Common Names

Botanical Name
Rosmarinus officinalis

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What is it?

Rosemary is the familiar, long lived shrub with thin olive-green leaves and pretty blue flowers that dot the plant for much of the year. ‘Rosemary’ translates to the ‘dew of the sea’ (ros means dew and marinus means sea in Latin).




How has it been used?

Rosemary has a tremendous variety of folk uses and mythology associated with it. It has particularly been strongly connected to memory and remembrance since ancient times. The main historical medicinal uses of Rosemary have been as a tonic to the brain and as a gently cleansing liver medicine.

Rosemary has been widely used to treat headaches and migraine and can be particularly worth trying for these problems. T. Bartram says Rosemary is good 'for migraine headaches, or those from high blood pressure, headaches of gastric origin or emotional upset'.

Chinese physicians used Rosemary for headaches, indigestion, insomnia and malaria. Rosemary is also much used in European traditional medicine to strengthen the heart and blood vessels and there is a keen appreciation in this old culture of Rosemary being a herb that clears congestion in the liver and gall-bladder thereby lifting the mood and resolving 'liverishness'

Rudolph Weiss says 'Rosemary has a general tonic effect on the circulation and nervous system, especially the vascular nerves; it is therefore effective in treating all chronic circulatory debilities, including hypotension (low blood pressure). It is particularly effective in asthenic young adults who are pale and lack physical stamina...' Rosemary can be used for treatment of general and post-infectious debility in older patients'.


Science on Rosemary

Rosemary has had a considerable amount of research as a plant but not so much in the form of actual trials on people. A couple that do stand out that have used the oil of Rosemary include

~ A controlled and randomised study involving the inhalation of Rosemary oil for 3 minutes by volunteers who were simultaneously monitored by EEG (electro-encephalographic recording) showed a significant change to their alpha and beta wave brain activity indicating increased alertness. The subjects reported feeling more relaxed and alert and were shown to be faster (but not more accurate) at solving maths problems compared with baseline results (Diego MA et al: Int J Neurosci 96(3-4):217-224, 1998)

~ An uncontrolled trial showed that gargling Rosemary oil in water (in a 1:10 proportion of oil to water) inhibited the growth of the fungi Candida albicans of 12 patients who were unresponsive to the drug Nystatin (Durakovic Z & S: J Indian Med Assoc 72(7):175-176,1979)

~ As Rosemary is so widely used in the food industry it has been subjected to considerable research into its properties as a preservative. Compared with 15 other well-known food preservatives Rosemary was found to have the strongest anti-oxidant activity by far. The unusually effective ability to stop fats from going rancid has led to an association to why this might be how Rosemary has gained a reputation to help prevent hardening of the arteries in humans (Halliwell B et al: Food Chem Toxicol 33(7):601-617,1995)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of over 180 further studies and articles on Rosemary are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Rosemary

Rosemary has gained a reputation as being unsafe to take in pregnancy but in fact there is no evidence that it will cause harm to the baby or mother and in fact when very large amounts have been given to pregnant rodents in tests it has not caused any harm. Rosemary is safe to take whilst breastfeeding and may in fact benefit the baby as the oils will pass through the milk and can be nice and calming to the gut.

It is recommended not to take strong medicinal teas or extracts of Rosemary at the same time as taking iron supplements as studies have shown that it does significantly decrease the absorption of iron (only if taken simultaneously).


Personal experiences

Rosemary has remarkable cleansing properties. I respect its historical use as a tonic for the heart and mind but I think it is the liver where Rosemary activates its healing actions the most!

People who have sticky, stuck blood need to do something about it before they can go much further. Used in the right way for the right person Rosemary can quickly help to get things moving again. The times I will personally most often use Rosemary in a prescription is where I see a classic combination of stuffy head symptoms, a thick and coated tongue, a languid full pulse and signs of poor circulation.

