The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Ask Rosemary to Your Next Dinner

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The herb rosemary is finding its place once again in our food, our gardens and our traditions. In folklore, rosemary is a symbol of fidelity, linked to remembrance, friendship, and love. Bride's bouquets are once again including rosemary, and mourners, to signify that the departed would not be forgotten, once tossed sprigs of rosemary into graves.

I love the pungent evergreen smell of rosemary. It's kind of a people version of catnip. It's just fun to roll around in it. Rosemary is not only a pretty plant to have in the garden but also a fine addition to cooking. Charles Voigt, U of I Extension Vegetable and Herb Specialist, shares some tips on using and growing rosemary.

Rosemary is a strong flavor, which should be used sparingly, as an accent. The flavor of rosemary has been described as piney, pungent, minty, and sweet, with a ginger aftertaste. If the plant in question smells like it would taste good, then chances are it will.

Leaves and tender stem tips can be eaten, but whole, mature leaves can be tough and hard to chew, especially when dried. It's best to mince or pulverize leaves before adding to a dish, or to place whole sprigs in cheesecloth bags, so that they can be removed before serving.

Rosemary is a widely adaptable culinary herb that can be used to season meats such as poultry, fish, lamb, beef, veal, pork, goat, and game, particularly when they are roasted. Other foods that blend well with the flavor of rosemary include tomatoes, spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash, cheese, eggs, and lentils. Herbs compatible with rosemary include chives, thyme, chervil, parsley, and bay. Additional uses include soups, marinades, salad dressings, bouquet garni, and cream sauces. Fine restaurants often serve extra virgin olive oil infused with rosemary as a bread dipping taste treat.

Mature, woody stems of the strongly upright varieties can be used as skewers for shish kebob. Leaves are stripped, the tender stem tips removed, and the woodier end of the branch sharpened to pierce the ingredients to be grilled. Only older, stiff branches will stand up to this treatment. The branch may help to subtly season the roasting food from the inside out. Marinades or basting liquids seasoned with rosemary leaves and garlic can further enhance the flavor.

There are many popular rosemary cultivars available from herb growers around the country. Rosemary plants are often sold as either "upright" or "prostrate," referring to their general habit.

Popular cultivars include uprights such as 'Arp' (gray foliage, light blue flowers), 'Athens Blue Spire' (a new cultivar released by the University of Georgia supposedly hardy into USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5), 'Joyce DiBaggio' (sold as Golden Rain and new growth is streaked with yellow), 'Madalene Hill' (also sold as Hill Hardy), 'Rexford' (a good culinary choice, but sadly one of the least winter hardy cultivars), 'Shady Acres' (a recent release with excellent culinary quality), and 'Tuscan Blue' (dark blue-violet corollas).

Common prostrate cultivar names are 'Santa Barbara' and 'Huntington Carpet' and 'Lockwood de Forest.'

A relatively new form of rosemary is 'Blue Boy' (a compact, dwarf plant with small leaves and short internodes, which is well suited by its size to container culture). A form with an intermediate habit, which tends to spread, shrub-like, with occasional trailing stems, is 'Majorca.'

Rosemary is not reliably hardy in central Illinois. So you can bring it indoors during the winter or just hope for the best. Some of the hardier cultivars are 'Arp,' 'Athens Blue Spire,' 'Madalene Hill,' and the white-flowered types.

Rosemary does its best growth in full sun and well-drained soil. For more information on rosemary contact us for the fact sheet "Rosemary, Dew of the Sea."

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