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Rosemary is an excellent tonic to raise spirits

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis Lamiaceae

Rosemary is a powerful family remedy available in any garden or window box, with traditional benefits on circulation, digestion and nerve functions reinforced by modern research.

  • 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.

  • Traditional uses

    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.

  • Research

    Among students 500 mg rosemary taken twice daily for one month improved memory performance, depression, anxiety and sleep quality compared with placebo.

    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.

    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. The aroma of rosemary oil increased performance in exam students, increased free radical scavenging activity and reduced cortisol in human subjects.

    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.  A protective effect on dopaminergic neural cells has been observed.

  • 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.

Additional information

  • Safety

    No safety problems expected. Avoid high doses if pregnant.

  • Dosage

    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.

  • Constituents

    • 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
    • Flavonoids
    • Triterpenoids

    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. It has been particularly implicated in both antioxidant and acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity.

    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.

  • Traditional energetics

    • 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
rosemary illustration
  • Recipe

    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.

    Ingredients:

    • 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.

    Method:

    • 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.

    Ingredients:

    • 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.

    Method:

    • 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’.

    Ingredients:

    • 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.

    Method:

    • 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

Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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