Rosemary

Filed Under: Culinary Herbs, Fragrant Herbs, Herbs for Bees, Birds & Butterflies, Medicinal Herbs, Ornamental Herbs

'Arp' hardy rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Arp'

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a drought-tolerant, shrubby member of the Deadnettle Family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae), native to hilly, alkaline slopes overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In its wild form rosemary grows up to 6 feet tall, bearing spiky leathery leaves and pale blue (occasionally white or pinkish-lilac) two-lipped flowers. Rosemary’s delightful woodsy scent and spicy flavor combine with its rich green needles and exquisite blue flowers to make it a mainstay of any herb garden.

Common rosemary has spawned many cultivars in its journey from the Mediterranean coast to Europe and the New World. All have a shrubby multi-branched appearance, with pine-needle-like leaves — dark green above, silvery on their reverse — and a refreshing, resinous scent and flavor. Some rosemaries grow upright; others creep along the ground (Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus). Some bear variegated leaves; gilded rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Aureus’), bears leaves tinged with gold. Other cultivars bear blossoms ranging from white to dark blue to lilac-pink to pink and even purplish-red (see “ROSEMARY CULTIVARS” below).

Rosemary in flower

Rosemary in flower

Rosemary grows wild in Spain, where it is called romero or rosmario. It also grows wild in Italy, where it is called rosemarino or ramerino and is one of the commonest culinary herbs, particularly prized with abbachio (roast lamb) and capretto al forno (roast baby goat). Rosemary may also be found growing wild on the island of Majorca; in Sardinia, Greece, and North Africa; and to a limited extent in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Writes Dorothy Bovee Jones, “In southern France, the perfume from the great gnarled woody rosemary plants, clinging to the rocky headlands above the Mediterranean, makes one want to linger and breathe deeply. Sir Francis Bacon [the Tudor writer and explorer] said that when the wind was right, the fragrance from the rosemary reached ships twenty miles at sea.”

ROSEMARY IN HISTORY

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary’s botanic name, Rosmarinus officinalis, betrays an ancient history.

Rosmarinus comes from two Latin words, ros (“dew”) and marinus (“of the sea”), a lovely description of rosemary’s traditional habitat. Officinalis is Latin for “of the pharmacy;” herbs with officinalis in the botanic name were once believed to have medicinal value.

Rosemary was grown by the ancient Egyptians in their wall gardens, and by Arabs in Algeria and Morocco, who bordered their rose gardens with clipped rosemary hedges. The ancient Greeks strewed the floors of their buildings with rosemary, considering it a powerful disinfectant, and burned rosemary as a sacrifice to their gods. Rosemary’s tolerance of salt spray made it valuable in ancient Roman gardens, particularly in spots where salt-intolerant boxwood (Buxus) would not thrive. The Romans wove wreaths of the plant, calling it coronarius (“wreath [plant]“). The Roman poet Ovid mentions rosemary as adorning the hair of the female centaur Hyolonome.

Hatfield reports that Roman and Arab physicians regarded rosemary as particularly effective for restoring speech after a stroke. Rosemary tea was once believed to strengthen the memory, stimulate the appetite, aid the digestion, loosen phlegm in the chest, relieve depression, cure gout, and relieve distress caused by “diseases of the brain.” Burned rosemary wood “was rubbed on teeth to preserve them, and bread baked on it was prescribed to restore the loss of ‘smellynge’.” A box fashioned of aromatic rosemary wood (very old plants can develop quite thick trunks and branches) was thought to preserve one’s youth if it were sniffed regularly. Rosemary, like rue (Ruta graveolens), was also one of the herbs taken into courtrooms for attenders to sniff to protect themselves against “jailhouse fever.” Rosemary wood was also used to fashion musical instruments such as the lute, and to make carpenters’ rulers.

Charlemagne & Louis the Pious

Charlemagne & Louis the Pious

Rosemary was originally brought into England by the Romans. After the Roman legions withdrew from Britain, the herb was taken into monastery gardens. In 814 C.E./A.D. the son of the Emperor Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”), Louis the Pious, had rosemary planted in his royal gardens, probably at Aix-la-Chapelle, Charlemagne’s favorite residence and the site of Louis’s coronation. The Norman French reintroduced rosemary to Britain after 1066. Rosemary was also brought back into Europe from the Middle East by returning Crusaders, and sprigs were carried by medieval pilgrims.

In the second decade of the 14th century, the Countess of Hainault (in what is now France) sent a rosemary plant to her daughter, Philippa, Queen of England. The Countess accompanied her gift with what Jones calls “a poetic treatise on the virtues of rosemary.” In this letter the Countess mentions the medieval French belief that a rosemary bush normally ceased growth when it reached the height of Jesus Christ when he was on Earth, and that when a rosemary bush reached the age of 33 — the age that medieval Christians believed Christ had attained before his death — the bush would never grow any taller, only wider.

The medieval French knew rosemary as l’incensier, the incense herb. Rosemary sprigs and juniper berries were burned in sickrooms and hospitals to disinfect and freshen the air. Rosemary boughs were also burned, and otherwise displayed, in churches. Hatfield reports that medieval people considered rosemary as possessing “mystical powers strong enough to guard the church, the dead and the living from all evil. It was grown in churchyards, and its boughs were kept inside churches.”

Anne of Cleves by Holbein

Anne of Cleves by Holbein

One of the longest-held beliefs about rosemary was that it stands for remembrance. “A Handful of Pleasant Delights,” a popular Elizabethan song dated 1566, had a lover croon, “Rosemarie is for remembrance betweene us daie and night;/ Wishing I might always have you present in my sight.” Perhaps for this reason, as much as for its protective virtues, rosemary figured prominently in European weddings. Sprigs were dipped in scented water and woven into the bride’s hair as symbols of marital fidelity; Anne of Cleves wore rosemary branches in her bejeweled gold crown when she married Henry VIII of England. The branches were gilded, tied with colored ribbons, and handed out to wedding guests as symbols of their love and loyalty. For the same reason bouquets of rosemary, tied with ribbons, were handed to bridegrooms by the bridemaids when he first appeared the morning of the wedding.

Romeo & Juliet on their deathbed

Romeo & Juliet, DOA

Rosemary also had its place at funerals. Rosemary sprigs were carried by mourners to the gravesite to be dropped on top of the coffin at the end of the service. This custom is mentioned in Shakepeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, where he has Friar Laurence say of the dead Juliet, “Dry up your tears and stick your Rosemary/ On this fair corse [corpse].” In regions where it was hardy, rosemary was also frequently planted on graves. Referring to its wedding and funeral uses, Elizabethan poet Herrick — perhaps a trifle depressed at the time — wrote of rosemary, “Grow it for two ends, it matters not at all,/ Be’t for my bridall or my buriall.”

Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary

Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary

The flowering tops of rosemary branches were soaked in alcohol to create the original Eau de la reine d’Hongrie, the famous medieval Hungary water. 17th century legend has it that Hungary water was invented for Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, in 1235. She is said to have suffered from paralysis, and legend says that her mobility was completely restored after her limbs were washing in the herb-infused spirits. (See Recipes Section for the formula for Hungary Water.) The French writer Perrault, in his version of the fairy tale “The Sleeping Beauty,” has those attempting to revive the enchanted Beauty apply Hungary water to her temples, but in vain.

Rosemary also figured prominently at Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. It was believed when Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus sought shelter on their journey into Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Furtively passing through some bushes, the twigs brushed against the refugees’ clothing, making their presence known to their

The Flight Into Egypt

The Flight Into Egypt

pursuers — all but the branches of the rosemary, which drew aside silently to permit the family to pass through undetected. Another legend had it that all rosemary bushes bloomed white until one day the Holy Family stopped to rest beside a rosemary bush. Taking off her — traditionally blue — cloak, Mary flung it over the rosemary bush and the blossoms immediately turned blue. (They have been blue — for the most part — ever since.)

Along with holly and bay leaves, rosemary was one of the evergreens used to “deck the halls” at Christmastime, and rosemary and bay were used to decorate roasted boar’s head, a traditional Christmas Day food. Along with oranges stuck with cloves, rosemary sprigs were given as New Year’s gifts, and wassail bowls were decorated with beribboned rosemary branches.

Rosemary came very early into the New World. It was brought by the Spanish into what is now Guatemala in the 16th or 17th century. It came to what is now New England in 1606, brought by Captain John Mason, who went on to found the state of New Hampshire; though John Josselyn, in his 1672 list of plants suitable for the New World, reported sourly of the heat-loving, frost-tender shrub, “Rosemary does not thrive … [it is] no plant for this country.”

