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Outside my office window are two big rosemary bushes, one that is a creeping variety, with branches that curve this way and that, and one that is an upright variety, with branches that grow straight and tall. Both are covered in the pretty blue flowers that are responsible for the plant’s Latin name, rosmarinus, which means “dew of the sea.” These flowers are, in a typical year, the first to appear in the new year.

Early Christians altered the story of the herb’s name, claiming it for the Virgin Mary, whose eyes were said to be the pale blue of a rosemary blossom.

My upright rosemary plant is quite dear to me, as it was a gift from Rico Traverso, who grew it from a cutting from the bush outside the door of Traverso’s Market when it was located at B and Third Streets in Santa Rosa. Rosemary is said to be the herb of remembrance and in this case it is certainly true. If you wish to be unforgettable to someone, give them a rosemary plant.

Rosemary has an impressive array of powers. If you’re prone to nightmares, carrying a sprig of fresh rosemary to bed with you should dispel them. If you want to attract elves and fairies to your garden, plant rosemary; they use the blossoms as cradles for their babies. Old herbals claim that rosemary prevents baldness, though none offer an exact formula for achieving such a result.

Rosemary is also thought to ease depression and enhance memory, qualities that express themselves in a number of ways. When studying for an exam, sipping a cup of rosemary tea won’t hurt, and it might help. With it comes to depression, plant rosemary in your garden — it needs sun, so don’t put it under a tree — and take in its aroma every morning, before you start your day.

Although rosemary is sold dried in just about every spice section and spice store in the country, it is best fresh. Both fresh and dried rosemary have a resinous taste, but it is more pronounced in the dried herb. Fresh rosemary has bright high notes and a warmth that balance its resinous quality.

Rosemary should be used judiciously and with an understanding of what foods it may overwhelm. Many people love to put a sprig or two in the cavity of a chicken about to be roasted but I find it overwhelms the taste of the chicken in an unpleasant way. Rosemary’s classic pairing is, of course, with lamb, rightfully so; it is also excellent with beef. Avoid using it with seafood, as it will overwhelm the flavor, as it does with poultry.

An easy way to enjoy rosemary’s flavor is to put a clean fresh sprig or two into a bottle — a wine bottle is perfect — and fill the bottle with good red wine vinegar that is no more than 6 percent acidity.

Close the bottle with a cork and store it in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry for at least 6 weeks. Putting rosemary sprigs into olive oil is a popular but misguided option.

You risk botulism, for one thing, because botulism thrives in an anaerobic environment, which is exactly what olive oil is. It will also spoil quickly as the herb deteriorates. Vinegar preserves; olive oil does not.

This recipe is adapted from a narrative recipe in “Inspiring Thirst” by wine merchant Kermit Lynch (Ten Speed Press, $40, 2005). For anyone who subscribed to Lynch’s newsletter, the columns and recipes in the book will be as familiar as an old friend happily re-met. Newcomers will be pleased by Lynch’s casual yet knowledgeable style, which is passionate and utterly unpretentious.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Rosemary & Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

8 thick lamb chops

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

10-12 garlic cloves, minced

— Extra virgin oil oil

— Lots of fresh rosemary branches

2 pounds creamer (tiny) potatoes

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary needles

1 lemon, cut in wedges

Put the lamb chops in a large dish that holds them in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper and scatter the garlic over the meat. Drizzle generously with olive oil and cover with rosemary branches.

Build a fire in an outdoor grill.

Set a large piece of aluminum foil and your work surface and top it with a large sheet of cooking parchment.

Set the potatoes in the middle of the parchment, drizzle lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter the rosemary needles on top. Squeeze the juice of one lemon wedge over the potatoes.

Lift the edges of the parchment, bring them together, and close it by twisting the edges together so that it forms a tight package. Wrap the parchment in the foil and secure it tightly as well.

When the coals are ready, nestle the potatoes between them and cook until tender, about 1 hour or a little longer if the potatoes are not really tiny.

When the potatoes are nearly done, toss half the rosemary branches onto the coals and grill the lamb directly over them, rotating each chop once to mark it and turning after 4 minutes; cook for 3 to 4 minutes more.

Spread the remaining rosemary branches over a platter. When the lamb is ready, transfer it to the platter, setting the chops atop the rosemary.

Use tongs to extract the potatoes, set them on a work surface, and open the packets. Scatter the potatoes over the platter, and season everything with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy right away.

If you have a garden, this is a very simple dish to make on the spur of the moment. If you do not, you’ll have to plan ahead so that you can snag fresh herbs with flowers, preferably at your farmers market.

For mustard flowers, you’ll have to gather them yourself.

Pasta with Herbs, Herb Flowers, & Cheese

Makes 3 to 4 servings

— Kosher salt

12 ounces dried spaghettini (thin spaghetti)

1 cup mixed herbs and herb flowers, see Note below

3 tablespoons Rosemary-Gorgonzola Butter (see recipe, this page) or local organic butter

— Zest of 1 lemon, optional

— Black pepper in a mill

— Chunk of cheese, such as Estero Gold or Vella Dry Jack

— Sprigs of herbs, preferably with their flowers, for garnish

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, season generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir until the water returns to a boil. Cook according to package directions until just done. Drain but do not rinse.

While the pasta cooks, separate the herb flowers if necessary and chop or tear the herbs into small pieces.

Put the butter in a large serving bowl, add the lemon zest, if using, and half of the herb mixture.

When the pasta is done, tip it into the bowl and use two fork to lift and drop it over and over, until it is evenly coated with butter.

Add the remaining herbs, several generous turns of black pepper, and a light sprinkling of salt and toss together gently but thoroughly.

Grate a generous amount of cheese (about 3/4 of a cup but you don’t need to measure it) over the pasta and toss again.

Garnish with herb sprigs and serve right away.

Note: You must let nature guide you when selecting herbs and herb flowers.

If you have an herb garden, simply pick what is blooming at the time you prepare the dish. Always add some chopped Italian parsley to the mix as it balances out all the other flavors, whatever they may be.

Early spring combinations are rosemary and rosemary flowers, chives and chive flowers, wild mustard flowers, Society Garlic flowers, and, if you like it, cilantro.

As spring nears and then unfolds, we’ll have thyme and its flowers, oregano and its flowers, summer savory, tarragon, and, by June, basil and its delicious flowers.

Flavored butters — known in the world of professional cooking as compound butters — are an excellent way to enjoy the flavors of herbs.

In this one, Italy’s famous Gorgonzola cheese, a natural companion to rosemary, is added to the butter.

Rosemary-Gorgonzola Butter

Makes about 1/2 cup

1/2 cup (1 stick) best-quality butter, at room temperature

2 ounces Gorgonzola, at room temperature

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary needles

2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper

Put the butter and Gorgonzola into a medium bowl and use a fork to mix together until very smooth. Add the rosemary and pepper and mix again.

Set a sheet of wax paper or parchment on your work surface and transfer the butter to the center of it.

Gently press the butter together by lifting the sides of the paper. When the butter is evenly distributed, fold the paper over to close it and use the palms of your hands to roll it back and forth so that it forms a log about 11/4 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly and use within about 7 days.

To use, unwrap and slice off coins about 1/4-inch thick.

Suggested Uses

Tossed with hot pasta

Tossed with hot rice

Spread over grilled or toasted hearth bread

Tossed with roasted beets

As a condiment with grilled lamb

As a condiment with beef, especially rare steak

Atop creamy polenta

Folded into risotto just before serving

As a condiment with potato soup

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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