Rosemary

Rosemary is an essential herb in many cultures' cuisines and has also been used medicinally, mainly to solve gastrointestinal problems.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Rosemary, romero
  • Scientific nameRosmarinus officinalis
  • Geographic distributionMediterranean
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth Africa/Middle East, Southern Europe
  • Main producer(s)Egypt, France, Spain
  • Main Economic UseCulinary
Rosemary

Rosemary, a perennial shrub originally from the Mediterranean region, has been one of the most widely used culinary herbs. Its natural habitat consists of temperate climates, although it has now been adapted all over the world. Rosemary was known to the ancient Greeks, who harvested it from the wild because of its anxiolytic and soothing properties - it was one of the best known remedies against nightmares, and was thought to repel witches. In addition, it was touted as a remedy against stomach infections. However, it was not domesticated into a steady crop until 13th-century Spain, and it was during the following centuries that it was established as an edible plant and flavoring agent. It continues to be widely grown and used currently.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntispasmodic, Stimulant
  • Key constituentsRosmarinic acid
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Food, Freshly ground, Tincture, Poultice, Essential oil
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Rosemary

Rosemary have been used to treat a variety of health conditions since ancient times. Some of these traditional uses still popular and have been validated buy modern science. Rosemary has proven useful mainly for:

  • Relieving pain and spasms. In folk medicine rosemary is used as an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory in stomach aches, renal colics, and dysmenorrhea, as well as in relieving respiratory disorders and muscle spams.

  • Supporting the circulatory and nervous systems. Rosemary acts as a stimulant, dilating blood vessels and aiding circulatory health, which positively affects the brain and central nervous system (CNS).

In addition, recent studies suggest that rosemary can also be effective for:

  • Improving memory. Medicinal dosages of rosemary have been shown to improve brain functions, including memory

  • Stimulating hair growth. Rosemary may help fight hair loss.

  • Relieving arthritis pain. When applied topically, rosemary essential oil has proven effective in reducing joint pain caused by inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.

How It Works

The main active ingredient behind the medicinal properties of rosemary is rosmarinic acid, which makes up most of the plant's isolated essential oil. However, a significant amount of ursolic and carnosic acids can also be found, although the exact proportion vary depending on the cultivar.

Rosemarinic acid is phenolic compound that is thought to be responsible for the antispasmodic properties of the herb. Easily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and the skin, extracts of rosemary have been shown to relax the smooth muscles of the trachea and intestines, having also choleretic and hepatoprotective effects.

Did you know?

Prostaglandins are lipids that aid in recovery at sites of tissue damage or infection.

Rosmarinic acid has been also widely studied for its anti-inflammatory and carminative properties. This compound increases the production of prostaglandin E2, also known as dinoprostone, which is  lipid mediator that plays a key role in modulating pain and inflammation signals, and it is used in pharmaceutical drugs.

On the other hand, the action of carnosic acid - which also aids the skin in protecting itself against UV rays - further contributes to the soothing and anti-inflammatory potential of Rosmarinus officinale.

The main chemical components in rosemary oil, α-pinene, camphor, and cineole, have been shown brain-stimulating properties as well as being an aid for memory improvement. They enhance brain and central nervous system (CNS) functions, helping to clear the mind and increasing mental awareness.

In addition, both ursolic and rosmarinic acids have shown astringent and antimicrobial activities, as they create an unfavorable environment for most pathogens. This combination of properties can bring great relief to those suffering from stomach infections, such as norovirus.

The nutritional value of rosemary leaves is further boosted by the presence of vitamins A and B6 (pyridoxine), as well as iron, calcium, and potassium.

Linden and thyme also have strong antispasmodic properties, and similar stimulant benefits can be found in herbs like coffee and ginkgo.

Rosemary Side Effects

Rosemary is likely safe for most people when consumed as a food. It is also likely safe medicinally for those who take rosemary orally, apply it topically, or inhale it through aromatherapy.

However, undiluted oil is likely unsafe when taken orally. Excessive consumption of rosemary can cause vomiting, upset stomach, uterine bleeding, kidney irritation, increased sun sensitivity, skin irritation, and allergic reactions.

Cautions

Rosemary contains salicylate, a main ingredient in aspirine, which can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

People who suffer from bleeding disorders should use rosemary with caution, since it can increase the risk of bleeding and bruising for certain individuals. Likewise, those who suffer from seizure disorders should not take rosemary in medicinal forms, since it can worsen the symptoms.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult a physician before taking rosemary medicinally. While it is likely safe in dietary amounts, excessive consumption can cause contractions and lead to miscarriages.

How to Consume Rosemary

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves
  • Edible usesFlavoring

Rosemary is an incredibly delicious, nutritional herb to add to any diet. And while there are many health benefits in its culinary form, the most effective way of obtaining rosemary's health benefits is in medicinal forms of consumption, where the properties are more concentrated.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. One of the most popular medicinal forms, consuming rosemary raw and crushed can help support the circulatory system and improve memory, thanks to its stimulant compounds.

  • Infusion. A popular medicinal form, rosemary infusions from fresh or dried leaves are one of the most enjoyable ways to consume this herb. Rosemary hot teas support circulatory health and relieve joint pain.

  • Poultice. Dried or fresh rosemary leaves can be steeped in hot water and then wrapped into a gauze. The topical application of this poultice can bring relief to joint pain and sore muscles.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Essential oil. In this form, rosemary should only be applied topically or used in aroma therapy. Rosemary essential oil has been shown to relieve pain and spasms in muscles and joints, as well as acne, baldness, and circulatory blockages.
  • Tinctures. Rosemary tinctures have numerous medicinal properties, including supporting the nervous system and relieving muscle spasms. 

