with Deryn Thorpe

Aromatic Herbs: Rosemary and Bay


Rosemary is both an emblem of fidelity and remembrance, so sprigs of the aromatic herb are traditionally worn at ceremonies on ANZAC day.

The smell of rosemary is believed to improve memory and has particular significance for Australians because it grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.

It is also a useful shrub for gardeners and a favourite herb for cooks, who use the leaves to flavour lamb and other meat or sprinkle it on roasting vegetables.

Fragrant massage oil is also made by seeping the fresh herb in olive oil for a week and is said to relieve rheumatism. An alternative is to make a strong tea by seeping the leaves in hot water or using this in the bath to relax aching muscles.

Native to cliffs in coastal regions of the Mediterranean, rosemary's Latin name Rosemarinus means 'dew of the sea'.

Most plants are medium sized shrub with dense, grey-green, needle-like leaves, which make it a useful hedging plant. Prostrate varieties can be used as ground covers.

Rosemary prefers climates that are not humid and it grows well in improved, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. It needs regular water during hot dry summers and should not be allowed to completely dry out, especially if grown in pots. The prostrate forms look good spilling over walls

All varieties have a rich, spicy fragrance, with their small blue, white or pink flowers often used for cooking. However, some varieties have a better flavour than others and my favourite is the tall, upright 'Tuscan Blue' which grows 1.5m x 80cm.

A good prostrate variety is 'Santa Barbara' which just gets to 20cm tall and about 1m wide.

Another fragrant herb native to the Mediterranean is bay (Lauras nobilis), which has leaves that impart an intense savoury flavour to soups and casseroles. Their flavour may be even more intense than Rosemary but they only remain flavoursome for about a year.

Bay plants grow slowly into big evergreen trees up to 10m or higher but can also be kept in a big pot or trimmed regularly to create a 1.5m to 2m tall hedge.

Trees should not be allowed to dry out when they are young but are more tolerant when mature as long as the soil drains well and they get at least half a day of sun.

They are, however, prone to scale which should be immediately treated with horticultural oil, as it spreads quickly and can be difficult to eradicate.

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