Rosemary: Get as Much as You Can for Fall & Winter

Whether you pot it and bring it indoors or harvest it and give up for the season, rosemary has many uses during cold-weather months. Here are some.

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: John Rudolph/Flickr

Our summer is winding down here in the Midwest, and as I pulled weeds today I realized we’ve moved into the time of setting seeds. So many of the plants I came across have completed their full cycle and are preparing for winter. I guess I’ll have to accept that fall is near and it’s time to consider the harvest. Which got me thinking about rosemary.

To Pot or to Harvest?

Rosemary is a very tender annual I love to grow every year. I’ve heard tales of exceptionally green-thumbed individuals coaxing a rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) plant through the winter in Ohio, but it typically involves lots of wrapped insulation and a perfectly protected spot. This year, the almanacs predict a harsh winter in our part of the country, and I many farmers at our soda bar have shared their suspicions that we’ll have an early frost.

So my mind went directly to my rosemary this afternoon. I’ll need to safely gather all of it before overnight temperatures drop. At the end of the season, there are two choices: Dig it or cut it. If I dig it and put it in a pot, I need to keep it in an indoor spot that gets a lot of light, at least six to eight hours a day. This means adding extra lighting to ensure the plant is happy—Ohio is all about the color gray in winter. It likes to be warm as well, so a south-facing window is crucial. Water is the trickiest bit. Too much water and rosemary rots. Too little and every single leaf drops off. Misting the plants often helps, but if you run a wood fireplace in the house, you need to compensate for the resulting lack of humidity.

I’ve not yet kept a rosemary plant alive in my house all the way through winter, so both options end in the same result: a dead plant. Cutting it before the weather gets bad at least gives me a useable harvest in the bargain. One thing I have learned, you can put this herb to many uses.

The Many Uses of Rosemary

I’ll gather my rosemary soon, and I’ll dry it in the loft. Over the winter I can use it for the following remedies:

  • Digestion: At Thanksgiving, it is more than a seasoning. Rosemary is at once a tonic and bitter, supporting our ability to digest large proteins such as those found in meat, dairy products and grain. A cup of rosemary tea just before or after a big meal can aid with bloating, blood sugar issues, gas and pain in the digestive tract.
  • Pain Relief: For the occasional headache, rosemary is a wonder. It is said that a cup of rosemary tea relieves pain as effectively as an aspirin. Add a few leaves to a mug, add hot water, cover and steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Hair Care: Rosemary is great in homemade shampoo. It has a long reputation for thickening and growing hair.
  • Lucidity: Rosemary can be a great addition to formulas for stress and anxiety. It has a strong reputation for reducing brain fog and increasing focus and memory.
  • Congestion: When sinus congestion threatens, our household throws a small handful of leaves into a bowl with boiling water and breathes in the steam to clear our heads.
  • Menopause Symptoms: I will use rosemary leaves in my hot flash formula for menopausal women.
  • Muscle Aches: At the end of a long day, add rosemary leaves to a hot bath to soothe sore muscles.
  • Tissue Healing: Rosemary infused oil can prevent bruising, soothe the pain of arthritis and support healing in minor skin issues.

I typically focus on perennials on my farm to avoid the dilemma of dying potted plant vs. harvest, but in the case of rosemary I make the exception every time. To me, when you look at all the ways that rosemary is useful, this plant is totally worth growing as an annual year after year.

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