10 reasons to grow rosemary in your herb garden

Rosemary is an aromatic woody plant with dark green leaves above and silvery below. It has pale blue to bluish purple flowers for much of the year, making it an attractive ornamental. Bees love it. Herbalists love it.

Roast lamb lovers love it too. This popular herb has many traditional uses, ranging from flavoring food to boosting memory and alleviating stress.

A small walled garden with pruned rosemary and boxwood hedges, and a large terracotta container.

CLIVE NICHOLS / GAP PHOTOS

A small walled garden with trimmed rosemary and boxwood hedges, and a large terracotta container.

1. BOOST MEMORY
Students in ancient Greece wore rosemary wreaths during exams to improve memory. Maybe they were on the right track. A study from the University of Northumbria in the UK concluded that exposure to the aroma of rosemary can boost memory, especially in older people. The active compound in the herb – known as 1,8-cineole – inhibits enzymes that break down acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that improves memory and learning.

A second study found that the concentration of 1,8-cineole in the blood is directly related to the cognitive performance of an individual. Next time you study, infuse some rosemary essential oil nearby or place a vase of rosemary on your desk and rub the foliage occasionally to release the aroma.

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2. PREVENT DISEASE
In 1994, Dr James Duke, former head of the Department of Agriculture for herbal research in the United States, bet all his hair that rosemary shampoo would do as well as over-the-counter drugs to protect against Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

It may sound far fetched, but rosemary helps prevent acetylcholine from breaking down, and acetylcholine deficiency is evident in AD patients. The natural compound carnosic acid, also found in rosemary, is an effective antioxidant that plays a role in reversing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can be one of the causes of AD. And since inflammation has also been linked to AD, the plant’s anti-inflammatory effects may play a role in fighting the disease as well.

So go for the rosemary shampoo. The oils in rosemary shampoo are absorbed through the pores of the scalp. To make your own, find a natural shampoo base or use your favorite shampoo and add 4-10 drops of rosemary oil. Or drink rosemary tea daily using fresh leaves picked directly from the garden.

Use the new, softer leaves to make rosemary tea.

KESU87 / 123RF STOCK PHOTO

Use the new, softer leaves to make rosemary tea.

3. BALANCING THE SUGAR IN THE BLOOD
Rosemary appears to have anti-hyperglycemic properties with an effect similar to insulin which helps regulate the way glucose is processed in the body.

This is good news for diabetics as it has the potential to manage blood sugar and diabetes.

Along with diet and lifestyle changes, a cup of rosemary or rosemary tea added to your daily meals is a healthy step to take.

4. FIGHT INFLAMMATION
Inflammation is believed to be the cause of many chronic diseases and conditions, and a symptom of many more. Rosemary’s anti-inflammatory properties may be helpful in relieving certain conditions.

In an open-label trial, rosemary extract significantly decreased markers of inflammation in the bodies of patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The plant’s natural antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, in turn stopping the inflammatory response.

Rosemary blooms most of the year, so it is a useful food resource for bees.

JASON DORDAY / STUFF

Rosemary blooms most of the year, so it is a useful food resource for bees.

5. RELIEVE HEADACHE
The plant’s pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve headaches.

In addition to lavender, which is useful in stressful situations, and peppermint to relax muscles if you feel tense, you can apply a few drops to your forehead.

Essential oils must be diluted before application to the skin. Use a carrier oil, like sweet almond oil or even olive oil. Mix a drop of rosemary, lavender, and peppermint per tablespoon of vegetable oil and massage into your temples, or pour the mixture onto a damp washcloth and apply to your forehead as a compress.

6. REDUCE STRESS
Sniffing rosemary may reduce cortisol levels in saliva, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research. When the rosemary aroma was inhaled for five minutes, the researchers found that the participants’ free radical scavenging activity increased while their salivary cortisol levels decreased.

The production of cortisol is a response to stress, and persistently high cortisol levels have an adverse effect on health.

So, after a stressful day, add sprigs of rosemary to a relaxing bath or diffuse rosemary essential oil in an aroma diffuser.

Rosemary, nasturtiums and succulents growing in an old cream box.

GARDENER SALLY TAGG / NZ

Rosemary, nasturtiums and succulents growing in an old cream box.

7. TREAT ASTHMA
Rosemary can be effective in the treatment of asthma. The researchers administered rosemary to mice induced by bronchial asthma to assess the antioxidant effect. They concluded that the herb increases the levels of antioxidants in the body and reduces oxidative stress which contributes to asthma.

Asthma is accompanied by oxidative stress in the respiratory tract and oxidative damage to biomolecules has been shown to be strongly involved in asthmatic inflammation.

8. ward off moths
The constituents 1,8-cineole and camphor, found in rosemary and other herbs such as lavender, appear to repel moths.

Combine rosemary with other herbs to make a moth bag for drawers, cupboards and blanket boxes. Combine 1 cup of dried rosemary, 1 cup of dried lavender, 1 cup of dried southern wood (Artemisia abrotanum), ¼ cup of crushed cinnamon bark and ¼ cup of ground cloves, then place them in small bags.

Topiary buxus, erect hedges of rosemary and garden hornbeam.

PAUL MCCREDIE

Topiary buxus, erect hedges of rosemary and garden hornbeam.

9. GROW LIKE A HEDGE
The upright rosemary is ideal for medium-sized hedges. When brought together, the plants form dense foliage.

Alternatively, prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) crawls along the ground, so it is perfect for covering large areas or banks.

Native to the Mediterranean coast, rosemary is drought and coast tolerant as well as frost tolerant, although in severe frosts the tips can burn.

Plants should have free-draining soil; otherwise, they can succumb to root rot. Before planting, observe the designated planting location to make sure it drains well. Check to see if water accumulates after a period of rain. If you think this might be a problem, choose a different location or incorporate gravel or pumice into the soil to provide better drainage. Rosemary also likes a slightly chalky soil. In acidic soil, plants benefit from the addition of lime. An occasional liquid feed can be beneficial for plants, but it is not essential.

However, I would recommend giving your plant a light pruning, even just a tip of pruning, every year to maintain shape and avoid legs. Avoid cutting in leafless wood as it will not grow back.

Rosemary salt.

GAP PHOTOS

Rosemary salt.

10. FLAVORED FOODS
Rosemary pairs well with roast meats (especially lamb) and has been a classic Italian pizza herb for a long time. It’s also delicious in homemade breads, including focaccia, and it’s absolutely perfect in herb butters.

To make rosemary butter, mix 2-3 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon red chili pepper (can be substituted with salt and pepper) in ½ cup of softened butter. Place all ingredients in ramekins and refrigerate until use. Rosemary is also at home in sweet dishes. Adding 2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary to your shortbread mix gives it a slight ginger flavor.

Rosemary salt makes a nice Christmas or birthday present for friends. In a large jar, add 1 cup of fresh rosemary leaves to 3 cups of coarse salt. Mix, cover and let sit for 2 weeks to allow the aroma to infuse. Bottle in the salt mills.


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Terri S. Tomasini