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Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – Roosmaryn

Rosemary is in a class of her own. It has one of those distinctive, strong flavours that convince your palate that herbs aren’t just delicate things reserved for dainty soups and sprinkling on baby vegetables.

It takes hold of your taste buds with a woodsy flavour that reminds you of pine and sage but is buffered by a crisp herbal sweetness. And then, just when you think you’ve got rosemary’s number, it surprises you with a subtle approach in a savoury scone or crisp cracker that’s had just a hint baked throughout, lightening the mood of an otherwise mundane pastry.

Rosemary – Herb of the Hearth

photo showing a rosemary (rosmarinis officinalis) twig with flowers
Rosemary has a distinctive, strong flavour that convince your palate that herbs aren’t just delicate things reserved for dainty soups and sprinkling on baby vegetables.

A symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance, rosemary is traditionally carried by mourners at funerals and by the bride at her wedding. Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary when they were sitting examinations, to improve their memory and concentration.

In the 14th century Queen Izabella of Hungary claimed that, at the age of 72 years, when crippled with gout and rheumatism, she had so regained her strength and beauty by using Hungary water (rosemary tops macerated in alcohol) that the King of Poland proposed to her. In Hamlet, Ophelia gives Hamlet a sprig, saying, “There’s rosemary … for remembrance.”

Rosemary may not guarantee A’s on exams, marital fidelity, or vivid memories of the dear departed – but our ancestors were right about a lot of rosemary’s abilities.

The most important health benefit of the rosemary in contemporary diets is the fact that she is one of our richer sources of antioxidants. And antioxidants help to prevent cancer. Drink it as a tea and/or include fresh rosemary in your cooking.

As Queen Izabella of Hungary exclaimed, rosemary is also an indispensable beauty aid. When used in facials it is cleansing and boosts the circulation. It is also a very versatile hair care herb for people with dark hair. It restores lustre, revitalizes the hair and stimulate hair growth. It is also one of the best remedies for dandruff.

Recipes: Rosemary & Apple Cider Rinse / Rosemary Shampoo
You can make an apple cider rinse by steeping about 125ml freshly bruised rosemary leaves in 750ml vinegar for two weeks. Add about 100ml to your final rinse. You can also make your own rosemary shampoo. Use a good baby shampoo as a base and add 1 part strong rosemary infusion. Use as you would your normal shampoo.

Buying, Storing and Preparation

Varieties

There are many rosemary varieties. They range from low growing creeping varieties to large upright growing varieties. Any variety will do for cooking.

Parts Used

The leaves are used. The stems are used as skewers.

Your Best Sources

Buy a plant from the garden centre and grow your own.

Fresh sprigs are available from food stores, so there is no excuse for using dried rosemary, although dried rosemary is a good second choice and it has a definite place in the kitchen.

How to Preserve and Store

Fresh Leaves:  Fresh sprigs will keep for several days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, or place stem ends in water.

Dried Leaves:  If you would like to dry your rosemary, use the air drying method in a dark room on a drying rack, or tie it into small bunches and hang upside down. Strip the leaves from the stems when dried and store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

How to Prepare

To release the flavourful aroma of dried leaves, crush just before using.

The needle like fresh leaves can be unpleasant in a finished dish. It is best to chop them very finely or to pound them in a mortar before use.

Alternatively, use whole sprigs to infuse long cooking dishes and remove before serving.

When making skewers with rosemary twigs, remove the leaves, then use a vegetable peeler to remove the bark from just one side of the stem. This will allow the flavours to permeate. Soak the skewers in water before using.

Flavour Notes

Aroma

Highly aromatic. Refreshing fragrance of sea coast, pines, fir, and balsam.

Taste

Strong components of tannin, nutmeg and camphor. Moderate bitterness and pepperiness.

Strength

A powerful herb that can easily withstand long cooking periods.

Menu Ideas

When to Add

Unless the recipe states otherwise, it can be added from the beginning of the cooking period.

How Much to Add

One of the few herbs where we use equal quantities fresh or dried herb. Be careful when first using rosemary, it can easily overpower. For most palates about 1/2 teaspoon per portion will be sufficient.

Note: All the measurements in our recipes (unless otherwise indicated) are for gently packed herbs, which means filling the measuring utensil with whole or chopped leaves, then softly pressing or tapping on them.

Flavour Pals

Bay, chives, garlic, lavender, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, summer savory, thyme, winter savory.

Matches Made in Heaven:

Apricots, beans especially dried, chicken, eggplant, oily fish like mackerel, sardines, game, grains, lamb, lentils, mushrooms, onions, oranges, peas, pork, potatoes, poultry, salmon, squash, spinach, steaks, tomatoes, veal. It can even be used in desserts.

