Monday, May 12, 2014


By THOR (Flowering Rosemary) [CC-BY-2.0
 via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not sure where I first encountered rosemary.  I seem to recall my mom had some at the house where I grew up in the Tri-Cities of Washington State..  When I moved to Kitsap county in the late nineties I shared a house with two women.  They had a rosemary bush somewhere around the house. I lived there for five years but for some reason I cannot remember where the plant was; obviously rosemary is not a powerful memory booster.  One of my roommates introduced me to mustard roasted potatoes with rosemary.  To this day, it's one of my favorite potato dishes and rosemary is one of my favorite culinary herbs.

The scientific name of this common garden herb is Rosmarinus officinalis.  The generic name, Rosmarinus, in Latin means "Dew of the Sea".  Despite the Latin name, the English name comes from "Rose of Mary", pertaining to a legend where the Virgin Mary placed her blue cloak over a white flowered rosemary bush, turning the flowers blue.  The plant is indeed native to the Mediterranean and Asia. Those of you familiar with other herbs will recognize officinalis as a common specific epithet.  It is a medieval Latin term denoting plants (or other organisms) with uses in medicine or herbalism.
Rosemarinus officinalis prostratus
Credit: Petar43 via Wikimedia Commons,
file size reduced, Licensed.

People seem to love their rosemary plants. When I met my wife, she had one that she later brought to our house after we married. At our wedding, the tables were dressed with rosemary in four inch pots as gifts for the guests. Two made it to our house. Unfortunately, all three eventually succumbed, apparently to a hard winter. While rosemary is pretty hardy in Kitsap county, it can be a little sensitive to cold as is common with many Mediterranean species grown in our area. We replaced our losses with a dwarf rosemary called 'Roman Beauty' and keep it in a pot to move it around easily.  We can move it out in the sun in the summer or onto our covered porch for winter protection.  Such is what we'll do to have fresh rosemary for our mustard roasted potatoes.

Other people even love their rosemary plants like pets.  Case in point: a recent client of mine had an ailing rosemary.  When I first viewed this plant, most of the branches were dead and much of the bark at the base was sloughed off.  I suggested the possibility of scrapping the plant and starting over.  My client told me, probably more politely than I deserved, that she wanted to try to save her beloved rosemary.  I gave her a list of things to do to attempt to restore the rosemary to its former glory.  Among other things, I recommended pruning out the dead branches.  Here are before and after photos:

Rosemary before pruning.
Credit: Darren Strenge, 2014

Rosemary after pruning
Credit: Anonymous, 2014

There was not much left to the plant after the dead branches were lovingly removed.  The by-the-book horticulturist in me saw a plant that likely would have a hard time regaining a "normal" structure, even with proper pruning.  It might never appeal to formal aesthetic sensibilities.  But I had a bit of an epiphany:  this rosemary was not a brick in the "wall" of my client's garden. It was already perfect in her eyes.  This was a plant that had previously grown well for her.  It was the scent of arriving home -- releasing its fragrance whenever she brushed by. It gave up sprigs to decorate her signature dishes and holiday roasts. Its cuttings were her natural room deodorant when living with a teen aged boy became too smelly. It was as much a part of her living experience in that location as the house itself. Like a beloved pet, the plant was to be saved because it was loved despite its superficial perceived imperfections.  Screw formal aesthetic sensibilities.

Rosemary is kind of like the faithful dog of the garden world. It can be pretty to look at but it's also like a good companion, giving us a nice aroma, good flavor for our food, nice flowers in the spring, and is generally forgiving.

I will leave you with this:

Mustard Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary

I always winged this recipe.  My wife’s version (given here) is better.  All ingredients can be added to taste.  It's also good without the mustard.

  • 6 russet potatoes chopped into large, bite size pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons each of olive oil and mustard of choice
  • 1 clove of elephant garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Two inch sprigs of rosemary, chopped.
Mix all the ingredients in a casserole dish and stir well.  Bake for about 1 hour at 350°F with lid askew.

Special thanks to my wife for the recipe.  She’s a far better cook than me.  I can grow the plants, she turns them into culinary works of art.

Thanks also to Tess Haddon for editing help.

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