Rosemary is as much at home at a summertime backyard barbecue as it is in a medley of roasted winter squash and root vegetables. Its perky and invigorating smell earns it a place in many a fall or winter wreath, in energizing essential oil blends, and even in pest control applications. As an evergreen shrub, it’s the herb that keeps on sharing its food and medicine all year long, and the nutritional and medicinal uses of rosemary as a well-known culinary herb, digestive aid, circulatory tonic, and memory enhancer date back several millennia.
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say hello to rosemary
- Rosemary is a woody evergreen, perennial shrub native to the dry, rocky coastal regions of the Mediterranean.
- As a native to the Mediterranean, rosemary loves full sun, warmth, and misty, moist air.
- Rosemary shrubs can grow as high as 6 feet! Although, more commonly, we see them at 3-4 feet.
- Rosemary gets its name from latin words meaning dew of the sea.
- As a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), rosemary has square stems, opposite leaves, and 2-lipped flowers. Rosemary is closely related to sage, oregano, marjoram, and basil.
- Rosemary’s blue or white flowers typically make an appearance in late spring. Christian folklore tells of a story when Mary placed her blue cloak over a rosemary bush and turned its flowers from white to blue.
- In folklore from all over the world, rosemary has a reputation as an herb of remembrance, loyalty, and friendship.
rosemary as a food
Rosemary is an herb widely used for flavoring in both sweet and savory recipes. Its bittersweet, lemony, and slightly piney flavor is distinct and entirely reminiscent of all things Mediterranean. Without rosemary, Italian food wouldn’t be the same. It compliments garlic, tomatoes, citrus, and olives, and pairs well with pumpkin, potatoes, and other root vegetables. It’s also a common herb companion for lamb, poultry, and fish.
Perhaps one of the oldest uses for rosemary as pertains to food is as a preservative. Its powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial capacity has been used to protect meats and oils from going rancid for a very long time.
In the modern food science industry, the strong smell and taste of rosemary extract and essential oil has been a deterrent in using it more widely as a real food alternative to synthetic and chemical preservatives. Accordingly, scientists have been able to develop a colorless and odorless rosemary extract that would have broader applications.
rosemary as a medicine
Traditionally, rosemary was used as a carminative, antispasmodic, vulnerary (painkiller), and circulatory tonic, as well as to stimulate hair growth and improve memory. And many of these traditional medicinal uses of rosemary continue today.
as a powerful antioxidant
One of rosemary’s most revered medicinal actions is its antioxidant capacity. In fact, rosemary has a solid reputation as one of the strongest herbal antioxidants on the planet. Its potent antioxidant capacity can be attributed largely to 3 phytochemicals:
- rosmarinic acid
- carnosic acid
Carnosic acid has demonstrated a special affinity for the brain and may help protect the brain from stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown rosemary to have greater antioxidant abilities than even man-made antioxidants used in the industrial food industry to keep fats like butter and lard from going rancid. Imagine its effect on our immune systems!
As a powerful antioxidant, rosemary can help with radiation sickness and skin damage, as well as decreasing the risk of skin cancer due to sun exposure, the risk of neurological damage due to pesticide exposure, and premature aging,
as a memory enhancer
Ancient Greeks thought of rosemary as a memory aid and students would often wear garlands of it around their heads during examinations. Modern science has over and over again proven rosemary as an effective memory enhancer. As a circulatory stimulant, rosemary helps to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to the brain. Keep a fresh sprig of rosemary on your desk while you work or study!
as a gentle stimulating nervine
Unlike mildly sedative herbs like lavender, lemon balm, and chamomile, rosemary is gently stimulating. While other nerve stimulants like coffee, tea, and cacao can be jolting in a sense, rosemary is gentle, but enlivening. It can be a great pick-me-up!
Several studies have looks at the stimulating effects of rosemary and its essential oil. One study confirmed the stimulatory effects of rosemary by evidence of increased brain wave and autonomic nervous system activity, as well as elevated mood after inhalation. People were found to have become more active and stated that they felt fresher.
Drinking a cup of rosemary tea, while perhaps not as stimulating as coffee, can be a gentle good morning wake-up or an afternoon pick-me-up. As evidenced by the study referenced above, its aromatherapeutic effects alone are enough to give you a second wind.
as digestive support
As a carminative, rosemary also supports our digestion. It helps to tone our gastric tissues, serving to calm our digestive processes and prevent digestive ailments such as indigestion, bloat, flatulence, painful stomach cramping, and nausea. And in doing so, rosemary also helps us absorb more of the nutrients from the food we eat.
the external medicinal uses of rosemary
Rosemary can be infused into vinegar and used as a rinse for healthy, shiny hair. It also has a history of use as a scalp treatment to stimulate hair growth, as well as a preventative treatment for lice. You’ll also often see rosemary essential oil added to preparations for arthritic joints in that it can help to increase circulation and thereby decrease arthritic pain.
I hope this brief dive into the food and medicinal uses of rosemary here gives a gentle nudge of encouragement to include a little more of it in your every day. There are so many ways to enjoy rosemary, whether it’s in food, as a medicine, or as a gently stimulating aromatherapeutic.
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Resources & Further Reading
- Nieto, G., Ros, G., and Castillo, J. (2018) Antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, L.): a review. Medicines. 5(3): 98. https://www.mdpi.com/2305-6320/5/3/98/htm
- Sayorwan, W., Ruangrungsi, N., Piriyapunyporn, T., Hongratanaworakit, T., Kotchabhakdi, N., & Siripornpanich, V. (2013). Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. Scientia pharmaceutica. 81(2), 531–542. https://doi.org/10.3797/scipharm.1209-05
- Ahmed, HM., Babakir-Mina, M., (2020) Investigation of rosemary herbal extracts (Rosmarinus officinalis) and their potential effects on immunity. Phytotherapy Research. 34(8): 1829-1837. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6648
DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.