Nonetheless, rosemary made its way to present-day Saint Louis, Missouri with German immigrants from the duchy of Swaben, whose descendants until recently held a rowdy annual celebration in which a little boy and girl were crowned king and queen, the girl’s hair adorned with rosemary leaves. Fresh rosemary branches have also been used in some American Greek Orthodox Church congregations to scatter holy water in blessing; to decorate church icons (holy pictures); and as a ritual substitute for sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) when the latter herb was not available.

HOW TO GROW ROSEMARY

Rosemary thriving in a pot

Rosemary thriving in a pot

Rosemary takes very well to indoor windowsill culture, requiring only a well-drained soil mix and full sun to bright shade. In summer, water regularly; in winter, water only when soil surface is dry; but at all times of the year, never allow water to pool around the bottom of the pot (more rosemaries are lost through overwatering than underwatering). Fertilize either with organic fish emulsion; a time-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote 14-14-14; or with a liquid 10-10-10 or 20-10-10 fertilizer every 5-10 times you water.

Do not let your plants become rootbound. (Yellowing basal leaves often indicate this.) To check to see whether a rosemary has outgrown its quarters, grasp the base of the central stem with one hand, gripping the container with the other hand. Invert the container, and shake gently until the plant eases out. If you find that the roots have filled or nearly filled the pot, transfer the plant to a container 2 inches greater in diameter than the old pot. Firm the soil carefully about the rootball, then water.

If your rosemary’s leaves start to brown and fall off, its roots are probably suffocating due to too much water in the soil medium.

Most rosemaries will not overwinter dependably in zones that get colder than 27ºF (Zones 9b-11). If you live where the temperature drops below freezing, you may:

  • plant your rosemary in a portable container and bring it indoors when cold weather approaches;
  • plant your rosemary outdoors in a spot protected from wind, wrapping it in burlap or heavy clear plastic when the thermometer dips to the danger mark;
  • plant your rosemary in a deep well-insulated cold frame;
  • or plant varieties reported as especially hardy (see below).

If you decide to give this herb a permanent spot outdoors in your garden:

  1. Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the roots to spread out.
  2. Using the soil you took out of the hole, make a mixture of 2 parts soil to 1 part well aged compost and 1 part coarse sand or fine gravel.
  3. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with a garden fork.
  4. Sprinkle into the hole 1/2 cup of organic fertilizer (such as Happy Frog™ 5-5-5 All Purpose Fertilizer), and mix the fertilizer thoroughly with the soil at the bottom of the hole.
  5. Place the plant carefully in the hole, and fill the hole with the soil-compost-sand/gravel mixture mentioned above.
  6. Firm the mix gently around the crown of the plant — remember how fragile rosemary roots are — and water at once.
  7. Mulch with coarse compost or stones (small plant may be mulched with grass clippings) and keep moist but not soggy.
  8. If planting more than one bush, space them at least 3 feet apart.

In time you’ll be rewarded with the soft, light green needles that signal new growth. Don’t be discouraged if your rosemary doesn’t shoot up twelve feet the first week; they are slow, steady growers. Whether grown indoors or out, after rosemary flowers, trim the bush back several inches to stimulate new growth. (Rosemary plants also make good bonsai specimens, especially Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus, prostrate or creeping rosemary.)

COOKING WITH ROSEMARY

To harvest rosemary leaves for use in cooking, take cuttings in the early morning, when the essential oils in the leaves are at their freshest. (Never harvest more than a quarter of a given plant’s leaves at a time.) Either freeze the sprigs for future use (there is no need to blanch them first), or dry them as follows: Place cuttings on newspapers or screens in a dry, well-ventilated spot out of the sun. Strip the leaves off the stems when the needles are crackly-dry (1 to 3 days in New Mexico!), and store them in airtight containers out of the sunlight. (NOTE: If you are raising rosemary for use in potpourri or washing waters, the best time to harvest the leaves is when the plants are just beginning to come into flower.)

The French account rosemary as one of les fines herbes, along with basil, chervil, sweet marjoram, French tarragon, and thyme. Léonie de Sounin recommends French tarragon as a good flavor partner with rosemary. Rosemary goes particularly well with strong meats (such as the abovementioned lamb and kid), duck, turkey, roast beef, and salmon; with red wine and lemon juice rosemary makes a nice addition to chicken marinades; and rosemary branches make aromatic skewers for shish kabob.

