Half a Hundred Herbs week 1- Rosemary
This is Twelfth Night, and all the Christmas decorations are down. There was a little holly and ivy, but also small sprays of bay and rosemary – as well as the normal glitter, tinsel, glass, and candles – which were traditional until at least the Puritan banning of Christmas celebrations. I grew up with this Robert Herrick lyric, and I’ve included rosemary in my decorations ever since I had a garden.
Rosemary was the first herb I ever grew – the second was lavender – and I used to rub my wrists with sprigs of them instead of perfume. It’s still a combination I like.
I am not doing too well with rosemary in my garden; the soil has been too wet, and though it’s a herb which has come through lows of -12C, it won’t stand for waterlogged roots. So this plant in its pot is my stock plant, which I will use for cuttings. Ideally I’d grow it like this,
as they do in formal gardens in Madrid and Barcelona – in generous swathes in combination with lavender and sage, hyssop and oregano, all fine-leaved heavily perfumed plants that love the sun, and which I also associate with the garrigue and the maquis of southern France – rocky dry outlying lands, fit only for herbs and bees and goats. I am wondering now about the relationship between the French ‘maquis’ and the Gaelic ‘machair’ where the black bee thrives and also the Old English ‘mearc’ (marches) where the big orchards of damson and plum and cider apples flourish – all borderlands, wilder land, the land in between. There are resonances for me in these liminal places, which I’m exploring in my poems.
But for now, I am concerned with more homely things – keeping warm, getting over a vile chest infection which kept me in bed for over a week – cleaning and cooking. One of the things rosemary is good for is disinfectant – it is one of the constituents of the notorious ‘vinegar of the four thieves’. This concoction also includes thyme garlic and lavender (sometimes mint, rue, wormwood and sage as well, which produces a cocktail of all the most powerful anti-bacterials known to man. It smells rather nice too. I’ll be experimenting with herbal disinfectants later this month, but yesterday I made something more pleasant. Rosemary and olive oil focaccia.