I have found that small amounts work better than large doses and that it works better in combination with other herbs than by itself. In practice this means I will only use between 10 or at the most 20 mls of Rosemary in a 200ml formula which might equate to only about 10-20 drops of the tincture being consumed in a day. These will seem like low doses to some (and high to others!) but the proof, as always, is in the pudding and like many herbs it seems that the best dose is not the largest but rather the smallest amount needed to have a palpable effect. In this regard a little bit of Rosemary goes a long way.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or would just like to know this old plant ally at a much deeper level for your own reasons then I warmly encourage you to take a dose of Rosemary tincture, or a tsp of its dried leaves in a cup of tea, or even just take a small sprig and hold it in your mouth for a minute and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself how this herb makes you feel. This old way of 'experiential learning' is the best way to appreciate the 'action' of the plant and I think you will soon feel for yourself that it is something of a 'mover and shaker' of a herb. Not likely to go unnoticed! Having done this experiment numerous times on myself as well as colleagues and students it is quite uncanny how people will feel the herb strongly in their head or their gut but rarely both. It seems to go to where it needs to. Making a closer acquaintance with it in this way will likely help you know when and how to use it...

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here


Rosemary Bath

Rosemary baths have been very popular in European medicine amongst working people as they are thought to be highly effective for exhaustion and lack of strength. The practice is to take the bath in the mornings on the weekends (Rosemary is probably too stimulating to take in the evening in this way). A lot of Rosemary is used for the bath and you would have to predict a potent affect from the amount of essential oils that would be absorbed into the skin through this ancient method.

~ Take 50 grams of dried Rosemary; soak in 1 litre of freshly boiled water in a well-covered container for a good 30 minutes. Strain and add to a hot bath which is then soaked in for at least 10 minutes. Even though this is best done in the morning it is very important to rest for some time after taking the bath so the deep benefits of the herb are allowed to circulate throughout the body.

Rosemary Mouth Wash

To treat infections in the mouth or to cure bad breath the following treatment may be highly effective.

~ take 3 heaped tsps on dried Rosemary and soak in 400mls of freshly boiled water for 15 minutes in a cup or container that is well covered. Strain the Rosemary tea and keep in the fridge in a covered container for up to 3 days before discarding and making a fresh batch. Simply take a mouthful of this tea 2-3 times daily, swill and lightly gargle before spitting out.

Rosemary combines with Panax Ginseng for lifting mental energy and with Dandelion root and Golden Seal for activating and cleansing the liver.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Rosemary is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Rosemary can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Historical notes on Rosemary

~ Rosemary was an essential part of the apothecary's repertoire during the Renaissance. The French regarding it as a cure-all, Hippocrates, Galen, and Dioscorides all prescribed rosemary for liver problems.

~ In the middle ages if a young person tapped another with a sprig of Rosemary in blossom then the couple would supposedly fall in love.

~ Placed under the pillow Rosemary was believed to repel bad dreams, planted around the house it was believed to ward of witches.

~ Rosemary, native of southern Europe, was brought to America by the first colonists, and stored carefully indoors during the cold winters.

~ Greek students would braid Rosemary into their hair to help them with their exams. Also known as the herb of remembrance, it was placed on the graves of English heroes

~ When Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was paralysed in 1235 and none of the court physicians were able to help her a local hermit of some healing fame cured her by rubbing Rosemary liniment on her limbs. One can only imagine whether he was asked to take a bath before he begun his massage. According to legend his medicine had been made by soaking a pound of Roesmary in a gallon of wine. This recipe became the basis for a Rosemary/Wine combination that became known as Queen of Hungary's Water and was very popular for centuries as a treatment for all manner of problems of the skin and joints.

~ According to legend the Rosemary bush was considered a sacred symbol of Christ and that it might grow in height up to the age of 33 years but then would never grow taller, only wider.

~ In some historical notes on Rosemary we come across the notion that 'Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is master, and so touchy are some of the lords of creation on this point that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing Rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority' (M. Grieve).

~ Rosemary had such a reputation for strengthening the memory that it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers, used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banquet halls at festivals and as incense in religious ceremonies and in magical spells.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd