I don’t pull out my spice jar of dried rosemary very often. But I will frequently clip a green sprig and sniff to experience some instant aromatherapy. Or I might add some fresh leaves to a roasting pan or a dip.
Most people know rosemary simply for its culinary pizazz, but this herb carries a long history of medicinal and even magical uses.
Rosemary – which means “dew of the sea” – comes in many varieties and is easy to grow almost anywhere. Not only does it grace many a garden, but trailing versions hang from planter boxes on city streets, and tall plants stand as fragrant sentinels alongside walkways to office buildings.
I feel a special connection to rosemary – I named my youngest daughter for this aromatic Mediterranean herb.
By the time she was born I’d been operating my herb shop for more than five years and I was fully immersed in the world of herbalism. In searching for a name for the baby in my belly, I wanted to incorporate an herbal motif. I love names inspired by nature: Forrest, Lily, Rose – so why not an herb?
A few different herbs lent themselves to a girls’ name, but what if it was a boy? Luckily, she was a girl and we named her Rosemary Fiona – rather than the possible Basil for a boy. (We would of course have pronounced it the British way – Bah-zil. Uh oh, that kid would have been teased in school.)
Anyway, baby Rosemary quickly became Rosie for short, but we still like to call her Rosemary on occasion. And now that she’s old enough to appreciate it, she’s glad she was named for such a useful and fragrant plant.
Feel Better With Rosemary
Besides looking good in the garden and adding some distinctive flavor to your dinner, rosemary can relieve headaches, stomach upsets and digestive problems. It also is gets high marks for its ability to increase mental alertness and stimulate memory.
Used topically, rosemary helps to relieve painful joints and stiff muscles, and to improve circulation. You’ll often see it as an ingredient in ointments, rubs and salves designed for this purpose. It’s easy to make up your own muscle rub with some fresh rosemary along with other herbs and essential oils.
People have employed the needle-like leaves for these uses and many more for hundreds of years. For example, the fragrant leaves were burned in French hospitals to disinfect and purify right up until the 20th century.
Now, scientific studies are confirming the efficacy of rosemary in treating a variety of ailments and even as an important defense against cancer.
The German Commission E – which examines the safety and efficacy of herbs – has approved rosemary as a treatment for dyspepsia and for muscle and joint pain.
This seemingly innocuous herb has also been shown to neutralize food-borne pathogens (a good reason to season your picnic fare with rosemary!) and to contain specific antioxidants that protect cells from damage by free radicals.
Scientists in France found that regular intake of rosemary extract encouraged beneficial enzymes to flush toxins from the liver. Their conclusion was that regular use of rosemary encouraged the liver to work more efficiently.
Another study in Morocco concluded that rosemary acts as a mild diuretic and helps to reduce ankle swelling and bloating. It found that a daily dose of rosemary (two 400 mg capsules per day) improved kidney function and increased urine flow while preserving essential minerals.
Try The Essential Oil
I find it uplifting to just take a whiff of a spring of fresh rosemary – but the essential oil super concentrates the therapeutic effects of this plant.
Rosemary been renowned as an herb of remembrance for centuries. Even Shakespeare knew it, and he paid tribute to this plant with Ophelia’s words in Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…”
Its ability to improve memory and increase concentration is well documented but not conclusively proven. A couple of studies did suggest that rosemary could lower cortisol levels and help reduce anxiety while taking tests.
And I know people who swear by the practice of smelling rosemary oil while studying for a test, and then bringing some rosemary oil with them when they take the exam. (The easiest way to do this is to shake a few drops onto a cotton ball or a small hankie right before you got into the test.)
When you smell the rosemary while taking the test it stimulates the brain pathways to remember what you studied. Who knows? Worth a try I say.
The essential oil of rosemary packs some powerful medicinal benefits. Since an essential oil is basically a concentrated essence of a plant, the oil imparts the same health benefits as the herb itself.
One of the most well known uses is to ease the discomfort of a headache. Just place a drop or two of essential oil in a carrier oil (any vegetable oil, or herb infused oil) and rub on the temples.
Rosemary oil acts as an antiseptic, stimulates the nervous system, treats digestion and circulation (just like the plant itself) and is an adrenal tonic. It is also used to treat lung congestion, sore throats, and even canker sores.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to infuse the plant matter into a sore muscle rub, you can shake a few drops of the essential oil into a liniment or rub to ease muscle and joint stiffness.
Important Note: Do not ingest rosemary essential internally. When using this oil topically, it is best to mix it with a carrier oil.
Beautify Hair and Skin
Both the leaves and essential oil of rosemary can be used to give you glowing skin and lustrous hair.
It’s a popular old-time remedy for hair loss, dandruff and to darken and thicken the hair. Many people make a rosemary hair rinse simply by infusing rosemary leaves in hot water like a tea. You just pour a pot of this tea on your hair after shampooing for a natural hair tonic.
You can also make an hair oil treatment by combining several drops of rosemary oil with about 2 ounces of olive oil mixed with jojoba oil and/or any other moisturizing oils. Slather the oil on your tresses, let it sit there for a while, and then rinse and wash thoroughly.
If you have dry, mature skin and for varicose veins, look for skincare products that include rosemary essential oil – or better yet, use it when making your own. You’ll find rosemary in many natural skin creams and other formulas designed for aging skin, and it’s reputed to prevent or minimize free radical damage to facial skin.
I was actually surprised to see that rosemary oil is an ingredient in products for dry skin – because I know the dried or fresh leaves to be effective when added to facial steams for oily skin. Another example of the amazing versatility of the plant world!
Try Some Rosemary
But wait. Don’t just grab that dusty bottle off of your spice rack. Dried herbs do have a shelf life, especially if you are employing them for therapeutic uses.
You’re better off purchasing a fresh batch of dried rosemary, preferably from an herb shop or health food store. The stuff that is pre-packaged in spice bottles could have been sitting around in a warehouse for years, if not decades, and may even be irradiated.
You can also purchase rosemary for internal use in capsule or extract form.
If you’re ready to experiment with some rosemary – your budget will not be buckling from the impact.The essential oil is one of the most inexpensive around, and the bulk herb is even cheaper.
And if you’ve got even the slightest green thumb – and some room in your yard, patio, or even windowsill – you can easily grow your own fresh plant. Rosemary is an attractive evergreen that produces prolific small blue flowers. Find starts at your local garden shop.
So, what are you waiting for? Think beyond the spice rack and check out the therapeutic uses of the pungent rosemary plant.
Have you ever used rosemary for something other than flavoring food? Share your favorite uses for rosemary in the comments.
Caution: Pregnant and nursing women should skip the rosemary supplements because it’s possible that high doses of rosemary could cause miscarriage. But don’t worry about eating it as a seasoning in food, experts say rosemary this is perfectly safe. Essential oils should always be used with caution when pregnant or nursing and never internally.