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Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
Photo © Steven Foster
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) in the mint family (Lamiaceae) is a small evergreen shrub with thick, aromatic, linear leaves and small blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region.1 The dried leaves provide the spice while rosemary oil is obtained by steam distillation of the fresh flowers.2
History and Traditional Use
Rosemary has been used since ancient times in Europe as a culinary herb, to prevent and relieve intestinal gas, in treating indigestion, stomach pains, headaches, colds, nervous tension, and as a tonic and stimulant.2 In China, it has been combined with borax to treat baldness. Rosemary has been used for centuries to enhance mental function and improve memory.3 It is astringent, relieves and prevents spasms, and induces sweating. Rosemary has much symbolism attached to it, and for this reason it was used at weddings and funerals, for decorating churches and banquets, and as incense.4
Modern Medicinal Use
Rosemary leaf has been approved by the German Commission E for internal use in dyspeptic complaints and externally as supportive therapy for rheumatic diseases and circulatory problems.5 Externally, rosemary is used as a stimulant for increased blood supply to the skin.2 It is also used to promote wound healing and as a mild antiseptic.6 The powdered leaves of rosemary are used as a natural flea and tick repellent due to its antimicrobial properties.3 The oil has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. There are also numerous reports addressing rosemary's antioxidant properties.
Modern Consumer Use
Rosemary is still widely used as a culinary herb. The oil is used in cosmetics as a fragrance component and as a masking agent in creams, lotions, perfumes, and soaps.2 A rosemary lotion is said to stimulate hair growth and prevent baldness.3 Rosemary is used in massage oils, compresses, baths, shampoos, and facials.
1 Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2001.
2 Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1996.
3 DerMarderosian A, Beutler JA. The Review of Natural Products: The Most Complete Source of Natural Product Information. 3rd ed. St Louis (MO): Facts and Comparisons; 2002.
4 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications; 1971.
5 Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, editors. Klein S, Rister RS, translators. The Complete German Commission E Monographs&emdash;Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin (TX): American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.
6 Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin (TX): American Botanical Council; Newton (MA): Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
Disclaimer: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.