Plant Profile: Mediterranean Natives

Mediterranean "Natives"

Many plants that perform so well in our Southwestern gardens are not true natives but outstanding "non-natives." Two of my favorites are rosemary and lavender. Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub and herb. Native to Mediterranean and Europe, especially the coastal areas - the Latin name means dew of the sea. It is the herb of friendship and remembrance. It endures hot sun, winds, and poor soils and little to no watering once established (it does require good drainage). The uses for rosemary are endless. In England rosemary is often used for hedges and topiary. In cooking rosemary compliments meat dishes, potatoes, and makes an excellent herb butter for vegetables. Strip the leaves off the stem for a barbecue skewer. Rosemary is a wonderful tonic to the heart, brain, and the nervous system. When eaten or used as a tea frequently it stimulates blood flow to the head and relaxes the muscles and prevents migraines and headaches.

Lavandula officinalis. Lavender, is one of the best loved scents. Also from the Mediterranean region, it thrives in hot weather and will grow in almost any soil as long as it is well drained. I find that they make excellent container plants. Use lavender for hedges in the herb garden and collect the flowering stems just as the flowers are opening for drying. Dried flowers are used for potpourri, herb pillows (to help induce sleep), and linen sachets (to scent linen drawers and protect from moths.) Fresh flowers can be used to make jams, ice cream, honey, and lavender vinegar.

Other noteworthy "natives" from the Mediterranean include Olives (Oleaceae), Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

Cheri Melton
May, 1997