Rosemary is an herb you might think about adding to your cooking recipes, but it also has quite a few hidden health benefits. This is a plant that has been revered for thousands of years to flavor and preserve food as well as for medicinal use.
The famous Shakespeare quote from Hamlet- "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance..."- speaks to the use of rosemary for brain health and memory. It's also been used by herbalists for mood, digestion, and much more.
Here's more about the health benefits of rosemary you might not know about and ways to use it.
All About Rosemary
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a very familiar herb to many since it's often used in cooking, especially Mediterranean dishes. The plant itself is native to the Mediterranean region and thrives in warmth and sunshine.
The Latin name "Rosmarinus" literally means "dew of the sea", referring to its natural habitat growing along sea cliffs. In warm enough climates rosemary is a perennial evergreen shrub, but it needs to be protected as temperatures go below 40 degrees F.
The leaves of rosemary are long, needle-like, and dark green. It will bloom with small, pale blue flowers, and the leaves give off a strong, herbaceous fragrance. Medicinally, the leaves (fresh or dried) and the volatile essential oil are used.
Rosemary has a long history of use as a medicinal plant and has traditionally been used for a wide range of ailments. It's believed to help with hair growth, memory, indigestion, and delayed menstrual flow. (1)
The leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and iron. It also has a high antioxidant content and volatile oils that give it many of its health benefits. (2)(3)
Health Benefits of Rosemary
Enhances Brain Function
In the words of herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, the herb of remembrance is a "legendary brain tonic" that may improve memory, focus, and prevent cognitive decline. (Rosemary Gladstar, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 84)
Studies have been done to investigate the potential benefits of rosemary for the mind. One study showed that simply inhaling rosemary essential oil enhanced memory and alertness. (4) Another short-term study found that a low dose of rosemary (close to normal culinary consumption) helped stop cognitive decline in elderly participants. (5)
In fact, rosemary is sparking interest because of its potential to help reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (6)
Along with memory, you can try a cup of rosemary tea or diffuse the essential oil for better focus and concentration.
Helps Inflammation and Pain
Key compounds in rosemary give it the potential to reduce inflammation and have a pain-relieving effect. Carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid have both shown anti-inflammatory properties and have an antioxidant effect. (7)(8)
This explains why rosemary has been used for everything from headaches and migraines to menstrual cramps to arthritis pain. A cup of herbal tea or applying the essential oil topically may help relieve certain types of pain you're feeling.
Rosemary leaves are also used externally for muscle aches and soreness like in this Muscle Mend salve.
Benefits Mood and Stress Levels
Managing stress is an important part of staying healthy, and rosemary can help with that. It has shown a potential ability to protect the nervous system and can act as a natural mood-lifter. (9)
One small study found that inhaling rosemary and lavender oils decreased the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in saliva. Free radical scavenging activity also increased, which is a mechanism the body uses to protect against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can cause various chronic diseases. (10)
To get this benefit, you can use rosemary oil for aromatherapy or try a cup of rosemary tea.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Used topically, rosemary leaf and rosemary essential oil have many benefits for skin health. Key compounds in rosemary, including rosmarinic acid, have antimicrobial properties that promote skin health and wound healing. (11)(12)
Antioxidants found in the herb may fight signs of aging, and its antibacterial nature can help breakout-prone skin.
Because rosemary can also help with inflammation and pain, you'll find it in this Herbal Sitz bath that helps with pain and healing immediately postpartum.
May Stimulate Hair Growth
Rosemary essential oil may be one of the best natural remedies for hair loss. It can promote hair growth and help with scalp itchiness, dryness, and dandruff.
If fact, one study involving participants with androgenetic alopecia (a common form of hair loss) found that rosemary oil was just as effective at regrowing hair as a conventional treatment (minoxidil). It also caused less scalp itching as a side effect. (13)
Other Benefits of Rosemary Leaf
Supports Digestion and Liver: Rosemary can be used as a digestive aid and has been used for centuries to help with indigestion. It also helps to increase bile production and supports liver health.
Improves Circulation: Rosemary has traditionally been used to stimulate circulation and to help with cardiovascular issues. It may also raise low blood pressure levels. (Gladstar, pg. 84)
Anticancer Potential: Rosemary is showing some incredible benefits for inhibiting cancer cells. It has been showing promise for cancers like leukemia, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. Amazingly, the rosemary "treatment" only goes after cancer cells- not healthy cells. (14)
Using Rosemary for Health
Obviously, using rosemary in your cooking to flavor food will give you some health benefits, but it won't have a medicinal effect like more concentrated herbal preparations.
Rosemary leaf is available as a fresh or dried herb, extract, tincture, and essential oil. Here are some ways to use rosemary:
- Make a tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of the dried herb with 8 ounces of water.
- Use the essential oil in a diffuser, or dilute it and apply topically.
- Make a strong infusion of equal parts rosemary and nettle leaf to use as a hair rinse.
- Enjoy the fresh, herbal fragrance by using a rosemary soap bar.
- Make a strong infusion and add it to bathwater to soothe skin.
Rosemary is a food-grade herb with few side effects. Extremely large doses can cause vomiting, spasms, and other symptoms.
Pregnant women should not use rosemary in medicinal amounts (using it for cooking is fine) because it can act as a uterine stimulant. Those with a history of seizures or bleeding disorders should also avoid it in large amounts.
Rosemary may interfere with anticoagulants and diuretics, so check with your doctor before using if you take prescription medication.
The essential oil can cause skin irritation or itchy scalp with long-term use. Always be sure to dilute essential oils before applying to your skin.
More Than a Kitchen Herb
Rosemary has so many potential benefits that go far beyond cooking. It can help with memory and overall cognitive function. It can boost your mood and help you to manage stress better.
Rosemary is also one of the best herbs for skin and scalp health.
You can find this much-loved herb in these products: