By LORRAINE BARNETT
Iâ€™ve always had a fascination with functional herbs. Many are not only pest-free, edible and useful for everyday cooking and baking in the kitchen, but also wonderful for aromatherapy. As I grow more in the understanding of the plants, itâ€™s clear to me culinary herbs should be a larger part of my garden, indoors and out.
A perfect match to herb gardening is my fondness for food chemistry. Itâ€™s amazing how herbs sometimes tend to a bodyâ€™s needs. It seems that culinary herbs have almost come full circle, as gardeners cultivate ideas seeded in mysterious ancient folklore and encourage scientists to grow new facts encrusted in scientific terms. One of the hundreds of herbs studied by scientists? Rosmarinus officinalis.
Can you think of some common winter complaints? I know my blanket accompanies me everywhere I go. I get cold. The air seems dry. My immune system feels challenged. I feel hungry. My wintertime allure to use rosemary suddenly makes sense. Rosemary was used in ancient days to improve circulation, now a scientific fact. Indeed, the aromatic perennial has many properties: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant and digestive to name few â€” winter needs met in one little herb.
It makes sense now. Ros means â€œdew.â€ Marinus means â€œof the sea.â€ Ah, this native Mediterranean seaside herb has nicknames: Dew of the Sea, Compass Plant and Poplar Plant.
Besides its literary makeup, the herb is quite charming with its pine-like structure and flat needle leaves. Evergreen leaves stay green with a silvery green underside. Rosemary blooms with tiny blue, bell-shaped flowers in summertime.
With 3 calories per teaspoon and a good amount of fiber, iron and calcium, culinary chefs also know the lemony pine scent and flavors. Rosemary marries well with many fish and lamb dishes, but also pork, beef and chicken, plus salads, vegetable and egg dishes. Then there are rosemary bread, cookies and other desserts. And rosemary-flavored vinegars, oils, butters and ice cubes.
Buying and storing rosemary
Select organic plants and cuttings (and dried rosemary). This allows plants to be free of chemical pesticides, irradiation and encourages cleaner living for our environment. Once stems are cut, refrigerate and tuck into a damp, chemical-free paper towel. If dry, store in a cool, dry and dark spot for up to three months.
To grow rosemary
Pot or plant outdoors. Rosemary enjoys humid air, well-drained alkaline soil and part-sun in a sheltered spot. Perfect for rock gardens. To propagate a woody-stemmed plant, use tender new cuttings. For ornamental effects, trim mature plants into topiaries. Allow soil to dry between watering.
Barnett is a green-thumb gardener from Westfield Center.