Permaculture Plants: Rosemary
Common Name: Rosemary
Scientific Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)
This plant probably needs no introduction. Rosemary is a small shrub with evergreen leaves that are most commonly used as a culinary herb. As an evergreen shrub, it is a year round ornamental plant, but it also attracts beneficial insects and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and is an aromatic pest confuser. Almost every herb garden and vegetable garden has at least one Rosemary bush, and it is easy to grow. Considering how useful, and tasty, it is, we should consider placing them throughout our property and Forest Gardens as well.
Native to the Mediterranean, Rosemary has spread around the world with the spread of European civilization.
- It is said that that the Virgin Mary (Jesus Christ’s mother) spread her cloak over a white-flowered bush when she was resting. The flowers changed from white to blue to match her cloak, and the plant was called “Rose of Mary” ever since.
- Rosemary flowers can be white, pink, purple, or blue deep purple or blue-violet.
- The genus Rosmarinus is Latin for “dew of the sea” – in reference to its refreshing smell and its natural habitat along the Mediterranean coast
- Rosemary garlands were used by Greek students to increase their memory; this is where “Rosemary for remembrance” originated
- A sprig of Rosemary was placed under a pillow to repel nightmares.
- A sprig of Rosemary was placed outside the home to repel witches.
- Rosemary was the favorite scent of Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Rosemary contains salicylic acid… this is the chemical aspirin is derived from, and it has the ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers.
Recipe: Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Roasted Grapes
- Cullinary Herb – Raw or cooked. Fresh or dried. Young shoots/stems (before turning woody) and leaves. One of the best known cullinary herbs. Infused oil can be made as well.
- Tea Plant – the leaves and/or flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a tea
- Edible Flowers – the small flowers have a soft “rosemary” taste, more gentle than the leaves; they are a pleasant addition to salads or an edible garnish.
- Essential Oil – used as a fragrant component in skin and hair products, cleaning products, incense, perfumes, and many other products
- General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
- Ornamental Plant – as an evergreen, it is commonly used in gardens as a functional, but attractive, plant
- Groundcover – while not a classic groundcover plant, Rosemary can
- Drought Tolerant Plant – once established. I have killed many a Rosemary plant by letting one get too dried out before its root system was deeply established
- Maritime Tolerant Plant – this plant can tolerate salt air of a marine environment
- Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibit or repel garden pests
- Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds
- Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
- Medicinal – Rosemary has a long history of medicinal uses (see note in Trivia above)
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvested year-round as this is an evergreen and one of the reasons it is so popular. Flowers can be harvested whenever they are in bloom.
Storage: Ideally, Rosemary is used immediately after harvest; this is how I like to do it. But it is still good if used within a few days fresh. It can be kept in a small glass of water, like cut flowers, for over a week. Can be stored for many months if dried.
USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6-11
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 12-6
Chill Requirement: Possible, but not likely; no reliable information is available.
Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.
Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Spring to early Autumn (April-October), but can flower all year long in mild climates.
- Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but there are many reports of Rosemary bushes living 15-20 years.
Size: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) tall and wide (prostrate/creeping forms are significantly shorter)
Roots: Fibrous, not very deep
Growth Rate: Slow to medium
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate drought once established.
Special Considerations for Growing:
Typically from seed – not dormant. May take a while to germinate. May be propagated via cuttings or layering in Summer. May also be propagated via division.