Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Holiday Connection, Rosemary Isn't Very Common

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Despite Holiday Connection, Rosemary Isn't Very Common

Article excerpt

Few holiday plants are more steeped in religious and mystical tradition than the herb rosemary. Yet for all its historical connection to Christmas, it is not as commonplace as it might be, at least in North America.

Over many centuries, rosemary has been used as a tonic, an astringent and an expectorant; and to treat headaches, depression, muscle spasms, eczema, wounds and rheumatism.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, rosemary branches were burned to keep away the plague.

Its holiday tradition is rooted in the legend that a rosemary bush sheltered Mary as she fled to Egypt with the Christ child: Mary hung her blue cloak on the bush, changing the flowers from white to blue. Rosemary does indeed produce delicate, baby blue flowers but the many varieties available today have extended the hues to purple, pink and, yes, white.

In its native Mediterranean region, certain varieties reach heights of 6 feet and are equally broad. In North America, it is a perennial in temperate areas, and grows similarly large when content. I have seen tall hedges of rosemary in California and Arizona. To the north, rosemary becomes a tender perennial and must be sheltered to survive the winter.

Many rosemary growers will uproot specimens and bring them in during the coldest months, the surest way to protect a valued plant. Treated this way, it will get very large in a few years.

Rosemary is an attractive evergreen, bulky in old age but with a fine texture unlike any other garden plant. Its piney scent is a cherished quality, and it submits freely to pruning - for cooking, for propagation and even for topiary and hedging.

The stems can be grown into living wreaths, the foliage shaped to imitate a Christmas tree or the plant turned into a lollipop, with a bare lower stem topped with a leafy globe.

Rosemary long has been a friend of the cook, flavoring meats, vegetables and stews. Small rosemary topiaries also are gaining favor in the home at this time of year.

Outside, there are few tricks to growing rosemary. It will take ordinary soil and drought, and really demands only a sunny aspect and freedom from standing water. Garden plants are safest grown in a big pot, which can be brought indoors for the winter. …

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