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Herbs Section

Rosemary - magic in the garden.

Looking like a small sprig from an evergreen tree the wonderful smell and assertively pine-like fragrance and pungent flavour of rosemary goes a long way to flavour to chicken, lamb, pork, salmon and tuna dishes as well as many soups and sauces. As an evergreen, rosemary is available throughout the year.

But did you know that it is a strong tonic herb, a major herb in dressing for Greek salads, which is why a true greek salad tastes like no other salad and Rosemary is also a major ingredient in eau de cologne?

Rosmary in flower

Rosemary in flower

Rosemary grows as a small evergreen shrub belonging to the Labiatae family that is related to mint. In it's prostrate form it is a low dark green ground cover with lots of tiny pale pink or baby blue flowers in rock gardens. The erect form can grow over a metre tall, forming a dense bush with pale blue flowers that stand out against it's dark green foliage. Its leaves look like flat pine-tree needles, deep green in colour on top while silver-white on their underside. Much of the summer, it's covered in pretty pale blue flowers, that are a favourite for honey bees.

Its memorable flavour and unique health benefits makes it an indispensable herb for every kitchen and an added bonus is that it is very hardy and available all year round. Unless you are in the tropics, it will probably grow in your garden. Even salt spray won't kill it once it's established.

Rosemary is the ideal herb for any home garden that receives direct sun. The name rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name "rosmarinus", which is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" — apparently because it is frequently found growing near the sea. It is every hardy, completely salt tolerant and resistant to drought., which is why it is often planted as a shrub in parks and public areas.

It does not like a high humidity, so is not an easy herb for the tropical herb garden.

A word of caution, even though rosemary grows well on the roadside, do not pick rosemary (or any herb) growing near a busy road – the constant exposure to vehicle exhaust and road water run-off or spray from passing traffic will give it an excessive heavy metal content.

It is the ideal plant to line a sandy path and give your cottage herb garden garden a fragrant low hedge-like border. It was a common Victorian gardening practise to plant rosemary as a border for vegetable gardens and paths on cottage gardens because the strong scent discouraged pests and brought bees. The bees loved the pale blue rosemary flowers and would stop and pollinate the vegetable plants as well. Having an abundance of bees in your garden will increase the yield of fruit, flowers and vegetables by at least 20%.

The Victorian cottage garden

Rosemary was commonly used to border Victorian cottage gardens and paths because it's strong scent was a deterrent to many insect pests.


The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

Sprig of rosemary

A sprig of rosemary was said to help the memory and in ancient herbal lore rosemary was for treating the brain for ailments like fevers.

In medieval times monks were the equivalent to doctors today. The accrued wisdom if the abbey was recoded in a herbal remedy book called "The Great Herbal". Because these were so valuable, they were often locked away and protected, so some still survive today. Here's an extract from a "Grete Herbal" about at treatment for a fever, using rosemary.

From the Grete Herbal:
'ROSEMARY. - For weyknesse of ye brayne. Against weyknesse of the brayne and coldenesse thereof, sethe rosemaria in wyne and lete the pacyent receye the smoke at his nose and keep his heed warme.'

Poor churches who could not afford incense, an imported luxury during the middle ages, used rosemary instead, hence the old French name for rosemary is Incensier. It was an old custom to burn Rosemary in sick chambers, and in French hospitals it was customary to burn Rosemary with Juniper berries to purify the air and prevent infection. Like Rue, it was placed in the dock of courts of justice, as a preventative from the contagion of gaol-fever.

Even today, we use rosemary at funerals, "Rosemary for remembrence", as the saying goes. Some cultures and secret societies will throw a sprig of rosemary into the grave with the deceased. Often a small sprig of rosemary will be placed on the grave of a loved one as a symbol that they are remembered - still in our thoughts.

Sprig of rosemary on a memorial

Rosemary for rememberence - A sprig of rosemary placed on a memorial.

In wiccan lore, rosemary was a ward herb, used to repel vapours and noxins of evil, and used as a love and fertility charm. It is likely this was a result of the vitalising properties of rosemary and the fact that it remained erect and green right through the cold winters, when all else succumbed to the bitter frosts. In fact it is rosemary's aromatic oils that help it to resist freezing. Newly wed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew it was a good omen for the union and family.

Another example of rosemary’s use as a love charm was that a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love. Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb; several rosemary plants were were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. Then they were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was also stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) in order to attract a lover or attract curative "ethers" for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into sign that the woman ruled the household. By the 16th century, in Europe this practise became a bone of contention; and men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they and not their wives, ruled the roost.

Rosemary at a wedding table place setting

Rosemary is traditionally used at weddings as a symbol of health, vitality and fertility.

The vitalising tonic effect of rosemary is also associated with health and fertility, which is probably why, in the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a garland of rosemary as a headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary.

