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Wild rosemary is an evergreen shrub with the species name Eriocephalus africanus that is native to South Africa. It is very pretty and generally easy to grow and is valued for its flavor and fragrance. Like other types of rosemary, it is often used in cooking and has many different medicinal and cosmetic uses.
A fairly small shrub, wild rosemary reaches just 3-1/2 feet (1.1 m) tall. Known for its tolerance of dry soil, this plant has a thick root system that includes a long tap root which helps the plant absorb any available water and allows it to grow where many others will not. It often grows on sunny rocky slopes and ledges in the wild and can be found living in clay soil in which few plants can thrive. Frequent pruning to remove dead branches will help to keep this plant full and healthy.
This shrub is very ornamental and produces clusters of tiny white flowers with purple centers in winter and early spring in South Africa. It has unique, fluffy white seed heads that resemble cotton or snow. The thin, hairy leaves resemble pine needles and are grayish green in color. The strong, fresh camphor-like scent of this plant is enjoyed by some and detested by others.
A tea is brewed from the leaves of this plant that is said to relieve chest congestion and coughs. Wild rosemary essential oil is also taken as a diuretic and to encourage sweating. It has also been used as a laxative, astringent, and pain reliever. Babies are sometimes given wild rosemary tea to help relieve the symptoms of colic and gas.
Shampoos, hair dyes, and conditioners sometimes include rosemary oil because it is invigorating and thought to encourage growth and healthy hair. Highly fragrant wild rosemary is often dried and included in incense, potpourris, and sachets, and the scent is used to ease headaches. In cooking, it also flavors meat, soups, and stews and is sometimes substituted for bay leaves.
Propagating rosemary is generally easy and can be done with cuttings or plants can be started from seed. Germination is erratic and slow, however, so the quickest way to obtain new plants is from cuttings. The cuttings may be dipped in a root hormone powder to encourage rooting. Small, new plants should be kept in their pots in a sheltered location for several months to allow the slow growing plants to form healthy root systems.