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
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of rosemary’s key qualities below to learn more:
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.
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.
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.
Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
No safety problems expected. Avoid high doses if pregnant.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- 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
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.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
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. 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.