Ahh rosemary–who doesn’t love the pungent aroma and flavor of this beautiful Mediterranean herb? I suppose there are some, but not many can say that they don’t love this versatile herb for something, whether that be cooking, making herbal remedies, or keeping flies at bay. Here’s how to grow rosemary and all the ways you can use it.
Rosmarinus, rosemary’s scientific name, means “dew of the sea” according to Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar. She says it is “in reference to the plant’s natural habitat on the warm, sunny hillsides bordering the sea.”
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I had never been a fan of the rosemary plant until a friend of mine gave me her plant. She was moving out of town to Northern California where the weather is cooler, making it hard for her Southern California plants to thrive. Carolyn gave me many plants that she took meticulous care of, but her rosemary plant was my favorite. Thus began my love affair with rosemary.
I suppose that love affair is a strong phrase for what I experienced for the first few months of owning that plant. She was pretty, to be sure, and her fragrance, fantastic. But I wasn’t a fan of the flavor of rosemary until my budding-chef-of-a-daughter used it in a recipe for rosemary-merlot beef. From then on I’ve welcomed rosemary into my kitchen, and into my life. Before that, I had only used rosemary in essential oil form, but now I find it to be one of the most important herbs on my homestead.
How to Grow Rosemary and ALL That You Can Do With It
Learning how to grow rosemary is pretty easy. It grows best in zone 8 and the more southern zones, however, it can grow in zones 7 and below, although the tops may freeze. Plant near a south-facing wall where your rosemary plant can be protected from wind.
Rosemary plants can get 2-4 feet wide and and up to 4 feet tall, so the general advice is to space seedlings 8 to 24 inches apart. My personal preference would be to plant more on the wider side, as planting any plants close together put the plants at risk for sharing pests or diseases. Still, depending on how close you want them to be in the garden, you may choose to plant them closer to each other.
Rosemary likes a pH level of 6-7.5 in a lightweight soil mix if you are planting her in a container, or light, well-drained soil if you are planting in the ground. If you choose to fertilize, you can use an all purpose fertilizer, but truth be told, I never fertilize mine and she’s quite big. Rosemary will need 6-8 hours of full sunlight, but can do fine in partial shade.
Planting or Propagating?
Rosmarinus is easier to propagate than it is to grow from seed, as germination can take a very long time and is hit and miss with a 50% or so germination rate for seeds. But once rosemary is over that hump, she is very easy to grow.
Growing from Seed
If you would like the experience of trying the seed starting method of growing rosemary, here’s what you’ll need to do and provide for your rosemary seeds:
- Start 22 weeks before transplanting time
- Pat gently into soil
- Rosemary seeds need light to germinate
- Soil temp should be 65-70 degrees
- 15-20 days germination
Propagating rosemary is like getting something for nothing, I tell you! No waiting on seeds, just make some cuttings and get them into a good, light planting medium and you should be all set!
I talked in depth about propagating cuttings in my video called How to Get Free Plants from Your Plant Cuttings, so I’ll refer you to that video on YouTube. If you’d like to have it in written form, you can read this article, which pretty much has the same information.
Planting Rosemary in the Ground
Rosemary is almost a set-it-and-forget-it plant around here. All I did was plant it in the ground, with nothing else. However, if you want to give your plant the best chance at living a long, healthy life, plant her in a spot with full sun, and work some composted manure worked into the top layer before planting.
Rosemary Plant Care
Caring for your rosemary plant is as easy as planting! If your plant is planted in the ground, you may want to try mulching to keep roots moist in summer (hot climates), and warm in winter (cold climates).
Some of the pest and diseases you might encounter with your plant are whiteflies, spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale, among other things. Powdery mildew and root rot can also affect it, but that can be helped with good air circulation and good drainage. Of course, it depends on where you live as well was growing conditions, as to whether or not you encounter any of these issues.
When is the right time to harvest rosemary? Whenever you want it if you are in an area where it is able to thrive outdoors year round! If you live in a cold climate and don’t want to bring your rosemary indoors to overwinter, feel free to harvest the whole plant before frost and dry it for use in cooking, herbal teas, and medicines.
To harvest, clip fresh top leaves in the morning. You may also harvest larger branches, but the lower leaves may be older and less full of life and the essential oils that make rosemary so powerful.
To dry rosemary, tie branches or sprigs together and hang upside down in bunches to dry, or in a paper bag if you are concerned about losing the leaves. You may also dry in a dehydrator at 95 degrees until completely dry.
If you’d like to freeze sprigs, that will work nicely if you intend to use them in cooking. Rosemary leaves can also be preserved in vinegar.
Rosemary is good for so many things: food, herbal remedies, and even in hygiene products and household cleaners! Take a look at this list of just some of the ways you can use rosemary.
- In roast dishes like lamb, pork, beef, or veal – adding a branch to the roasting pot permeates the meat with rosemary’s lovely flavor
- In soups and stews
- Tossed and baked with vegetables – It’s really yummy when tossed with potatoes and onions in olive oil and baked in the oven
- In sauces or marinades
- To flavor vinegar and butter
- In breads
Rosemary’s properties make it a smart choice for use in herbal medicines. And because rosemary is so abundant, there is so much benefit to be had by using her leaves. Here are some of her properties:
- supports the body against arthritis
- prevents and fights bacteria
- relieves gas and promotes peristalsis
- is said to improve circulation to the brain
- supports the loosening of phlegm in the respiratory system
In Germany, Rosmarinus officinalis is used to treat indigestion, joint and stomach problems. I use it in my “Feel Good” tea recipe in my article, How to Calm Nerves with Herbal Teas.
Rosemary’s lovely pungent aroma make it a fantastic choice for rubs, massage oils, and salves. It is a wonderful tonic, and can be used for colds, flus, rheumatic pain and indigestion. It is also used as a stimulant to the nerves and circulation, as well as an enhancer for memory and concentration, and a remedy for general fatigue and depression.
Rosemary can be used around the home as well as a disinfectant, an abrasive additive to homemade cleansers and a deodorizing soak for your hairbrushes.
It can be used in sachets, as a flea-deterrent rinse for your animals, and of course, in cooking. This fantastic herb has so many uses, which makes it one of the best herbs to grow in your garden.
For more information and fun folklore about rosemary, check out my friend Heidi’s article, Everything About Rosemary.
Ready to learn more about growing herbs?
Check out our new Ask Me Anything video series! A couple of knowledgeable friends and I have gotten together this month to answer audience and reader questions on the topic of growing herbs!
In this video, we covered:
- Growing Rosemary
- What are spittlebugs, do they harm your herbs
- Tips for growing herbs indoors and overwintering
- Harvesting dill and cilantro
- Growing parsley for a continuous crop
- Keeping indoor herbs healthy in low light areas
- Herb gardening by zones
- Tips for keeping grasshoppers out of your herb garden
- How to fertilize indoor herbs
Mindy’s blog post: 12 Best Healing Herbs for the Homestead
Mindy’s freebie: Growing Herbs Indoors
Shelle’s blog post: 10 Easy Plants for Beginning Herb Gardeners
Shelle’s freebie: 27 Culinary Herbs and How to Use Them in the Kitchen
WEBSITES AND OTHER RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO:
Master Gardener Website URL: Find an extension office in your state and county
AMA Pest Control video #1 (Timecode 3:25)
Beverly Wright says
Very good article. I appreciate all the information you give to us. Thanks. Beverly