TRADITIONAL USES FOR ROSEMARY

Modern herbalists recommend rosemary tea as a dandruff-preventative hair wash, as a mouthwash for sore gums, as an insect-repellent, and as a rub for sore muscles. The dried sprigs, hung in a closet, are said to discourage moths from eating clothes. Companion planting enthusiasts claim that rosemary planted next to cabbage, beans, and carrots will help to repel cabbage moths, bean beetles, and carrot fly. Rosemary is also said to thrive in the presence of garden sage (Salvia officinalis).

ROSEMARY CULTIVARS

Rosemary blossom in closeup

Rosemary blossom in closeup

There are scores of rosemary cultivars in existence today, far too many to list here. We mention some of the most noteworthy below. There are two basic types: upright rosemaries (Rosmarinus officinalis), which can make multi-branched shrubs 1 to 6 feet tall depending on the variety (and the size of the pot into which they are planted); and prostrate or creeping rosemaries (Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus), which possess a spreading habit, growing much wider than they are tall.

All bloom approximately from January through April, and sometimes into summer and fall, particularly if trimmed back slightly after the first flush of flowering. All may be overwintered reliably on well-drained soils in full sun to light shade in USDA Zones 8-11. Protected from cold winds and drippy overhangs, and given very well-drained soil, various rosemary cultivars have survived winters in USDA Zone 7-11, and some cultivars have overwintered in Zone 6. (Rosemary varieties in the following list that are reputed to be extra-hardy are marked with an asterisk*.)

UPRIGHT ROSEMARIES: BLUE TO LAVENDER-FLOWERED

Alderley Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Alderley Blue’): To about 32″ tall. Arching, spreading habit, with dark green aromatic needles and clear blue spring flowers. Zones 8-11.

*Arp Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’): 3-5′ tall x 3-5′ wide. Nice upright habit, with rich green leaves and a fragrance that has been described as robust and nose clearing; bright blue flowers. Discovered in Arp, Texas in the 1970s by plantswoman Madalene Hill, blooming on the 18th of January during 18ºF temperatures! Has been known to overwinter outdoors in Zone 6 (-10ºF) in a protected spot on well-drained soil. Heat tolerant. Zones (6)7-11.

Athens Blue Spires Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Athens Blue Spires’): 4 to 5′ tall x 3 to 5′ wide. Rich green foliage and bright blue summer blooms. Zones 8-11.

Barbeque Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Barbeque’): Also listed as Barbecue Rosemary. 4 to 6′ tall x 2 to 3′ wide. Sturdy straight stems, thick green leaves, and rich blue blossoms in late spring. Stripped of their leaves, this rosemary’s stems make perfect skewers for shish kebab, adding flavor without overpowering. Zones Zones (7)8-11.

Benenden Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Benenden Blue’): Said to be the same as ‘Collingwood Ingram’, ‘Ingram’, ‘Majorca’, ‘Rex’, and ‘Rex #4′. 3-5′ tall. Spreading, upright habit, with pale stems and thick, deep green, glossy, pine-scented leaves. Beautiful dark blue flowers in spring and summer. Zones 8-11.

Blue Boy Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Blue Boy’): Glossy leaves and masses of light blue flowers on a compact plant. Great in containers! Zones 8-11. Introduced by Nichols Garden Nursery.

Blue Gem Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Blue Gem’): To 20″ tall. Very slow-growing miniature rosemary, ideal for edgings and container plantings. Very tiny leaves and pale blue flowers. Zones 8-11.

Collingwood Ingram Rosemary: See Benenden Blue Rosemary above.

Cuban Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Cuban’): Described as a Spanish-Cuban heirloom variety, particularly resistant to powdery mildew, humidity, and high heat. Zones 8-11.

*Dutch Mill Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Dutch Mill’): Beautifully rounded shrub to 4′ tall with medium-green leaves; may be kept to 14″ in pots. Blue flowers. Selected by Barbara Remington of Forest Grove, Oregon. Hardy to -15ºF; Zones 6b-11.

Foresteri Rosemary: See Herb Cottage Rosemary below.

Gilded Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Gilded’): Some authorities insist this cultivar is the same as ‘Joyce DeBaggio’ (see below), but Well-Sweep Herb Farm considers them separate varieties. To 2′ tall, in pots at least, with gold-streaked foliage and flowers described as “medium-blue.” Zones 8-11.

Golden Rain Rosemary: See Joyce DeBaggio Rosemary below.

Gorizia Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Gorizia’): To 5′ tall x 3′ wide. Robust shrub with reddish stems and branches densely packed with dark green needles the aroma of which has been described as “gentle, sweet, a bit gingery” and “subtle, flowery, [with] spicy undertones”. Blue flowers in summer. Both leaves and blooms are nearly twice the size of those of standard varieties, and the stiff stems, like those of ‘Barbeque’, make good skewers. The light blue flowers appear into the summer. Hardy to 15ºF; Zones 8-10.

Green Ginger Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Green Ginger’): To around 2′ tall. Dark green needles bear a resinous ginger-like perfume. Pale blue flowers in spring. Zones 8-10.

Green Rain Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Green Rain’): To 3′ tall. A recent introduction to the trade, with an upright habit, developing weeping lower branches with maturity. This cultivar has been likened to a dark green cedar tree. Blue flowers. Zones 8-10.

Herb Cottage Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Herb Cottage’): Also known as Foresteri Rosemary. Smoothly upright shrub with tightly spaced, aromatic leaves. Blue flowers. Zones 8-11.

Hill Hardy Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Hill Hardy’): Considered by many authorities as the same as ‘Madeline Hill’ (see below). But Well-Sweep Herb Farm classifies them separately, claiming that ‘Hill Hardy’ has light blue flowers and ‘Madeline Hill’ [sic] “pale violet” ones. May be kept to 22″ tall in pots. Zones 8-11.

Ingram Rosemary: See Benenden Blue Rosemary above.

Joyce DeBaggio Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Joyce DeBaggio’): Some authorities consider this cultivar synonymous with Gilded Rosemary (but see above), Golden Rain Rosemary, Golden Variegated Rosemary, and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Aureus’. 2-4′ tall. Vigorous variety with strongly resinous aromatic leaves that are bright yellow in the cool days of spring and fall, a beautiful dark green during the long hot summer days. Pale blue flowers contrast nicely with the foliage. Zones 8-11. Introduced by DeBaggio’s Herb Farm.

*Madalene Hill Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Madalene Hill’): Also listed as ‘Hill Hardy’ and ‘Madeline Hill’. To 3′ tall. Named for the discoverer of Arp Rosemary, this extra-hardy rosemary is more compact than ‘Arp’, with stiff, dark green needles and a soft, strong scent. Will overwinter in Zones 6-11 if given very well-drained soil. Pale blue flowers in late fall and spring (though Well-Sweep Herb Farm describes them as “pale violet;” see Hill Hardy Rosemary above).

Madame X Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Madame X’): To 4′ tall. Upright, spreading habit, smothered in brilliant sky blue flowers in spring. Discovered by Tom DiBaggio of DiBaggio Herbs. Zones 8-10.

Majorca Rosemary: See Benenden Blue Rosemary above.

Miss Jessopp’s Upright Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’): To about 3′ tall. British cultivar, named for one Euphemia Jessopp by E. A. Bowles. Upright, open habit, with thin stems and thin, delicate, dark green, aromatic leaves. Light blue flowers in spring and summer. Zones 8-11.

Mrs. Reed’s Dark Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Mrs. Reed’s Dark Blue’): 5-6′ tall x 5-6′ wide. Fast-growing bushy shrub with lovely dark green leaves and striking dark blue flowers borne on year-old wood. Hardy to about 15ºF; Zones 8b-11.

Pine-Scented Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Angustifolius’): Sometimes listed as Rosmarinus angustifolia [sic]. To 2 or 3′ tall x 2-3′ wide. Very small leaves on a compact spreading bush, strongly scented of fresh pine. Dark blue flowers late winter to mid-spring. Some find the pine scent too strong for culinary use, but the leaves make a great potpourri additive and winter holiday decoration. Zones 8-11.

Pink Majorca Rosemary: See Majorca Pink Rosemary in “Upright Rosemaries, Pink To Purple-Flowered” section below.

Primley Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Primley Blue’): 3-4′ tall, 2-3′ wide. Wonderfully aromatic old bushy, upright variety from England; blue flowers in spring and summer. Zones 8-11.

Rex Rosemary: See Benenden Blue Rosemary above.

Salem Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Salem’): 5′ tall x 4′ wide. Tall, narrow-leaved variety with aromatic but not overwhelming flavor, prized for cooking. Blue flowers. Zones (7)8-9.

Sawyer’s Select Rosemary: See “Upright Rosemaries: Pink To Purple-Flowered” below.

Severn Sea Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Severn Sea’): To about 32″ tall. Bushy, strong-stemmed, arching plants are thickly clothed with shiny, grey-green, medium-sized leaves the aroma of which has been described as pungent and smoky. Blue flowers spring and summer. Selected by Norman Hadden of West Porlock, Somerset, England. Zones 8-10.

Shady Acres Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Shady Acres’): 4′ tall x 3′ wide. Strong upright habit, dark green leaves, heavily aromatic and flavorful. Blue flowers. Zones 8-10.

Sissinghurt Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Sissinghurst Blue’): To about 32″ tall. Upright habit, dark green leaves; lovely dark blue flowers spring and summer. Zones 8-10.

Spice Islands Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Spice Islands’): Also called Spice Island Rosemary. 3-4′ tall x 18-24″ wide. Upright habit, dark blue flowers, and large, thick, leaves; like ‘Barbeque’, this rosemary can be used for shish kebab skewers. Zones 7-11. Plant 2′ apart.

Sudbury Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Sudbury Blue’): To about 3′ tall. Strongly upright habit, dark green leaves; lovely pale blue flowers spring and summer. Zones 8-10.

Tuscan Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’): 3-7′ tall x 1-4′ wide. Beautiful, strongly upright, thick-stemmed columns with wide, stubby, succulent-looking green leaves and large, clear blue flowers. Restrained flavor and aroma. A beautiful specimen grows at the entry to Sissinghurst Castle in England. Great topiary subject! Hardy to at least 15ºF; Zones 8-10.

UPRIGHT ROSEMARIES: PINK TO PURPLE-FLOWERED

Majorca Pink Rosemary (R. officinalis var. roseus ‘Majorca Pink’): Also listed as ‘Pink Majorca’. To about 3′ high. Stiff-upright stems, arching in some forms, clothed with loose clusters of small, matte green, deliciously scented leaves and amethyst-violet (not true pink) flowers. Hardy to about 20ºF. Zones 9-11.

Pink Rosemary (R. officinalis var. roseus; syn. R. officinalis ‘Pink’): Pale lavender-pink blossoms spring and summer on a 3′ bush. Hardy Zones 8-11.

Portuguese Pink Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Portuguese Pink’): 22″ tall, with as close to true pink flowers as one is likely to find among the rosemaries.

Portuguese Red Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Portuguese Red’; syn. ‘Cricket Hill Portuguese Red’): 10″ tall, with unusual rosy-purple flowers.

Sawyer’s Select Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Sawyer’s Select’): Aromatic, gracefully branched narrowleaf cultivar. Flowers described as light purple. Zones 8-10.

UPRIGHT ROSEMARIES: WHITE-FLOWERED

Heavy-Leaf Alba Rosemary: See Nancy Howard Rosemary below.

Lady In White Rosemary (R. officinalis var. albiflorus ‘Lady In White’): To 2′ tall. Arching habit; beautiful white flowers in spring and summer. Zones 8-10.

*Nancy Howard Rosemary (R. officinalis var. albiflorus ‘Nancy Howard’): Sometimes listed as Heavy-Leaf Alba Rosemary. To 5-6′ tall x 5-6′ wide; may be kept to 21″ in pots. Stiff pale stems are heavily clothed with large, deep green, aromatic leaves and numerous sparkling white blossoms late summer, fall, and sometimes in spring. Unusual and lovely. Hardy to below 0ºF; Zones (6b?)7-10.

White-Flowered Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var. albiflorus): Dark green upright to spreading 4′ tall bushes are covered with pure white blossoms midwinter to late spring. Zones 8-11.

PROSTRATE ROSEMARIES

Blue Lagoon Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Blue Lagoon’): Semiprostrate, to about 16″ high, with dark green, arching branches and striking dark blue spring flowers. Zones 8-11.

Blue Rain Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Blue Rain’): Long-blooming trailer to 2′ tall, with masses of light blue flowers crowding the stems. Great in baskets and pots. Zones 8-11.

Boule Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Boule’): To about 1′ tall. Dark green leaves, white on their undersides, on spreading, dangling stems. Mid-blue flowers spring and summer. Zones 8-10.

Capri Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Capri’): To about 6″ tall x 3-4′ wide. Dark green leaves; pale blue flowers spring and summer. Zones 8-11.