  • Capsules. In capsule form, this is the most potent form individuals can safely take orally. Capsules provide support for the circulatory and nervous system.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Natural Forms

While rosemary plants can be purchased in nurseries, raw rosemary leaves are easy to come by most grocery stores or local markets around the world. In addition to this, rosemary  dried leaves are available in bulk or as teabags in herbal stores or online retailers.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Medicinal preparations of rosemary, such as poultice or infusions, are easy to make at home. Tincture and essential oil, on the other hand, are widely available in herbal stores and online retailers, as well as rosemary capsules.

It is important to seek medical advice before taking rosemary in medicinal dosages.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates, Mediterranean regions
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F))
  • Propagation techniquesStem cuttings
  • Potential insect pestsAphids, Whiteflies
  • Potential diseasesFungi, Root rot, Powdery mildew

Generally regarded as an easy plant for beginners, rosemary is highly resistant to pests and disease. However, it is susceptible to waterlogging and requires friable soil with proper drainage. In addition, some varieties are very sensitive to frosts and can die because of them. Despite this difficulties, rosemary is a rewarding plant to grow and can be a joy for gardeners to have.

Growing Guidelines

  • Rosemary grows best in sunny, temperate climates.

  • It prefers a fertile, neutral to slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.0 - 7.0.

  • A space of three to four feet (90 - 120 cm) between plants is recommended to give them ample growing room.

  • Rosemary is not a water demanding plant. Once established, it will require little to moderate irrigation. 
  • After the shrub flowers, regular pruning is necessary.
  • Rosemary is a very hardy herb, but it can be attacked by aphids, spittlebugs, and whiteflies.
  •  Diseases such as powdery mildew and root rot can also affect the plant.

Detailed information about growing rosemary can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Rosemary is a woody perennial with evergreen, needle-like leaves, which contain a large amount of essential oils that provide its characteristic fragrance. The rosemary shrub can grow up to six feet (1.82 m) tall, and its flowers can be pink, purple, white, or blue. Rosemary is incredibly hardy and has been known to flower outside of its typical flowering seasons.

  • Classification

    Rosemary is a member of the Lamiaceae family, which comprises about 7,200 species of flowering plants, including many other culinary herbs, such as basil (Ocimum basilicum), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and lavender (Lavandula officinalis).

  • Cultivars of Rosemary

    There are more than a dozen cultivars of rosemary around the world, but the six most popular types are 'Arp', 'Spice Islands', creeping rosemary, 'Erectus', 'Albiflorus', and 'Majorca Pink'. Of these, the upright, 'Spice Islands', and 'Arp' cultivars are the most used for culinary purposes, while the other ones are shorter and mostly considered as ornamental plants for landscaping.

Historical Information

With one of the most varied and colored histories of all herbs, rosemary is steeped with ceremonial tradition and superstition, dating back to ancient Greece. Pliny, Dioscorides, and Galen all referenced the medicinal properties of this herb over 2,000 years ago.

Rosemary was also believed to offer protection during the plague. In 1603, when the bubonic plague killed over 38,000 Londoners, the demand for the herb was so high, that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful a sprigs. Put into perspective, one fat pig cost one shilling during that same time period.

Economic Data

The main reason for rosemary's economic importance is its production of essential oils, which are highly regarded in the culinary industry. Rosemary's oil yield can reach 0.2 - 1.3% of its fresh mass. The herb also carries value with its ornamental and medicinal purposes. The leading producers of rosemary are the Mediterranean countries, Northern Africa, Mexico, and the U.S., though it is cultivated worldwide.

Popular Beliefs

The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as The Rose of Mary.

In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride wore a rosemary headpiece while the groom and wedding guests all wore a sprig of rosemary. Because of this association with weddings, rosemary was considered a love charm.

Other Uses of Rosemary

  • Hair and scalp health. When applied to the scalp, rosemary can alleviate dandruff and improve overall hair and scalp health.

  • Cosmetics. Rosemary is often added to different lotions, cosmetics, and other homemade body products because of its pleasant aroma.

  • Pest control. Rosemary is used as a mosquito repellent. It can also ward off mice and other pests in the home. As an Air-Freshener When mixed with other ingredients, such as citrus fruit or vanilla, a sprig of rosemary can be used as a strong air freshener, leaving a pleasant aroma around the house.

Bibliography

  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 128
  • Medicinal Plants of the World, p. 276
  • Germplasm Resources Information, Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Rosmarinus officinalis 'Majorca Pink'
  • Chemico-biological Interactions, Rosemary tea consumption results to anxiolytic- and anti-depressant-like behavior of adult male mice and inhibits all cerebral area and liver cholinesterase activity; phytochemical investigation and in silico studies, 2015
  • National Non-Food Crops Centre, NNFCC Project Factsheet: Assessment and Development of the Supply Chain to Deliver Rosemary Antioxidants to the Food and Pharmaceutical Industries (Defra)
  • Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences: Rosemary – Herbs
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, Rosmarinus officinalis 'Spice Islands' | 'Arp'
  • Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials, 1999
  • Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Rosemary and cancer prevention: preclinical perspectives, 2011
  • Cosmetic Ingredient Review. (2013). Safety Assessment of Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary)-Derived Ingredients as Used in Cosmetics Retrieved on May 25, 2016 from http://www.cir-safety.org/sites/default/files/rosmarinus.pdf
  • Indian Journal of Experimental Biology. (1999). Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials Retrieved on May 25, 2016 from http://nopr.niscair.res.in/bitstream/123456789/18973/1/IJEB%2037%282%29%20124-130.pdf