Contribution to a Healthy Diet

Rosemary inhibits the action of many micro-organisms that can cause infection. For minor cuts in the garden, press some fresh, crushed rosemary leaves into the wound on the way to the wash and bandage it.

Like most culinary herbs, rosemary may help relax the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract, an action that makes it an antispasmodic, and a very effective treatment for indigestion. Simply adding it to your dishes will work magic.

Rosemary may also help relieve nasal and chest congestion caused by colds, flu, and allergies, and it is widely used to help relieve the symptoms of asthma.

For a pleasantly aromatic infusion to settle the stomach or clear a stuffy nose, simply steep 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly bruised rosemary leaves in a cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink three cups a day. As a home-made tincture use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon up to three times a day. When using commercial preparations, follow the package directions. You may give dilute rosemary preparations to children under age two.

Pregnant women should steer clear of medicinal preparations of rosemary, though using it in your cooking is generally regarded as safe. Other women might try rosemary to bring on their periods.

How To Grow Rosemary

Easy to grow, it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Be careful not to over water and over fertilize. Prune regularly to encourage a bushy growth and you’ll have a fresh supply of rosemary whole year round.

Feed your rosemary at least once a month with a balanced organic fertilizer. Give it enough space, it can grow up to 2m – that’s if you don’t use it extensively.

Rosemary does exceptionally well in a container. Remember to feed your potted herbs at least every two weeks.

Rosemary Recipes

Country Pea Soup with Rosemary

Potato Wedges with Rosemary and Thyme

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Hyssop – Hyssopus officinalis – Hisop

hyssop flower

hyssop flower

With its spikes of intense blue flowers and bushy, compact growth, Hyssop is an attractive herb worth growing for its looks alone, although it’s also an important medicinal herb.

The Book of Psalms (51:9) says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” But hyssop does more than clean. Contemporary herbalists recommend hyssop compresses and poultices for bruises, burns and wounds, and suggest infusions for colds, coughs, bronchitis, flatulence, indigestion, menstruation promotion, and even epileptic seizures.

In 17th-century Europe, hyssop was a popular air freshener or ‘strewing herb.’ At a time when people rarely bathed and farm animals often shared human living quarters, crushed leaves and flowers were scattered around homes to mask odours. When bathing became popular and strewing ceased, hyssop was placed in scent baskets in sickrooms.

Growing Hyssop

It likes a sunny position and light well-drained soil and will grow equally well in pots. The bush grows between 60 – 90cm high, making it’s a good border plant in a mixed flowerbed or as a low growing hedge. An infusion made with the leaves is useful for controlling bacterial plant disease.

If you want bees in your garden, hyssop is a must. It also has the reputation for enhancing the flavour of grapes and increasing the yield of cabbages planted nearby.

I pinch my young plants quite regularly to stimulate a bushy habit. Once I have a nice bush I cut it down to about 10cm once or twice a year. Usually just before flowering time (about September in Pretoria) and then again after flowering time. I usually have to decide on the hyssop’s behalf when flowering should stop, as it just carries on. Normally I would cut back again in March. I use the cut hyssop to make tincture, or if I have enough I will dry it. Remember to store your dried herbs in airtight containers.

Cooking with Hyssop

Hyssop has a strong pleasant aroma of camphor and mint. The taste of the fresh leaves is refreshing but potent, hot (peppery), and bitterish – reminiscent of rosemary, savory, and thyme.

Here’s our page about cooking with hyssop, plus 7 of our favourite hyssop recipes.

Medicinal Uses of Hyssop

As a medicinal herb Hyssop is particularly effective for treating bronchitis and respiratory infections, because of its expectorant action. Both the leaves and flowers can be used, either dried or fresh, in an infusion. The herb’s tonic action also encourages recovery – it supports the liver with its detoxifying duties.

Combine with thyme for bronchial congestion, with peppermint and yarrow for the common cold and lemon balm for cold sores.

It inhibits the growth of the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores. I never get cold sores, but an infusion used as a compress, is quite effective for my wife when she’s plagued by cold sores. You have to be snappy though. At the first sign of a tinkling, apply the compress. She gets better results when she combines it with lemon balm, and she takes the infusion internally as well. Even add the leftovers to the bath. Quite nice.

Hyssop has a strong camphor-like smell and tastes bitter. When drinking my infusion (it helps to relieve smokers cough) I add some honey and/or lemon (both also good cough remedies), or I mix it with a beverage herb such as lemon balm. We also make homemade tincture with Hyssop. I would rather stomach one teaspoon of bitter stuff to a whole cup full.

Just for interest. I recently stumbled onto an intriguing possibility. A few laboratory studies have shown that hyssop extract exhibits potent activity against HIV, the ‘virus’ that is linked to AIDS. It’s too early to call hyssop an AIDS treatment, but who knows, it may be used in that capacity in the future.