The herb of love is a wonder mosquito repellent, writes Stephanie Choo

THERE are many myths and folklore surrounding the ancient herb rosemary. It was a symbol of happiness, loyalty and love in the Middle Ages. The brides would wear a headpiece made from the plant at their weddings while the grooms and their guests would wear a nosegay.

Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb as it could reveal the name of one’s future lover. And if you placed it under the pillow, it was considered a natural treatment for headaches and migraines. The herb was also used to relieve muscle pain, boost the immune and circulatory system, improve memory and increase hair growth.

HANDY INGREDIENT

The evergreen shrub is grown throughout the world for its aromatic flavour and scent. Cooks use rosemary to add flavour. In the garden, the plant helps to keep pests at bay and attracts butterflies. It repels mosquitoes and apothecaries use its oil to make perfume.

ORNAMENTAL AND MEDICINAL

This very useful plant is very pretty as well. Rosemary bears beautiful greyish-green foliage that resembles mist against the sea cliffs of the Mediterranean where it originated. A member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, its scientific name is Rosmarinus officinalis. The genus name is derived from two Latin words, Ros (means mist or dew) and marinus (sea), meaning “mist of the sea”.

The species name, officinalis denotes its use in herbal medicine in the past. Officinalis means belonging to an officina, a storeroom of a monastery where medicines and other things were kept. The perennial is a rich source of health benefiting antioxidants, essential acids and phytonutrients.


Olive oil-infused rosemary

PLANT APPEARANCE

Since rosemary has been in cultivation for thousands of years, many natural rosemary hybrids have been formed. They either grow upright or trail. The upright forms can grow to 1.5m high. Flowering short racemes can be white, purple, blue or pink.

Rosemary plants bear short, narrow and pointed 2 to 4cm woolly needle-like leaves which are green on top and greyish underneath. The woody plant grows into a dense bush. Both the leaves and flowers are scented.

PLANT CARE

You can shape and prune a rosemary regularly. It makes a beautiful bonsai, topiary and low-hedge specimen. The trailing varieties make for great borders and ground cover.

Rosemary fills the air with soothing fragrance besides being an easy-to-grow and pest-free great beginner plant. But do not be disappointed if the plant doesn’t flower as it hardly does in our tropical climate.

Settle the plant in full sun in the garden or in pots. Use neutral to alkaline, light and well-draining soil mix.

Water daily to keep the potted soil moist. Water ground-planted rosemary less frequently.

Rosemary is a light feeder so it requires little fertiliser. Use only organic fertilisers (slow-release fertilisers or manure pellets) as the herb is meant for consumption.

Harvest sprigs of a well-established rosemary regularly and cut back to encourage bushier growth. You’ll also need to prune dead wood. Take stem cuttings of about 3 to 5cm long to propagate plants.

Rooting cuttings is much easier than germinating its seeds, but you can also start a new plant by air-layering.

Tips

. Rosemary can tolerate light shade locations but requires less watering at those spots.

. The plant is salt-spray tolerant hence can be planted by the seaside.

. Other herbs that repel mosquitoes include lemongrass, basil, lemon balm, lavender and peppermint.

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