Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review: Book of Rosemary

by Jackie French. Angus&Robertson, 1993. My mom gave me this charming little volume, knowing how much I adore growing herbs. Last winter my large pot of rosemary was neglected and failed to thrive through the spring so I bought a new plant to try again. This most recent one is a prostrate variety that is beginning to trail over the sides of the pot. I have it outside in the afternoon sun, next to the kitchen door where it is very happy. When it gets colder I will bring it in and keep it in my sunniest dinning room window. I always have a rosemary plant around because they are so fragrant and beautiful.

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French gives delightful background history for the rosemary plant, including lore and quotes from Shakespeare, Culpeper, Robert Herrick ("Grow it for two ends, it matters not at all; Be't for my bridall or my buriall), Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Robinson ("Rosemary is for remembrance/Between us day and night/Wishing that I might always have/You present in my sight." Nosegay for Lovers, 1584.)

Rosemary originally came from the Mediterranean and was brought to northern Europe by the Romans. It is used in cooking, as a medicine, and as a pest control. It has been considered an herb of romance and faithfulness throughout the centuries. It is used in wedding decorations, as a charm ensuring fidelity and remembrance and given as gifts. Legend says that a man who doesn't like the scent of rosemary will be a lousy lover. A home where rosemary thrives is ruled by a woman.

rosemary on rocks

Sprinkled throughout the book in the margins are recipes for cooking with rosemary, including marinated olives, cauliflower, potatoes and onions. Baked apples with rosemary and served with "masses of whipped cream" is my favorite recipe. Rosemary apple jelly and rosemary rhubarb fool also look particularly alluring to me. You can include a sprig of rosemary in the roasting pan for lamb or chicken. The scent will fill the house and flavor the meat without it becoming too strong. Use a sprig to baste grilled meat or prawns with olive oil or throw it into the barbecue fire under grilled meat.

French includes a chapter on the medicinal uses of rosemary. Directions for rosemary honey, bath oil, toilet water, shampoo, hair conditioner, and deodorant are given. Other suggestions: grow a hedge of rosemary under and around your clothesline pole. Spread handkerchiefs or other small items on the bushes to dry and absorb the scent. If you live in a warm, dry climate grow a hedge of rosemary or grow the prostrate variety in between paving stones on the patio.

French gives tips for growing rosemary. It is a hardy perennial in some regions, tolerating drought and frost, stony soil, and clay. In my area the winters are too harsh to keep it outdoors, although I saw it once at a university arboretum growing in a huge bush that was several years old. It was in a protected garden in full sun and I think they covered it in deep winter. Rosemary doesn't need a lot of fuss; it doesn't want much fertilizer and likes to keep it's feet dry. If you start to lose leaves or see rot or wilt you are watering it too much. Once a problem develops it is hard for rosemary to recover and you ought to start over with a new plant. It's hard to grow from seed but easy to propagate with cuttings. Just cut a strong stem from a lower side, including a bit of old wood in late summer or early autumn. Put it in sandy soil and keep it moist. New roots will develop in the next six months. Don't try to transplant it for at least that long, as new growth may appear on top before the roots really set. You can also start a new plant from a growing tip in the spring or layer young stems under lose dirt and wait for roots to grow. French says,
"I have success just hauling out sticks of rosemary and thrusting them in the ground in autumn or spring. They mostly grow. Rosemary is slow growing at first, then it seems to leap away. A good bush will last for thirty years."

The final section of the book is a collection of poetry for rosemary. My favorite comes from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale:
"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savor all the winter long."

1 comment:

Andrea said...

mmmm, I love rosemary. My split pea soup recipe calls for it, and it's very yummy.