URBANA, Ill. - Rosemary is a wonderful herb. It not only looks and smells good but also makes a great addition to many culinary dishes.
According to Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture, rosemary is often found at Christmas time in wreaths and topiaries.
“If you follow the meaning of flowers, rosemary signifies love and remembrance, making it a great holiday gift,” Ferree says.
Rosmarinus officinalis is a tender perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. Ferree says that rosemary grows well in Central Illinois, but it will not overwinter outside.
“Because it doesn’t transplant well, many people grow it in containers that can be moved indoors for the winter,” she explains.
Once indoors, treat rosemary similarly to other houseplants. Because its native seaside climate is cool and moist, Ferree finds that mimicking that environment in the home produces the best growth. It prefers temperatures around 63-65 degrees Fahrenheit and lots of light. A southern or western exposure is usually best.
Ferree says that the key to overwintering rosemary indoors is proper watering.
“It tends to dry out rather quickly and drop leaves,” she adds.
Monitor the soil carefully to be sure it gets enough water. Let it dry some between watering because waterlogged plants will suffer.
Rosemary is not only beautiful; it is also durable in the garden. As a pollinator plant, it attracts butterflies and honey bees. It has few pest problems and even tolerates deer browsing and drought conditions. Some sources say it grows well as a companion plant with sage.
Rosemary means "dew of the sea" because it is watered by ocean mist in its native Mediterranean. On the other hand, the meaning might also refer to the shimmering blue flowers that cover the rosemary bush in mid-winter there. Typically our summers are not long enough, nor our homes bright enough, for flowers to develop.
There are many uses for rosemary. It is used as a gourmet seasoning for meat, poultry dishes, and potatoes. Although Ferree prefers fresh rosemary, it can also be used dry.
Like most herbs, harvest the young tender tips and foliage. Occasionally, longer, woody stems can be harvested and used as skewers for kabobs.
For more information on rosemary and other herbs, visit the U of I Extension herb website at http://extension.illinois.edu/herbs.