Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Life of Rosemary

When I mention rosemary, I'm sure that most people think of the herb that makes chicken and potato dishes delicious. But rosemary has a long history with a wide variety of uses.

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, gets its latin name from "Ros" which means "dew" and "marinus" for "the sea". The "dew of the sea" was thus named for its growth in the Mediterranean, where the plants were usually sustained by just the humidity of the sea. According to some, the common name "Rosemary" comes from a biblical tale of the Virgin Mary; once when she stopped to rest, her blue cloak passed over some white flowers. The flowers turned the same shade as her cloak, and thus the flowers were called the "Rose of Mary". 
The color of St. Mary's cloak is the color we know common rosemary flowers to have today.

The rosemary plant is a perennial woody shrub in the mint family, well-known for its flavor and aroma which is reminiscent of pine and lemon. These days, most people know the rosemary plant as being great in the kitchen and in aromas, but there as so many other uses of rosemary throughout the world. Historically, rosemary was used for more superstitious reasons. To the Greeks and Romans, rosemary was thought to have been the plant of Aphrodite/Venus and so the plant was thought to attract love. The herb was thought of as a cleansing herb: the hands were washed with rosemary before healing and it was burned to clear areas of negative energy.
Even today, Wiccans place Rosemary within a "mojo bag" to bring themselves knowledge or love

Rosemary was also thought of as the herb of remembrance, which is why Greek scholars would wear a sprig on their head or drink teas of rosemary to help them think. It was also a prominent herb in weddings and at funerals. In weddings, the bride would wear rosemary around her neck as a sign of fidelity, that she was always in remembrance of her new husband. At funerals rosemary was planted at the graves or burned with the body, as a sign of remembrance for the dead. Later in history, rosemary was still used in funerals, though in a more technical way: many believed that the strong smell of the herb helped to keep from catching a sickness from the dead. It was hung around the neck to help the body "remember" its youth.
A Roman wedding: the woman to the far left is holding a garland of rosemary to be placed on the woman after the marriage.

Rosemary was used throughout history as a treatment for many different affectations of the body, such as gout, skin irritation, digestive problems, and wound cleansing. Nowadays, doctors and scientists are researching the actual benefits of rosemary! What's really interesting is that they found that rosemary really does seem to be an ACTUAL herb of remembrance! They found that rosemary has three key acids: carnosic acid, caffeic acid, and rosmarinic acid. Carnosic acid has been found to help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Caffeic and rosmarinic acid both are anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidants, which means that they help to prevent cancer, skin aging, and reduce the effects of asthma or toxins in the body. So, start cooking more often with rosemary: it'll keep you sane! Literally!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Photo of the Week 3

This photo is actually still a mystery to me! I was on a tour of a five-star resort's landscaping two years ago in California. I spotted this vine growing up a pergola and snapped a picture of the interesting bloom! If anyone recognizes it, I would love to hear what it is!

Soon to come....the history of Rosemary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Question: Preparing for Winter

Hey everyone. My best friend asked me yesterday: "I was wondering when we should start taking in our plants to save them from the frost, and also what should we do to keep them from getting bugs over the winter?"

So, I will try to keep the first part quite general: When to take your plants inside all depends on where you live! In this area, I always remember Halloween as being the time that frost hits or that it is very cold out, so I have always taken my plants in before then. For those who live elsewhere, I suggest checking out the estimates on frost dates at That link will let you get an estimate on freeze dates by zip code. I would advise of course that these are loose estimates, so be aware for earlier frost as you get closer. Outside of the US, the hardiness zones change depending on what hemisphere you are in and where in relation you are to the equator. I suggest going to the website for your country's agricultural department as they should provide you with freezing information, if you have to worry about it at all.
The USA hardy zones

For keeping your plants pest free, there are many things to do. First of all, when keeping your plants free from bugs, fungus, etc. the best thing is PREVENTION. It's easier to prevent infestation than it is to treat it. When bringing in your plants from being outside all summer long, its safe to assume that there may be insects living on your plants (very normal actually). Usually I treat my plants with a general insecticidal soap when bringing them inside, which will decimate any aphids, mites, mealybugs, and possibly some scales.
Spider mites are tinier than the head of a pin and cause plant leaves to become a speckled yellow.

An aphid: they come in orange, green, brown, black; Sometimes they have wings.

Mealybugs look like little cotton puffs wedged in the "crotches" of your plant stems.

Brown soft scale.

After treating the plants and letting the soap dry, I usually do a quick visual check around the plant for any signs of more serious pest or fungal damage (holes bored in the stems, chewed leaves, wilting, leaf curling, etc.). If you find that you have a more serious pest or fungal problem, I would say that they require special attention, so feel free to message me with your pest issues.

The last common issue with plants indoors is fungus gnats. Sounds yummy, right? Fungus gnats show up in plants that are kept wet too much. So, while your plants are inside, make sure not to water them until the top layer of soil has dried out a bit. Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the top layers of the soil, so letting it dry out will usually kill them. But, like I said earlier, PREVENTION is the best way to keep the issue under control, so water the plants when they need it (rather than watering more often to be safe). Remember that overwatering can be just as bad for a plant as not watering at all!
Watch for these buggers flying around your plants!
If you have any questions on this post, feel free to send them to me!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Direction to the Blog?

So, I have been perusing through gardening blogs, and notice that the better blogs out there focus on an aspect or two of gardening rather than to just cover all of it. By no means do I know all about gardening, and so I think I am going to hone in on my skills and try to cover that!

One of my favorite pastimes is historical reenactment at the local renaissance festival. I play the part of a barber-surgeon in the Tudor reign of 16th century England. A barber-surgeon was the equivalent of a doctor in the days, though there were different types of practitioners of medicine with different views. Anyways, that's not the big point. The point is that as a barber-surgeon, the use of herbs for medicinal purposes was vital. My goal from post to post will be to discuss an herb. Not just in a namby-pamby way covering the basics, but I really aim to discuss how the herb was used through history and how those uses may or may not have changed!

The barber-surgeon of the Maryland Renaissance Festival

I THINK that this is a pretty original kind of blog, but who knows. We'll see!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Photo of the Week 2

Took this picture of a budding rose while over at my grandmother's for dinner earlier this past week! Sad that all of the floral abundance will soon dissipate. Getting in the photos while I can!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Photo of the week

So, I am going to try to get up a weekly photo that I have either recently or previously taken that I find beautiful. This week's picture is of a beautiful pink double camellia that I took last year in California at Descanso Gardens. Check them out here