Fota Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Fota Blue’): A semiprostrate, to about 3′ high, with dark green, arching branches and striking dark blue spring flowers. Zones 8-11.

Foxtail Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Foxtail’): To 3′ tall. Unique form! Densely leafy, plumelike branches arise from the base, spreading as they grow. Mid-blue spring and summer flowers. Zones 8-11.

Haifa Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Haifa’): Carpetlike plants grow only about 4 inches tall, but spread out over several feet, with dark green leaves and pale blue flowers spring and summer. Zones 8-11.

Huntington Carpet Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Huntington Carpet’): 12-18″ tall. A dense, ground-hugging carpet of dark green aromatic foliage, forming a waterfall of dark blue blossoms in spring and summer. Very popular as a ground cover in California, this cultivar works beautifully in pots, windowboxes, and hanging baskets, too. Zones 8-11.

Irene Rosemary: See Renzels Rosemary below.

Lockwood de Forest Rosemary (R. officinalis ‘Lockwood de Forest’): Sometimes called ‘Foresteri’ and ‘Prostrate #5′. 12-18″ tall x 18-24″ wide. Said to be a cross between upright rosemary and prostrate rosemary, originating in the gardens at Lockwood de Forest in California. Vigorous, heavily branching cultivar with dense green foliage and profuse, pale lavender-blue flowers. Great for walls, dry banks, rock gardens, and path edges. Great flavor, too! Zones 8-10.

McConnell’s Blue Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘McConnell’s Blue’): To about 16″ tall. Spreading, arching branches with small clear blue flowers in spring. Zones 8-11.

Mrs. Howard’s Creeping Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Mrs. Howard’s Creeping’): Medium-green shrub to 2′ tall and 3′ wide or more, with thick, trailing stems and several annual flushes of light blue flowers. Hardy to about 20ºF. Zones 9-11.

Prostrate Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group): To 1′ tall. Known for the winding, dangling habit of its long, thin stems and its multiple blooming cycles, Prostrate Rosemary gets about 10 inches tall and can spread several feet. Great for hanging baskets. Hardy to about 20ºF. Zones 9-11.

Renzels Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Renzels’; syn. R. officinalis ‘Irene’): 12-18″ tall x 18-36″ wide. Vigorous low-growing cultivar with dense, gray-green, medium sized leaves and profuse, large, long-lasting, blue-violet flowers in summer. Cascading habit. Zones 8-10.

Santa Barbara Rosemary (R. officinalis Prostratus Group ‘Santa Barbara’): Similar to ‘Lockwood de Forest’ and sometimes treated as synonymous with it, ‘Santa Barbara’ is said to be faster growing than ‘Lockwood’ and earlier flowering. Very dense clusters of blue flowers. Beautiful in hanging baskets. Zones 8-10.

SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE

  • DeBaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery Website, 43494 Mountain View Drive, Chantilly VA 20152 (www.debaggioherbs.com).
  • de Sounin, Léonie. Magic In Herbs. (New York: Pyramid Books, 1972. ISBN 0-515-02855-X.)
  • Hatfield, Audrey Wynne. A Complete Culinary Herbal. (Wellingborough, England: Thorsons Publishers Limited, 1978. ISBN 0-7225-0442-X.)
  • Jekka’s Herb Farm Website, Rose Cottage, Shellards Lane, Alveston, Bristol, BS35 3SY England (www.jekkasherbfarm.com).
  • Jones, Dorothy Bovee. “Rosemary — The Herb of Remembrance.” The Herbarist, No. 27. (Boston: The Herb Society of America, 1961.)
  • Lee, Rand B. “Rosemary.” The Herb Quarterly, No. 5, Spring 1980.
  • Mountain Valley Growers Website (www.mountainvalleygrowers.com).
  • Northcote, Lady Rosalind. The Book of Herbs, Handbooks of Practical Gardening XII, Second Edition. Edited by Harry Roberts. (London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1902.)
  • Shepard, Robin. “Remember Rosemary.” The Herb Quarterly, No. 14, Spring 1982.
  • Stobart, Tom. Herbs, Spices and Flavourings. A Penguin Handbook. (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books Ltd, Second Edition, 1979. ISBN 0-14-046.261-9.)
  • Walter’s Greenhouse Website, 1356 Coopers Cove Road, Hardy VA 24101 (www.waltersgreenhouse.com).
  • Well-Sweep Herb Farm catalogue, 2008 edition.