Fragrant and hearty, rosemary is an herb native to the Mediterranean, where it can be found in abundance growing wild. Since around 500 B.C., this member of the mint family has been used to add flavor dishes ranging from eggs to lamb chops. As rosemary is now cultivated around the world, different varieties have emerged, each with a slightly different scent and flavor.
Rosemary Quite Contrary
The United States National Arboretum tests the hardiness of rosemary plants during harsh Mid-Atlantic winters. In spite of being known as a warm-weather plant, testing on more than 50 rosemary varieties has revealed certain ones that can make it through cold weather. In general, those with lighter flowers and thinner leaves are the most hardy. Arp and Madeline Hill are the most common types grown, but a number of others have survived winter well, including Salem, Russian River, Miss Jessup's Upright, Logee's Light Blue, Herb Cottage, Goodwin Creek, Bendenen Blue and Albus.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Rosemary comes in many different shapes, fragrances and colors. Some plants grow straight up and spread out readily, while others grow so low that they almost cover the ground. Creeping rosemary tends to have smaller, needle-like leaves and lavender-colored flowers. Most varieties of rosemary are highly tolerant to salt, making them ideal for coastal areas. Some varieties of the fragrant herb, such as the smaller Blue Boy rosemary, grow well indoors, but most varieties need additional light.
Yummy Tastes and Pretty Smells
Taste and smell are inextricably linked, and rosemary combines traces of lemon and pine with varying intensity. The upright varieties with broader, juicier leaves provide more oil and aroma and are favored for cooking. Often seen in the produce aisle, the Spice Island variety has a strong flavor and is readily available for home cooking. Some professional chefs swear by Tuscan Blue, while others prefer Miss Jessup's Upright or Blue Spires.
Lovely Plants All in a Row
Whether it grows in a thick hedge or cascades over a wall, rosemary makes a versatile garden decoration and an essential kitchen herb. Most varieties have green or silver-green leaves but there are a few renegades. Golden Rain, also known as Joyce DeBaggio, has golden leaves, deep blue flowers and a rather chunky shape, while Gorizia has long, exceptionally green leaves and grows up to five feet tall. Arp, named for the town in Texas where it was discovered, has a lemony scent and the lavender flowers are edible.