The memorable rosemary

Jul 13, 2016

"Queen of Herbs" Jekka McVikar tells Lynne Rossetto Kasper about the memory and meal-enhancing properties of rosemary.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I have an herb that I've always really been attracted to, and I'd love to hear your take on it: rosemary.

Jekka McVicar: Rosemary is one of my absolute must-have herbs: Rosmarinus officinalis. It's just been proven to be as good as ginkgo at restoring your memory.

LRK: Really?

Jekka McVicar

JM: It has been scientifically proven. It's been in The Telegraph newspaper here in the UK. It's so exciting because it means that we're using it with Alzheimer's and with old people to help them remember things.

All you have to do is put a sprig -- about an inch, inch and a half -- that's about three centimeters, into a mug, add boiled water. Let it stand for about five minutes, strain, and drink. It is fantastic for clearing your head, and even the scent can trigger memories. Really, really exciting.

When you cook with it, a real plus is it helps you digest fatty food, which is why it's put with lamb. If you're cooking lamb, you whack in the rosemary with that. It cuts the grease because it's a very greasy meat.

LRK: It's done a lot with pork, too, which is so logical.

JM: Oh, really? Over here, it's not. Sage is used with pork over here.

LRK: You had said, when you see "officinalis" as part of the Latin name of an herb, this was an herb that was used medicinally, right?

JM: Yes.

LRK: This is intriguing. How else would you use it in terms of cooking?

JM: One of the best things you can make, apart from using it with lamb, is tomato soup. When you're sweating your tomatoes down with your onion, whack in a sprig, and just sweat that down as well. Ah, the flavor! Tomato and rosemary: just excellent.

Roast potatoes, and use King Edwards or something like that, because when you parboil them, and you shake them in the pan, that roughs up the edges. Then, do your oil, toss it 'round, and then add that to the pan. That means you'll use very little fat, and, again, add some rosemary chopped up in that. It's brilliant.

I also use rosemary if I'm just sort of wanting to have a flavor in a food. Say, I'm just making a sauce or something; I add rosemary, and it's absolutely gorgeous. It's so versatile. Because it's an evergreen, here in the UK we can use it all year 'round.

LRK: And in some parts of the United States, it goes all year 'round. There are quite a few different kinds of rosemary, aren't there?

JM: Do you know I've even got one named after me now?

LRK: You do?

JM: I have a Jekka's Blue, yes.

LRK: Congratulations!

JM: I'm actually involved, here in England, at Wisley, which is the Royal Horticultural Society, doing a trial on rosemary, and we've got 60 different varieties, and they all taste different, flower different. You've got the piney ones; you've got the sort of full-bodied ones -- it's a real rosemary. You've got the big leaves; you've got the fine leaves. You've got pink flowering, blue flowering, white flowering.

You've got Lady in White; you've got Tuscan Blue. I've got one from the Vatican.

LRK: Really?

JM: It's called Vatican Blue. The story about rosemary is when Mary was on the flight from Egypt, she hid behind a bush and put her blue cloak over it, and the flowers changed from blue to white. Rosmarinus means it is the flower of the sea. So, you can always grow it by salt. It's fine for growing by salty air, in salty air.

LRK: Now, if I recall correctly, historically, it was a favorite bride's favor that guests would receive at weddings?

JM: Yes, in medieval times.

LRK: So they would have a fond remembrance of her day. Even back then, there was a connection between memory and rosemary.

JM: And Shakespeare, of course.

LRK: Ophelia's mad scene in Hamlet.

JM: Yes, a fantastic plant, a must-have. And a top tip for growing: Please cut them back after flowering. It stops them getting woody.

LRK: Do they like a lot of water or a little water?

JM: No, they're Mediterranean--drier and sun.


Summer Fruit Pizza with Rosemary & Basil