How does it feel?
Pick a rosemary leaf and nose it: the aroma is instantly familiar, intense, aromatic with a strong camphor-like quality. When you chew it the taste is surprisingly slow to develop, starting with the aromatic flavour and again the camphor comes through and increasingly dominates, with a bitterness building behind it. Both the camphor and bitter linger long on the palate.
It’s the camphorous quality that distinguishes rosemary in its food and medical uses. There is something inherently stimulating about the smell and taste – it seems to go straight to the brain. This impression is probably correct!
What can I use it for?
Rosemary is an excellent tonic to boost recovery after illness or periods of low energy. Even inhaling the fresh leaf from a garden or window box will stimulate mental energy and the tea taken internally will much extend this effect.
Rosemary is likely to promote internal antioxidant (Nrf2) activity and is increasingly favoured for helping with low grade but chronic inflammatory problems. These are likely to include the ‘neuroinflammatory’ factors behind chronic fatigue conditions, including fibromyalgia, post-viral syndromes (including post-Lyme and COVID), ME, Epstein-Barre syndrome, as well as cases of clinical depression and the onset of dementia. Regular rosemary tea intake is to be recommended in the management of any of these.
The traditional European use of rosemary was for digestive problems, including with bloating, flatulence and particularly with liver and bile involvement. Rosemary is a traditional remedy to take to counter the effects of a heavy fat meal.
Into the heart of Rosemary
Toning and clarifying for the mind, digestion and joints. Breathing new life and energy into the body through its pungent aromatic essential oils.
Rosemary is pungent, aromatic and stimulating. It will improve blood supply to the brain, digestive, nervous and musculoskeletal systems, removing stuck inflammation and congestion whilst also strengthening their integrity. The volatile oil, rosmarinic acid, calms digestive irritation whilst stimulating digestive metabolism. Interestingly, one of the reasons why this herb is often added to roasting meats is because it helps the digestive system to digest the fat content of the meat.
The rosmarinic acid is a strong antioxidant making rosemary a strong protective agent throughout the body systems within which it is affiliated. Within the cerebral and nervous systems, it improves circulation whilst also toning the nerves, making rosemary a good choice where there may be psychological tension or where cognitive processes such as memory and concentration need support.
In folklore rosemary was used for a wide range of applications. European traditions were in digestive problems with flatulence and bloating, as a tonic to raise the spirits and help recover from illness. It was seen to stimulate circulation, especially to the head, and in eastern Europe was favoured as a heart tonic.
One of the most accurate descriptions of rosemary was by the Roman physician Dioscorides, who wrote: “the eating of its ﬂower in a preserve comforts the brain, the heart and the stomach; sharpens understanding, restores lost memory, awakens the mind, and in sum is a healthy remedy for various cold ailments of the head and the stomach.”
Externally rosemary was included in salves and ointments for muscle and joint pain and as a hair rinse for scalp problems.
What practitioners say
Cerebral: Rosemary improves cerebral circulation and reduces neuroinflammation, enhancing cognitive processes such as learning, memory and concentration and being a strong candidate in managing neurological problems, psychological conditions and dementia. It can be thought of as having similar properties here to ginkgo.
Digestive: Rosemary stimulates the digestive metabolism, improving digestive efficiency and acts as an intestinal anti-spasmodic, relieving indigestion, dyspepsia, bloating and cramping.
Respiratory: The pungency of rosemary’s essential oils makes it an effective expectorant, shifting stubborn mucus and catarrh.
Musculoskeletal: Rosemary is often used externally where there is musculoskeletal pain or inflammation as it improves circulation to the affected area, thereby reducing any inflammation or fluid retention.
Other external uses: Oil massage for respiratory problems, catarrhal congestion; diluted oil for cuts, wounds, sores, chilblains, scalds and burns, wrinkles, scabies, headlice, hair loss, eczema, bruises, wounds; applied to temples for tension, headaches, drowsiness, poor memory/concentration; infusion as douche for vaginal infections and discharge.
Among students 500 mg rosemary taken twice daily for one month improved memory performance, depression, anxiety and sleep quality compared with placebo (4).
There is the interesting possibility that even low doses of rosemary may have benefit. In a study looking at the short term effects of rosemary on cognitive performance in an elderly population, 750mg of rosemary per day significantly improved memory speed compared with placebo, whereas 6000mg actually impaired it (5).
Inhalation of rosemary and lavender oils enhanced cognitive functions in a randomized study of 140 subjects using a standardised test battery. The rosemary group reported feeling more alert compared to the lavender and control groups, and the rosemary and lavender groups felt more content than did the controls (6). The aroma of rosemary oil increased performance in exam students (7), increased free radical scavenging activity and reduced cortisol in human subjects (8).
There is in-vitro evidence of acetylcholinesterase inhibition in rosemary, considered as a promising strategy for the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, senile dementia, ataxia and myasthenia gravis (9,10). A protective effect on dopaminergic neural cells has been observed (11).
Did you know?
As Shakespeare reminded us in Hamlet, rosemary was known as the herb of remembrance, and was placed at burial sites to ensure that the memory of the departed would not be lost by their loved one.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, growing naturally in dry scrub land. It is an evergreen perennial shrub, with characteristic needle-like dark green leaves that produce a pungent, aromatic scent when rubbed.
