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Meeting Rosemary: The Plant Spirit Ally Challenge

I have to admit I was underwhelmed the first time I met rosemary. Maybe because I met them at a plant nursery, and the only rosemary plants available were tiny starts in four inch plastic pots. Tiny rosemary plants are lovely, but they don’t look like much if you don’t understand who they will become.

close up of the leaves and flower of rosemary with the words "meeting rosemary: the plant spirit ally challenge"

It wasn’t until I moved to Oregon and met massive, gnarled shrubs of rosemary growing along sidewalks that I understood their glory. The first time I ran my hand along a huge, mature rosemary bush on a hot day, and the delicious, resinous fragrance flooded the air around me that I understood why people love this evergreen shrub so much.

Rosemary isn’t hard to identify, and there aren’t a whole lot of lookalikes out there. And once you’ve experienced their fragrance, you’ll never question whether or not a plant is rosemary. There is absolutely no scent like it. Still, if you’re not quite sure, here’s what to look for.

Most nurseries in my area carry a handful of herbs, and rosemary is usually one of them. And rosemary is a pretty popular herb, so you'd have a good chance of meeting them at your local plant nursery as well. To be sure you've got actual rosemary, look for the latin name on the tag. For centuries the latin name of rosemary was Rosmarinus officinalis, but this week I learned the powers that be have changed the latin name to Salvia rosmarinus. This has shaken my faith in the reliability of latin names, but I guess I'll have to carry on somehow. Just be aware of both names because I'm sure many nurseries haven't gotten new tags yet.

Scientific treachery aside, you might meet rosemary in your neighborhood, so here's what to look for:

Rosemary is an evergreen shrub, usually growing upright, though there are creeping/prostrate versions as well.

large rosemary bush with other greenery in the background.

Their leaves resemble pine or hemlock needles. They're usually a rich green on top and a much paler, grayish green on the underside, with a single, fairly deep vein running the length of the needle. Needles can vary in length from about 3/4 of an inch to 1 1/2 inches depending on the cultivar. When handled, the leaves emit a sweet, resinous evergreen scent.

closeup of rosemary leaves

The stems are woody and have a thin, somewhat scaly, gray-brown bark (though it looks reddish-brown when it's wet, as it is here on a rainy day in my front yard).

closeup of rosemary stems.

Some rosemary plants don’t bloom very often or very much, while others will be covered with swaths of tiny flowers. When they do bloom, the blossoms can be white, pink, blue, or purple. I think the blossoms resemble tiny orchids. When they’re blooming, you can be sure to see bees visiting the flowers.

closeup of rosemary flower

Rosemary is the first plant I bring into any new garden. I like to get at least one rosemary well established right away, and I think it’s almost impossible to have too much rosemary. In my own yard, the rosemary I planted in the spring of 2019 has become enormous already, and finds their way into much of my cooking.

What I find most interesting about rosemary, though, is that I can turn to them both when I’m feeling incredibly low and in need of uplifting, and when I’m spinning out or melting down from stress and overstimulation and I need soothing. I really do think if I could only have one herb, I’d probably choose rosemary. (Though I’m so, so glad I don’t have to choose only one herb.)

Rosemary hails from the Mediterranean, but they easily make themselves at home here in the Willamette valley, especially if our clay soil is amended with organic matter and maybe some small gravel or horticultural grit. Some varieties have been bred to thrive more easily in our wet winters, and they all have the intoxicating fragrance that makes rosemary one of my dearest plant friends.

While I’ve loved rosemary for many years, I’ve never done a deep exploration of all the things they are capable of. I’m looking forward to really getting to know this gigantic shrub in my front yard better over the coming months.

If you’re just finding out about the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, you can download the free challenge guide here. If you need help finding an ally, visit my post for day one of the challenge. And don’t forget to follow the challenge Pinterest board, which I’ll be updating with helpful links and resources as I find them.

If this post inspired or informed you, or just made you happy, feel free to buy me a cup of ko-fi. Your support helps with the cost of web hosting and other expenses, allowing me to spend more time creating posts for you.

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Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch

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