Food of the Week: Rosemary

Rosemary is natively from around the Mediterranean (Shutterstock)

Rosemary, scientifically known as Rosmarinus officinalis, is a fragrant shrub known to have been in culinary use as early as around 500B.C. Rosemary gets it distinct aroma from the oils contained in its evergreen needle-like leaves.

Natively from around the Mediterranean, rosemary belongs to the mint plant family - Lamaiceae. Its name, rosemary, is derived from Latin words ‘ros,’ meaning dew and ‘marinus’ meaning sea. Meaning the name loosely translates to ‘dew of the sea.’

There are also several legends trying to explain how the bush got its name. In Greek mythology, when the Greek goddess Aphrodite rose from the sea, she had rosemary draped around her.

Another legend says that the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak over a rosemary bush which had blossomed with white flowers and the flowers turned blue. The shrub was then referred to as the ‘Rose of Mary.’

A rosemary plant has blue-purple flowers (Shutterstock)

Generally, rosemary is used in cooking as a seasoning in a number of dishes including soups, salad, stews, casseroles, and in tea. It is also used is meaty dishes including fish and chicken and it is also good with potatoes and mushrooms.

Apart from its culinary use, Rosemary is also a medicinal herb and it is known to help strengthen the brain and memory. It also has substances useful for better blood circulation and improved digestion.

Benefits of Rosemary

Rosemary has a number of health benefits as it is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

The fragrant evergreen herb is also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds which help fight free-radicals (harmful particles), boost the performance of the immune system and also boost circulation of blood in the body. Here are some of its benefits:

Rosemary is used to treat indigestion and it has even been approved as a treatment for indigestion by Germany’s Commission E.

However, it is prudent to know that currently there is no scientific evidence that indeed rosemary can treat indigestion.

A research outlined in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, states that rosemary’s fragrance can improve a person’s concentration, speed, performance and accuracy. It also adds that it can, though to a lesser extent, also improve someone’s mood.

Through research, rosemary has been found to be good for the brain. It contains carnosic acid, an ingredient which can fight off free radicals that can cause damage in the brain. According to some studies done in rats, rosemary might be helpful for people who have experienced stroke. It appears to be protective against brain damage and might improve recovery.

Some studies also suggest that rosemary can significantly help prevent brain aging. The therapeutic properties of rosemary are also thought to be good for prevention of Alzheimer.

Rosemary is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which are thought to help improve blood circulation and boost the immune system. Laboratory tests and studies have shown that the antioxidants in rosemary can neutralize free radicals.

Rosemary doesn’t need much of attention to grow and you can grow yours at home in pots (Shutterstock)

Growing rosemary

With very little care, you can enjoy both the aesthetic and practical benefits of the rosemary. They are easy to grow and they look nice in a wide variety of landscaping arrangements.

You can easily grow your rosemary at home and it doesn’t matter if you are living in an apartment as it can be potted. Rosemary doesn’t need much of attention to grow. It prefers its soil loamy with a pH somewhere around six and seven.

It also requires the soil to drain well and be at a place with a lot of light thus making it a little tricky to grow indoors. The plant doesn’t require a lot of water and even though the soil drains well, you need to wait until the soil is dry before watering again.

If you are growing your rosemary on a container, it is important to ensure the soil drains well so that you don’t risk the roots rotting due to damp conditions.

Since rosemary can grow into a massive plant, it requires frequent pruning. To plant your rosemary, you can go for a cutting, a seedling or even a larger plant from a nursery.

With a cutting, you need about 5 to 8 inches of a rosemary shoot. You then remove leaves at the bottom where you cut and then place the cutting in water covering at least the lowest two or three nodes. Once roots begin to grow, you can then transfer the cutting to a pot.

Rosemary requires frequent pruning as it can grow into a masive plant (Shutterstock)

Prepping rosemary

When you want to use your rosemary, first you need to rinse your fresh sprigs of rosemary under cold running water and pat dry. Most recipes use whole leaves and you can easily remove them from the stems by pulling the needles in the opposite direction from which they grow on the stalk.

The needles can be used as they are or you can consider mincing them by gathering them in a bunch and rocking a knife back and forth over the pile until they are fine. However, you can also add the whole rosemary sprigs to your stews and meat dishes.

You can use your rosemary as leaves or as a sprig (Shutterstock)

Storing rosemary

There are a number of ways you can store your rosemary; here are some:

You can consider drying your rosemary if you want to keep it for future use. To dry them, you can place your sprigs on a rack or tie them in bunches and hang them inverted. Once they are dry, you can remove the leaves and store in an airtight jar or a plastic food storage bag.

Yes, it is possible to freeze your rosemary.

You can place your fresh rosemary leaves in ice cube trays filled with water or even olive oil. You can also arrange sprigs, if you don’t want to keep them as leaves, on a baking tray and then freeze them. Once they are completely frozen, you can carefully transfer them to a bag.

To store rosemary, the sprigs can be kept in a plastic food storage bag. Fresh rosemary can be refrigerated for about a week.

You can also mince your rosemary into fine particles (Shutterstock)

Side effects of rosemary consumption

Rosemary is safe when taken in low doses. Although rare, when consumed in large doses it can have serious side effects including vomiting, spasms, pulmonary edema (a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid leaving the body struggling to get enough oxygen and causes shortness of breath), and coma.

High doses of rosemary may also cause miscarriage. Consequently, it is not advisable for pregnant women to take supplemental rosemary.

Quick rosemary facts