s most recognizable qualities is its woodsy, pine-like fragrance. The scent comes from essential oils like borneol, bornyl acetate, camphene, and 1,8-cineole.
Rubbing or brushing up against rosemary releases more of its signature scent. When cooking with rosemary, the oils are released through the steam to fill your kitchen.
5. Flavor Pairs Well With Many Foods
As a robust herb, rosemary works well with a variety of ingredients including:
- Meat – lamb, beef, pork
- Fish – salmon, tuna, shellfish
- Vegetables – potatoes, carrots, squash, onions
- Bread and savory baked goods
- Eggs and cheese
- Citrus, wine and vinegar
Next time you’re cooking lamb, try adding some rosemary sprigs to the pan. You’ll bring a tasty pop of flavor!
6. High Antioxidant Activity
Antioxidants help defend your cells against damage from unstable molecules called free radicals. Compounds in rosemary including rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and carvacrol have demonstrated potent antioxidant activity.
In one study, adding powdered rosemary to ground beef prevented the meat from oxidizing as quickly. The rosemary was even more effective than a synthetic antioxidant!
7. May Support Brain Function
Some promising research indicates that rosemary’s scent can improve aspects of cognition. Participants exposed to the aroma of rosemary essential oil performed better on memory tasks and tests of alertness.
Additional studies suggest rosemary’s active compounds may protect brain cells and reduce inflammation in the brain. This could have implications for preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
While more research is still needed, incorporating more rosemary into your cooking seems like a smart move!
8. Easy to Grow
Rosemary isn’t too picky once its basic needs are met. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil to prevent fungal issues. Established plants are quite drought-tolerant.
You can grow rosemary from seeds, cuttings or transplants. Rosemary makes a nice addition to an herb garden, raised bed or containers. It also looks beautiful in ornamental landscapes and flower beds. Pruning periodically helps keep plants full and compact.
9. Different Varieties
While most of us are familiar with the standard upright rosemary bushes, there are some interesting varieties to consider:
- Trailing/prostrate rosemary – Grows along the ground in a creeping fashion. Nice for rock gardens and cascading over walls.
- Golden rosemary – Features yellow-green leaves with the same flavor. Provides beautiful contrast.
- Pink flowering rosemary – In spring, this variety is covered by light pink flowers. Great for landscaping.
- Tuscan Blue – Upright form with blue flowers, very cold hardy.
- Arp – Grows 4-6 feet tall! Excellent for topiaries.
10. Herb of Remembrance
Rosemary has been associated with memory and remembrance. In ancient Greece, students would wear rosemary garlands while studying for exams. Mourners tossed rosemary sprigs into graves at funerals.
It’s a tradition in Australia and New Zealand for mourners to wear small rosemary sprigs or carry bouquets on Anzac Day in remembrance of fallen soldiers.
11. Woody Stems
Mature rosemary develops thick, woody stems with peeling bark similar to a tree. Ancient Greek scholars used to call rosemary “Dendrolibano” which translates to “tree of Lebanon.”
On old rosemary shrubs, the lower branches start to lose vigor. Pruning out the oldest branches rejuvenates plants.
12. Natural Cleaning Agent
Harness the power of rosemary to make your household cleaners! Its antiseptic qualities make it perfect for disinfecting kitchens and bathrooms.
Try adding a few sprigs of rosemary to a spray bottle filled with white vinegar. Let it steep for a week before straining. Use the vinegar solution to clean counters, floors, and other surfaces. The whole house will smell amazing!
13. Repels Mosquitoes
If pesky mosquitoes are ruining your backyard barbecue, put some rosemary to work. Place pots of rosemary around your patio, deck, and yard to repel those annoying insects.
For an even stronger mosquito deterrent, rub crushed rosemary leaves directly on your skin.
14. Edible Flowers
Don’t discard the blooms after the rosemary finishes flowering! The purple, pink or white flowers make a pretty garnish for desserts, salads, and drinks.
The flowers have a sweet, floral taste. Try them on cakes, fruit tarts, or infused in vinegar.
Be sure to use flowers from plants grown without pesticides if you plan to eat them.
- Rosemary is an aromatic herb related to mint with needle-like leaves and a piney scent
- It has a long history of culinary and medicinal use dating back to ancient Greece
- Rosemary provides antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial compounds
- Research shows rosemary may benefit the brain, liver, immune system and more
- This versatile herb pairs well with meats, fish, veggies, bread, citrus, and wine
- Rosemary is easy to grow in gardens and containers
- Use rosemary’s antiseptic properties to make natural cleaners
- Plant rosemary to repel mosquitoes or rub it on your skin
Frequently Asked Questions
What does rosemary taste like?
Rosemary has a woodsy, pine-like flavor with subtle notes of lemon and mint. The intensity of taste depends on the age of the leaves and how it’s prepared.
What foods pair well with rosemary?
Some of the most popular ingredients to pair with rosemary are lamb, beef, pork, chicken, fish, potatoes, carrots, winter squash, bread, eggs, citrus, and wine. The robust flavor of rosemary stands up well to bold foods.
Is rosemary safe to eat?
Yes, rosemary is safe for most people to consume in normal food amounts. Pregnant women should avoid large doses of rosemary as a supplement or essential oil because it may increase the risk of uterine contractions.
Can rosemary be grown indoors?
Rosemary makes a nice indoor houseplant in colder climates. Pot the rosemary in well-drained soil and give it at least 6 hours of sunlight per day from a south or west-facing window. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Watch for spider mites, scale, and mealybugs on indoor rosemary.
When is the best time to prune rosemary?
For upright rosemary varieties, it’s best to prune just after flowering in spring. This maintains the shrub’s shape, prevents legginess, and encourages more flower production. Trailing rosemary can be trimmed as needed during the growing season to keep it contained. Avoid pruning rosemary late in fall.