A guide to the rosemary herb, a popular herb for lamb and pork dishes.

Rosemary is a powerful herb that originates from the Mediterranean region. Its name has been derived from the Latin "ros marinus", which means "dew of the sea", due to the fact that it was first seen growing along the Mediterranean coastline.

Rosemary has been used for thousands of years in cooking and in medicine and it is famed for its ability to stimulate the mind, enhance the memory and improve concentration.
Rosemary is very hardy in appearance and somewhat resembles the pine needles of a fir tree rather than a cooking herb.

The needles of the herb, which is a member of the mint family, are extremely pungent, making this herb favourable for meat dishes such as stews or roasted meats.

Rosemary is incorporated a lot in Mediterranean cooking where some cooks could not cook certain meats without it. It is an excellent flavouring for lamb, pork and chicken in particular. Rosemary is very strong in flavour and should therefore be used sparingly.

Rosemary is one of the few herbs that dry really well, due to the fact that it has a lot of oil contained in its leaves. Therefore, rosemary can be used fresh or dried in cooking, with equal results either way, of a strong and flavoursome taste.

In some cases, dried rosemary is actually more pungent than fresh rosemary and should not be used as liberally as the fresh version, so that the dish is not overpowered.

The history of rosemary

Rosemary has been used both medicinally and cosmetically for several thousands of years. In various civilisations, rosemary has been the symbol for many important qualities such as loyalty between friends, remembrance, love and faithfulness and even love and death.

First and foremost though, common to the majority of civilisations, rosemary was mainly associated with the mind and its ability to strengthen the memory and boost mental power.

It was not uncommon to see Greek and Roman students wearing a garland or braid of rosemary in their hair, whilst studying for and taking exams.

Herbalists have used rosemary for centuries to treat a number of skin complaints as well as a pick-me-up tonic when feeling anxious, nervous or depressed.

In the late 14th century, Hungary water was invented. This was a tonic made famous by Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, which was made from rosemary oil amongst other ingredients. As the story goes, she washed her face with the tonic and drank a few spoonfuls of it every day. After carrying out this daily ritual for many years, it seemed that the Queen had barely aged, as her skin still had such a soft and youthful appearance. Apparently, she was asked for her hand in marriage by the King of Poland when she was a mere 72 years old.

Vitamin and mineral content of rosemary

Rosemary is a herb that contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. Fresh and dried rosemary contain the same nutrients but vary in quantities.

For example, fresh rosemary is a good source of manganese, however, when dried, some of manganese is lost through the drying process. On the other hand, dried rosemary contains a significantly higher amount of calcium and iron.

Fresh rosemary, which is used in larger quantities than dried rosemary, is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, folate and manganese. It is also a good source of Vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium and copper.

The many health benefits of rosemary

Rosemary has many healing properties and is probably most well known for its ability to calm the nervous system, relieve aches and pains and as a refreshing and rejuvenating skin tonic. Below are a number of the many healing actions that rosemary is said or known to be able to carry out.
  • Rosemary protects against cancer, particularly skin cancer and tumours, and has anti-oxidant properties.
  • Rosemary essential oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
  • Rosemary can stimulate the circulation of the blood around the body.
  • It can help to raise low blood pressure.
  • It is a digestive, promoting digestion in the stomach.
  • Rosemary can relieve flatulence, colic in babies, gas and indigestion.
  • It can relieve depression, anxiety and nervousness.
  • It can relieve headaches.
  • Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, rosemary can help relive arthritic and rheumatoid pain.
  • When applied to the hair as a lotion, rosemary can treat dandruff, promote hair growth, keep hair healthy-looking and shiny and produce highlights in dark hair.
  • It can revitalise tired and dull skin.
  • Rosemary can relax the muscles of the body and can help with any type of cramp. It can be prepared as a massaging rub.
  • Rosemary improves blood flow to the brain, which can improve concentration and memory.
  • It is said to delay or prevent baldness.
  • Rosemary can stimulate the body to produce sweat and perspiration by stimulating the skin, which will help sweat out fevers, flu or colds.
  • It is good at relieving phlegm from the chest.
  • Rosemary keeps the skin looking young and may slow down the ageing process.
  • Can help with lethargy and exhaustion and restore energy levels.
  • It is an antiseptic.
  • Can help to treat respiratory and chest problems when used as a rub or inhaled with steam.
  • Rosemary can relieve period pains.

Buying and storing rosemary

Rosemary is an extremely hardy plant. It is one of the few herbs whose flavour is not completely lost through cooking and it actually dries very well too.

Fresh rosemary and dried can be bought from your local supermarket. Fresh rosemary should be stored in the original packaging or wrapped in a damp paper towel and kept in the refrigerator.

When cooking with rosemary, you must first remove the needles from the stalks and discard the stalks. Some people prefer the needles to be finely chopped or crushed with a pestle and mortar before using.

Alternatively, whole sprigs of rosemary can be added to a soup or stew to give it flavour during cooking, but must be removed before serving.

Ideas for using rosemary in the kitchen

Rosemary is typically used as a seasoning for lamb and pork dishes but there are also plenty of other wonderful possibilities on how to cook with rosemary. Below are a number of ideas.
  • Use to make homemade stuffing.
  • Add to soups to flavour.
  • Mix with garlic and use as a seasoning for lamb or chicken.
  • Add to melted butter and pour over boiled potatoes and vegetables.
  • Add chopped rosemary to an omelette, scrambled eggs or a frittata.
  • Wrap rosemary leaves around pieces of chicken, pork or lamb and roast.
  • Use to season roast fish.
  • Add to tomato-based sauces and soups.
  • Add to olive oil and served on toasted bread.
  • Use to flavour homemade breads and biscuits.
  • Add to lentils, beans or stews.