The Spaniards revere it as one of the bushes that gave shelter to the Virgin Mary in the flight into Egypt and call it Romero, the Pilgrim's Flower. Both in Spain and Italy, it has been considered a safeguard from witches and evil influences generally.

The Sicilians believe that young fairies, taking the form of snakes, lie amongst the branches.

Medicinal Uses

In ancient medicine the essences in rosemary were used with wine and lavender as a disinfectant. Rosemary itself was brewed in a tea and given as a tonic. Honey from hives close to rosemary, lavender and sage was prized for it's antibacterial properties.

Apothecary Bottles

The aromatic oils of rosemary are extracted usually by the steam process but can also be extracted with ethyl alcohol to produce a tincture, when evaporated by half it's volume. Rosemary oil is used externally as a rubefacient and is added to liniments as a fragrant stimulant. As a herbal ingredient in shampoo, it is supposed to remedy dandruff. In a crème it was administered for the treatment of gout, rheumatics and skin disorders.

Hungary water, for outward application to renovate the vitality of paralysed limbs, was first invented for a Queen of Hungary, who was said to have been completely cured by its continued use. It is prepared by putting 1 1/2 lb. of fresh Rosemary tops in full flower, into 1 gallon of spirits of wine (ethyl alcohol). This is allowed to stand for four days and then distilled. Hungary water was also considered very efficacious against gout in the hands and feet, being rubbed into them vigorously (it's more likely the relief when the rubbing stops is the feeling of being cured - gout is too painful to rub vigorously!)
A formula dated 1235, said to be in the handwriting of Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, is said to be preserved in Vienna. .

The results of a study suggest that carnosic acid, found in rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and ALS. Rosemary contains a number of potentially biologically active compounds, including antioxidants such as carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid. Other bioactive compounds include caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, rosmaridiphenol, and rosmanol.

A toxicity studies of the plant on rats has shown hepatoprotective and antimutagenic activities. however, precaution is necessary for those displaying allergic reaction or prone to epileptic seizures. Rosemary essential oil may have epileptogenic properties, as a handful of case reports over the past century have linked its use with seizures in otherwise healthy adults or children.

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For the Garden

Rosemary is ideal as a useful border plant forming a dense windbreak 1 metre high that is salt resistant and will attract bees, which will increase the yield in any garden by 20%. If you are afraid of bees – fear not, bees on rosemary are almost harmless, too intent on collecting the nectar to sting you. You would have to hurt one before it will know you are there. The dark green hedge effect is a pretty addition to any garden and the profusion of flowers on each spike, especially the common Officinalis variety, that come out in Summer to winter, are a welcome site when everything else is dormant. A prostrate variety is an attractive drought tolerant addition to a rock garden and has the added surprise of a profusion of small pale blue flowers in winter to spring.

Rosemary can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a spike with a stem 4-5mm diameter that is 10–15cm (4–6in) long. Strip all but few centimetres of leaves from the top, and plant it directly into moist but well drained soil. Today many varieties are available to the home gardener:

Rosemary officianalis

Rosemary officianalis - the upright form that grows over a metre tall, starting to flower

  • Officinalis – 1 metre tall spikes of dark green leaves with pale blue flowers (the most common).

  • Albus — white flowers

  • Arp — leaves light green, lemon-scented

  • Aureus — leaves speckled yellow

  • Benenden Blue — leaves narrow,dark green

  • Blue Boy — dwarf, small leaves

  • Golden Rain — leaves green, withyellow streaks

  • Irene — lax, trailing

  • Lockwood de Forest — procumbent selection from Tuscan Blue

  • Ken Taylor — shrubby

  • Majorica Pink — pink flowers

  • Miss Jessop's Upright — tall, erect , pale blue flowers

  • Pinkie — pink flowers

  • Prostratus – rockery prostrate variety grows to 15cm high by 3-4metres wide, pale blue flowers

  • Pyramidalis (a.k.a. Erectus) — pale blue flowers

  • Roseus — pink flowers

  • Salem — pale blue flowers, cold hardy similar to Arp

  • Severn Sea — spreading, low-growing, with arching branches; flowers deep violet

  • Tuscan Blue — upright

Civet eating coffee fruit

Civet source of Kopi Luwak

Cat Poo Coffee anyone?

Kopi Luwak, the worlds most expensive coffee is the result of a civet, or cat-like predator, snacking on coffee beans. The beans undergo a transformation in the civet's digestive tract and when salvaged from it's droppings and brewed, make a fuller malty-chocoloate flavoured coffee brew that is not bitter like normal coffee.

If you think that's revolting, check the price!
A pound (454 gms) of Kopi Luwak beans will cost you anywhere from $100 to $3,000 and a cup of brewed Kopi Luwak will set you back around $80, if you can get it! Until recently the only source of Kopi Luwak beans were from people searching the jungle where civets were found, for little piles of civet poo but now some coffee farmers are keeping civets in captivity and feeding them coffee beans. But someone still has to fish around in that steaming poo for those little warm beans . . . Oh yummy!

