January: Hardy Rosemary Rosemarinus officinalis
Rosemary, a drought-tolerant perennial herb, is one of the few herbs in the Pacific Northwest that can be harvested throughout the year. There are many cultivars of rosemary and, if you ever find yourself in the North Carolina Chapel Hill area as I was a few years ago, you could stop in to see 40 different cultivars at the Mercer Reeves Hubbard Herb Garden. It contains the Herb Society of America’s National Rosemary Collection all of which are available on the market today.
Our gardens in the Portland area are located at different elevations and exposures, so it is just as important to pay attention to the zone designations for herbs as it is with other plants. However, be careful with zone ratings from both books and the Internet. For Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’, a successful cultivar in this area, I found varying zone ratings from zone 7-9 to 8-11. Usually hardy enough for Portland, in December 2008, I lost a “Tuscan Blue” only after it suffered the stress of a covering of 10 inches of snow for 10 days. Rosmarinus officinalis “Glorizia”, which now resides in my front yard, is one of the hardiest Rosemary cultivars available. Located street side at 670’ above sea level and exposed to cold east winds, it sustained some freeze damage to the newer growth last December during the cold snap (picture at right) Still, it recovered nicely after I pruned away the dead sprigs. (picture below) My two Rosmarinus officinalis “Majorca pink” shrubs that produce flowers with a slightly lilac-ink tone exhibited only the slightest winter damage from the same weather event, but they reside in containers in a protected area on our front porch (picture lower right). An unknown cultivar planted in Bed X in the MG Multnomah Demonstration Garden (270' elevation) sustained no freeze damage last year. The success of one's chosen rosemary cultivar will depend on your garden elevation, exposure, and being careful not to overwater it. The flowers on my rosemary cultivars attract both bees and hummingbirds. You can find organic starts for Rosmarinus officinalis annually at the Multnomah County Master Gardener Incredible Edible sale in May.
In winter, Rosmarinus officinalis no longer produces tender sprigs and leaves. Regardless, one can continue to harvest from the plant. Some of the slightly woody sprigs can be used as skewers for meat or vegetable kabobs after the leaves have been stripped from them. For a quick winter dinner, use your favorite recipe for roast chicken, take five or six long sprigs, break them in half and stick them in the cavity of the poultry before you slide it in the oven. Soon the kitchen and the meat will be suffused with the wonderful resinous scent and flavor of hardy rosemary.
You will find more information about rosemary and other herbs on the Oregon State University Small Farms Program website.