Rosemary Recipes

Various recipes that include rosemary in their ingredients, including roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary, baked sea bass and rosemary and oranges with rosemary.

Rosemary and Garlic Roast Leg of Lamb

The leg of lamb is infused with the flavour of garlic and rosemary and is served with a fruity rich red wine gravy.

Ingredients (For 8 people)
  • 6 lb (2.7 kg) leg of lamb
  • ½ pint (300 ml) of lamb stock
  • ¼ pint (150 ml) of red wine
  • 3 sliced cloves of garlic
  • small bunch of rosemary sprigs
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
  2. Calculate the cooking time of the lamb. Allow 15 - 20 minutes per 1 lb (455 g) of lamb, depending on your taste.
  3. With a small sharp knife make small cuts into the skin of the lamb. Insert a sprig of rosemary along with a slice of garlic into each incision.
  4. Rub olive oil into the lamb and season with salt and pepper all over.
  5. Place the lamb into the oven and roast for 15 minutes at the high temperature and then reduce to 400°F (200°C) and roast for a further 1hr 15 - 1 hr 40 minutes, basting frequently.
  6. Once the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove from the oven and transfer the leg of lamb to a serving platter. Allow to rest for 15 minutes for maximum flavour.
  7. Remove the fat from the roasting tin with a spoon and add the red wine and the lamb stock. Stir the liquids together.
  8. Place on the stove and bring to the boil making sure that you are stirring constantly.
  9. Continue to boil and stir until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency. Once the gravy is ready, strain into a warmed gravy jug.
  10. Carve the lamb and serve with the gravy.

Baked Sea Bass with Rosemary

This recipe for sea bass combines the flavours of rosemary and lemon with the fish. It is delicious served with the garlic sauce that is included below.

  • 3 lb (1.4 kg) fresh sea bass, cleaned and gutted
  • ½ thinly sliced lemon
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • coarse sea salt
  • For the garlic sauce
  • 4 tbsp of water
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp of capers
  • 2 tsp of coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Cut the fins from the fish and remove the scales by rubbing the body with a kitchen towel.
  3. Make incisions into the skin of the sea bass all along the length of the body with a sharp knife. Wash the fish and pat dry.
  4. Fill the body cavity of the sea bass with the slices of lemon and the sprigs of rosemary, spreading them evenly down the length of the body.
  5. Place the fish into a roasting tray lined with aluminium foil. Brush the sea bass with the olive oil and sprinkle with some coarse sea salt.
  6. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 45 - 50 minutes.
  7. Whilst the fish is in the oven, prepare the garlic sauce. Blend together the capers, garlic, water and sea salt with a hand blender until smooth.
  8. Bruise the bay leaves and the sprig of rosemary with the back of a spoon and add to the garlic mixture. Stir all the ingredients, add the lemon juice and olive oil and blend thoroughly.
  9. Season with pepper.
  10. Remove the sea bass from the oven when cooked through and transfer to a serving dish. Add a little of the garlic sauce but keep the rest separate.
  11. Serve the fish with the garlic sauce and a selection of steamed seasonal vegetables.

Oranges with Rosemary

This dessert is light and refreshing, especially after a heavy meal. It is delicious on its own or served with yoghurt. The rosemary gives the oranges a wonderfully different flavour.

  • 6 large oranges
  • 12 fl oz (340 ml) of water
  • 3 tbsp of clear honey
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  1. Wash the rosemary and dry it. Place the sprigs into a medium-sized saucepan with the water.
  2. Add the honey to the pan and gently bring the pan to the boil. Whilst the water is heating up, stir continuously to blend the honey into the water.
  3. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  5. Peel the oranges, remove as much pith as possible and cut into slices.
  6. Layer the oranges in a large bowl, stacking them into several layers and overlapping the slices as you go.
  7. Strain the syrup through a sieve into a pouring jug and pour over the oranges.
  8. Place the bowl of oranges into the refrigerator for several hours.
  9. Serve chilled with your choice of accompaniment or on their own.

Rosemary Biscuits

Even though these biscuits contain plenty of fresh rosemary, they still taste delicious and you will soon be baking a second batch.

  • 7 oz (200 g) of plain flour
  • 1¾ oz (50 g) of softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp of cater sugar
  • 4 tbsp of lemon juice
  • 2 tsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  1. Prepare two baking trays by lightly greasing them. Set aside.
  2. Cream together the softened butter with the caster sugar in a fairly large mixing bowl.
  3. Separate the egg and add the egg yolk to the butter and sugar mixture. Reserve the egg white.
  4. Add the lemon juice and the lemon rind and mix well.
  5. Stir in the freshly chopped rosemary.
  6. Sieve the flour into the lemon mixture and combine thoroughly until a soft dough forms.
  7. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°).
  9. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to warm up to room temperature. Roll the dough out onto a clean floured surface and cut out 2½ circles with a pastry cutter.
  10. Arrange the pastry circles onto the baking trays, leaving an inch around each biscuit.
  11. In a small glass bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a fork until light and fluffy.
  12. Using a pastry brush, brush each biscuit with the egg white mixture. If you wish, you may sprinkle a little caster sugar over the biscuits.
  13. Place the trays into the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes.
  14. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.

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