The flowers are a pale purple or white with two long protruding stamens. The fruits appear as four dry nut-like shells. Rosemary is now widely cultivated for its culinary use and as an essential oil.
- Polar plant
- Compass plant (Eng)
- Rosmarin (Ger)
- Romarin (Fr)
- Rosmarino (Ital)
- Romero (Sp)
- Rujmari (Sanskrit)
No safety problems expected. Avoid high doses if pregnant.
1-2 teaspoons of dried herb in a hot tea (infusion) up to three times a day – use twice as much of the fresh herb.
- Essential oil (1-2%) including 1,8-cineole, alpha-pinene and camphor, borneol, camphene, and -terpineol. Limonene, β-pinene, β-caryophyllene and myrcene are also present
- Phenolic diterpenes including carnosol and carnosic acid
- Rosmarinic acid and other hydroxycinnamic (caffeic) derivatives
Rosmarinic acid is likely to be a key constituent. It is well absorbed from gastrointestinal tract and from the skin. It increases the production of prostaglandin E2 and reduces the production of leukotriene B4 in human polymorphonuclear leucocytes (1). It has been particularly implicated in both antioxidant and acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity (2).
The phenolic diterpenes, carnosol and carnosic acid have been identified as promoting one of the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms, the Nrf2 pathway, a mechanism that provides hope in the reduction of dementia and other neurological conditions (3).
- Rasa (taste) Pungent, bitter.
- Virya (action) Heating.
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Pungent.
- Guna (quality) Sharp/penetrating, oily, sharp.
- Dosha effect: strengthens pitta, and reduces excessive kapha and vata.
- Dhatu (tissue) Rasa/plasma, rakta/ blood, majja/nerves
- Srotas (channels) Anna/digestive, manovaha/nervous, rakta/circulatory, artava/female reproductive
Winter Tonic Elixir
This is a fun and easy-to-make ‘winter tonic elixir’ with a mix of herbs that raise your energy and warm you to the core.
- Brandy 700ml/25fl oz
- Amaretto 300ml/10fl oz
- Ginseng root 20g/3/4oz
- Astragalus 10g/1/3oz
- Cinnamon bark 10g (about 2 quills)
- Ashwagandha 5g
- Ginger root powder 5g
- Rosemary 2 sprigs
- Orange peel 5g
This makes 1 litre/35fl oz of tasty tincture.
- Blend the liquids and soak the herbs in it for 1 month and then strain. Bottle half for you and half for a friend.
- Sip on cold winter nights to raise your spirits and keep you strong.
I love my liver tea
Our liver takes the brunt of the grunt work for metabolising wastes, so use this tea when you feel sluggish, your digestion is poor or you feel that you need a detox.
- Dandelion root 4g
- Schisandra berries 3g
- Dandelion leaf 2g
- Fennel seed 2g
- Turmeric root powder 1g
- Rosemary leaf 1g
- Licorice root 1g
This will serve 2–3 cups of liver-loving tea.
- Put all of the ingredients in a pot. Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
- Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
‘Let there be joy’ Tea
Not all of life’s experiences are easy, but this tea will help you digest them with this blend of ‘instant-happiness-herbs’.
- Lemon balm 3g
- Limeflower 3g
- Lavender flower 2g
- Rosemary leaf 1g
- St John’s wort flowering top 1g
- Rose water 1 tsp per cup
- Honey a dash per cup
This will serve 2 cups of happiness.
- Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except for the rose water and honey).
- Add 500ml (18fl oz) freshly boiled filtered water. Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
- Add the rose water and honey to taste, then sip for joy.
Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
- al-Sereiti MR, Abu-Amer KM, Sen P. (1999) Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials. Indian J Exp Biol. 37(2): 124-30
- Dastmalchi K, Ollilainen V, Lackman P, et al. (2009) Acetylcholinesterase inhibitory guided fractionation of Melissa officinalis L. Bioorg Med Chem. 17(2): 867-71.
- Lipton SA, Rezaie T, Nutter A, et al. (2016) Therapeutic advantage of pro-electrophilic drugs to activate the Nrf2/ARE pathway in Alzheimer’s disease models. Cell Death Dis. 7(12): e2499
- Nematolahi P, Mehrabani M, Karami-Mohajeri S, Dabaghzadeh F. (2018) Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on memory performance, anxiety, depression, and sleep quality in university students: A randomized clinical trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 30: 24-28
- Pengelly A, Snow J, Mills SY, et al. (2012) Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population. J Med Food. 15(1): 10-17
- Moss, M. Cook, J. Wesnes, K. Duckett, P. (2003) Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in health adults. Int. J. Neuroscience 113: 15-38
- McCaffrey R, Thomas DJ, Kinzelman AO. (2009) The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holist Nurs Pract. 23(2): 88-93
- Atsumi T, Tonosaki K. (2007) Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva. Psychiatry Res. 150 (1): 89-96
- Adsersen A, Gauguin B, Gudiksen L, Jäger AK. (2006) Screening of plants used in Danish folk medicine to treat memory dysfunction for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 104(3): 418-22
- M.R. Howes, N.S.L. Perry and P.J. Houghton. (2003) Plants with traditional uses and activities, relevant to the management of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders, Phytother. Res. 17: 1–18
- Kim SJ, Kim JS, Cho HS, et al. (2006) Carnosol, a component of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) protects nigral dopaminergic neuronal cells.. Neuroreport. 17(16): 1729-33.