What is rosemary?
The fragrance of a Sunday roast lamb dotted with cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary is familiar to many Australians. The rich, pungent flavour of rosemary also pairs well with chicken and seafood dishes and enhances a tumble of tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms cooked in butter.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and grows in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, North Africa, Lebanon and Egypt. Archaeological records from 5000 BC show that this herb was used for medicinal and cooking purposes in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The ancient Egyptians buried rosemary with their Pharaohs and the ancient Greeks and Romans threw sprigs of rosemary into graves as a sign of remembrance. In the 14th century, a famous cosmetic preparation for the Queen of Hungary was made from rosemary, orange, chamomile and bergamot.
Rosemary is very popular in Mediterranean cuisine. Italian and Greek migrants have played a large part in introducing it to the Australian population.
In Australia, rosemary is not sold by variety. Rosemary is usually sold in bunches of sprigs with leaves attached. The leaves, green on top and silver underneath, are needle-like and smell a little like pine leaves.
Rosemary is used to flavour many dishes. The leaves are usually finely chopped for many recipes unless the whole sprig is added and then removed once the dish is cooked.
Why rosemary is good to eat
- Rosemary contains vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), B6 (which is involved in the production of red blood cells and regulation of nerve function), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and folate.
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), and calcium and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Rosemary contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of rosemary supplies 548 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Rosemary plants are small, evergreen shrubs (retain their green leaves throughout the year) that grow best in warm, sunny spots. The plants are usually grown from cuttings of other rosemary plants.
The plants grow to about 90 cm and have pointed, narrow leaves that are between 2 and 4 cm long. The leaves are green on top and a silver colour underneath. The most common variety of rosemary has blue flowers, but there are others with white, pink or purple flowers.
Once established, rosemary plants can be harvested year round. Snip sprigs of rosemary and either use the whole sprig or finely chop the leaves for your recipes.
Rosemary also grows well in pots and other containers.
Choose rosemary that has glossy, dark-green, flexible leaves. Rosemary should smell fragrant. Avoid rosemary with brittle or dry leaves.
How to store and keep rosemary
Store fresh rosemary in a tightly closed plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. It will keep for between one and two weeks when stored this way
How to use
- Cook some fragrant potatoes – toss rosemary leaves with olive oil, whole garlic cloves and peeled potatoes, then season with a grind of salt and pepper and roast until golden and crisp.
- Try rosemary-scented chicken – place chicken pieces in a baking dish along with some vegetables, then scatter chopped fresh rosemary and oregano on top, add crushed garlic and bake until crispy.
- Serve a simple entrée – fry garlic and add raw prawns, a splash of white wine, sprigs of rosemary, chopped tomatoes and, once the prawns are cooked, sprinkle with crispy pancetta (or bacon) and enjoy with crusty bread and a simple green leaf salad.
- Make a delicious side dish – place asparagus and quartered mushrooms in a pan, drizzle with olive oil, add finely chopped rosemary and garlic, then roast until the asparagus is tender.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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