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Culinary Uses

Rosemary is the natural accompaniment for lamb in western dishes but there's a secret to using it:

Strip the leaves off the woody stems, sharpen the end of the stem with a sharp knife and skewer the meat with it. The leaves can be ground green into a paste with a little olive oil and salt in a mortar and pestle (easiest if chopped up fine first). Score the lamb and rub this into the surface, with custard powder, to turn the surface into lamb crackling.

Greek salad

Fresh Greek salad

Rosemary in dressing for Greek Salad
This is the traditional dressing they served us in Rhodes and it makes a Greek salad out of only a few ingredients.
For your basic salad use lettuce (broken into chunks by hand - not sliced), tomatoes, cucumber, olives (pitted), cube or crumble some fetta cheese into the mix and a little sliced salad onion (not too much). Don't get fancy with the ingredients; it's best done fresh and simple.

In a small jar,add a couple of desert spoons of finely chopped rosemary leaves to equal parts lemon juice and vinegar. Add half the volume of the jar's contents, of olive oil. If it is in season you can add finely chopped fresh basil (but do not use dried basil). Shake vigorously and pour over the salad . Sprinkle liberally with salt and toss until everything is coated with the dressing.

The salad will not keep well beyond 24 hours, once the dressing is added so it has to be eaten fresh that day. By tomorrow the dressing will make the salad limp. The dressing however, will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Baste For Goose, Turkey and baking a Raw Ham
Who has a spare ham, goose or turkey lying around when they're on a tight budget?
But a raw ham at Christmas (or thanksgiving or any other time) has a lot of meals on it dollar for dollar because of the amount of cold meat left and it makes delicious sandwiches and salads for lunches later. Bought raw, it's usually a lot less to buy than a cooked one. You'll often find frozen geese, turkeys and chickens at heavily reduced prices, in the specials section, after festive season. I found a frozen goose in the specials area of the supermarket - no-one knew how to cook it so it didn't sell at Christmas (Goose is a greasier version of chicken with a LOT more meat and this one was the same price as a roasting chook!)

Grind up some Cardamom seeds in your mortar and pestle.
Finely chop a ½ cup of rosemary leaves, mix with a desert spoon of salt, two of brown sugar and grind to a paste in your mortar and pestle with the cardamom seed. Add some olive oil to give it a thick liquid consistency.
Rub it on the skin of the meat. If it is a raw ham, score the skin with a very sharp knife, through the skin down to the meat below, in a criss cross pattern. Place in a roasting dish with some water.

Glazed baked ham

Baked ham glazed with rosemary, cardamom and caramel.

Roast the meat slow and low (about 2 hours or more) for maximum tenderness - don't cremate it!. The slower the better. Every once in a while, scoop some of the water, which will turn to a brown baste with time, and dribble it over the meat. The juice (called liquor in the trade) will form a wonderful cooking medium for your roast vegetables, which you add about healf an hour before serving. If you want to speed up the veges, microwave cook the dense ones so they are half cooked before you add them to the roasting dish.
You will end up with a truly gourmet roast that will be the talking point for years to come, but no-one can copy.

This baste will compliment the game flavours and draws out the fats to caramelise and seal the surface early in the roasting process so the inner meat remains juicy and tender.

Rosemary tonic or tea
This is absolutely brilliant for relief from colds and flu symptoms without using antibiotics or pseudoephadrine based cold and flu medications. It's so easy to make too!
Rosemary – 3 to 4 stems will do.
1 Lemon or lime.
Honey (1 teaspoon per serve).

Strip a hand full of rosemary leaves off their stems.
Finely chop these up to the size of large tea leaves.
Steep in boiling water for 30 seconds (a teapot or tea infuser is ideal). Add a squeeze of lemon juice and honey to taste.

Give to the patient while hot so they can breathe in the vapours as well as drink the tonic. Within 15 minutes they will feel better and will continue to do so for an hour.
Rosemary was the vitalising herb of the medieval apothecary. However it can slightly elevate blood pressure, so do not use this on pregnant ladies or anyone with hypertension.

Rosemary Kebaps
Simple and effective if you make them the day before your barbecue and store them in the fridge overnight.

Simply strip the leaves of stems of rosemary,sharpen the thicker end and skewer alternating groups of squares of meat, capsicum and onion, Brush with oil and leave overnight in a covered dish in the fridge.

Rosemary Kebaps

Rosemary skewered kabaps - an awesome barbacue dish.

You can also use pineapple, olives, tofu, fresh firm peach flesh or fresh pear instead of vegetables for a truly exotic mix.

For the gourmet finish, mash bluevein cheese in white wine and use as a dressing or glaze. An amazing accompaniment for pineapple that will have your guests in awe of your culinary talents!

Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

Basket of Fresh herbs

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