Rosemary Medicinal Benefits, Uses and Cautions

Rosemary is an important aromatic, warming, medicinal herb having carminative, antidepressant, antispasmodic, rubefacient, antimicrobial, emmenagogue, anti-inflammatory, carcinogen blocker, liver detoxifier, anti-rheumatic and abortifacient properties. It is used for medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic virtues in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and Europe since ancient times.

Rosemary Medicinal Uses

The terminal shoots and leaves of plant are used as spice. The whole plant is valued as functional food. It is a bitter and pungent in taste and hot in potency. It reduces phlegm and wind in body but increases bile. Medicinally, Rosemary plant is used in the form of decoction, infusion (tea), extract for digestive disorders, vaginitis, leucorrhoea, respiratory diseases, varicose vein, heart pain, inflammation and dizziness.

Rosemary is also believed to have magical powers. People place rosemary sprigs under the pillow to ward off evil spirits and nightmares. In ancient times, it was believed that burning rosemary leaves and twigs would scare away evil spirits and disinfect the surroundings. The aroma of plant is believed to have anti-ageing effect. Rosemary is also used as emblem of love, remembrance and friendship.

General Information

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is dense, evergreen, hardy, perennial aromatic herb/shrub found in Mediterranean region. It reaches height of 90–200 cm. Rosemary leaves have a tea like fragrance and a pungent, slightly bitter taste.

Leaves of plant are small (2–4 cm) pointed, sticky, hairy, linear, non-petiolate, coriaceous, with revolute margins and resinous. Upper surface of leaf is dark green and whitish underside. The stem is densely ramified, square and woody. Branches are rigid with fissured bark. Younger shoots are grey-white.

Flowers are small and usually hermaphrodite. They are pale blue, pale violet or white and grow in leaf axis. They appear in cymose inflorescence. Seeds of plant are very small and black in colour.

The plant is propagated by seeds and cuttings. Cutting from the plant (about 10-15cm) are treated with growth hormones for better rooting.

Rosemary is not an Indian plant. It was introduced in India during the 19th century by The British. As the plant requires Mediterranean type of climate with mild summer (temp below 30°C) and frost free winter, it is cultivated mainly in Nilgiris in south India. The plant prefers well drained sandy loam soil. The planting is done during cooler months. The plant can also be cultivated in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Arunachala Pradesh. Though the plant propagates through both seeds and cutting but it is preferable to grow new plants from the cutting after treating with rooting hormones as the germination rate of seeds is poor and late. Also the growth rate of such seedlings is not good.

Scientific Classification

The botanical name of Rosemary is Rosmarinus officinalis. It belongs to plant family Lamiaceae.

Lamiaceae (formerly called Labiatae) is the mint family of flowering plants, with 236 genera and more than 7,000 species. The family is particularly important for herb plants useful for flavor, fragrance, or medicinal properties. Few plants belonging to Lamiaceae are lavender (Lavandula officinalis), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), Japanese mint (Mentha arvensis), Bergamot (Mentha citrata), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Spearmint, garden mint (Mentha spicata), Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and Oregano (Origanum vulgare).

The word rosemary is derived from the Latin word ros=dew, and marinus= of the sea.

Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.

  • Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
  • Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  • Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
  • Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
  • Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
  • Subclass: Asteridae
  • Order: Lamiales
  • Family: Lamiaceae ⁄ Labiatae – Mint family
  • Genus: Rosmarinus L. – rosemary
  • Species: Rosmarinus officinalis L. – rosemary
  • Synonyms :Rosmarinus officinalis L. var. prostratus hort.
  • Plant type: Perennial, evergreen, scented sub-shrub
  • Native to: Mediterranean region
  • Propagation: Seeds and cuttings
  • Soil Required: Light, warm, dry, well-drained soil of pH 6.5–7.0 with plenty of lime content
  • Distribution: Cultivated in Algeria, China, France, Hungary, Italy, the Middle East, Morocco, Portugal, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, the USA.
  • In India, it is grown in lesser extent in Nilgiri Hills.
  • Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean region, it has been naturalized throughout Europe and temperate America and widely grown in gardens in the warmer parts of the U.S. and in Great Britain.

Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: Leaves, flowering tops, flowers, twigs and Essential oil

Grown as: crop and indoor plant

Essential oil obtained from: Leaves, flowering tops and twigs

Uses of Essential Oil: As a medicine, in aromatherapy and making of perfumes and flavor

Safety Profile in Pregnancy: Unsafe, do not use in pregnancy.

Drug interactions: None

Other Uses: Spice and food flavoring, consumed internally as a tea, or externally as an astringent, Herbal pesticide

Vernacular Names / Synonyms

  • Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • English: Rosemary
  • Folk: Rusmari

Constituents of Rosmarinus officinalis

The active ingredients of leaves are 1- 2% essential oil, tannic acid, nicotinic acid, saponins, resin and bitter materials.

  • Essential Oil
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic Acids
  • Tannins
  • Resins

The chief constituents of rosemary oil are camphor (5–31%), 1,8-cineol (15–55%), α-pinene (9–26%), borneol (1.5–5.0%), camphene (2.5–12.0%), β-pinene (2.0–9.0%), limonene (1.5–5.0%), verbenone (2.2–11.1%), β-caryophyllene (1.8–5.1%) and myrcene (0.9–4.5%)

Rosemary Essential oil

The oil is extracted from the leaves, flowering tops and twigs of Rosemary plant using steam or water distillation. Oil content of dried leaves (3%) is more than that of fresh leaves (1%). It is clear, mobile, colorless to pale yellow liquid.

About 90% of oil is collected in first 60 minutes of distillation. It is further distillated for next one hour to extract rest of the oil.

Uses of Rosemary Oil

Rosemary Oil has anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It is used in treatment for scabies and lice. In case of swelling, the oil is diluted and rubbed on skin. Few drops of oil are added to bath tub to have a refreshing bath.

Rosemary Oil is considered excellent for hair care. It is useful in dandruff and for promoting hair growth. It also controls greasy hair. Rubbing few drops on scalp controls premature hair fall and helps in alopecia. Rosemary oil, in combination with the essential oil from thyme, lavender and cedar wood, showed improvement in hair growth by 44% after 7 months of treatment for alopecia areata. The oils are massaged into the scalp for a minimum of 2 minutes daily for seven months.

  1. It is rubbed into the temples to relieve stress, tension and headaches.
  2. It is applied topically on cuts, wounds, sores, chilblains, scalds and burns.
  3. It is also used in preparation of soaps, shampoos and hair conditioners, room fresheners, deodorants, perfumes, skin lotions, etc.

Important Medicinal Properties

Rosmarinus officinalis is rich in medicinal properties. The understanding of these properties will help us to better utilize this herb. These also indicate the conditions in which we should avoid it. For example, Rosemary has emmenagogue and abortifacient properties. The aqueous extract of plant causes abortion. Therefore it must not be used during pregnancy.

Below is given medicinal properties along with the meaning.

  1. Abortifacient: Induces abortion.
  2. Antioxidant: Neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.
  3. Anti-cancer: Used against or tending to arrest or prevent cancer.
  4. Anti-implantation: Prevents attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine lining.
  5. Antispasmodic: Used to relieve spasm of involuntary muscle.
  6. Antimicrobial: Active against microbes.
  7. Chemo preventive: Reverse, suppress, or prevent carcinogenic progression to invasive cancer.
  8. Carminative: Preventing the formation or causing the expulsion of flatulence.
  9. Cholagogue: Promotes the discharge of bile from the system, purging it downward.
  10. Diaphoretic: Promote sweating.
  11. Decongestant: Used to relieve nasal congestion.
  12. Digestive: Digestant.
  13. Emmenagogue: Stimulates or increases menstrual flow.
  14. Nervine: Calm the nerves.

Main indications of Rosemary

Rosemary is used in the management of headache, menstrual disorders, nervous menstrual complaints, tiredness, defective memory, sprains, bruise, cold, cough, depression with general debility, sluggish appetite, cardiovascular deficiency and cloudy thinking. It increases concentration and memory by increasing blood flow to brain. Rosemary is warming in effect and gives relief in respiratory ailments and congestion. It supports better functioning of immune, digestive, respiratory, circulatory and nervous system. It strengthens the senses and elevates the mood.

  1. Arthritis
  2. Cough, colds and Flu
  3. Fevers
  4. Gastrointestinal Tract Infections
  5. Gout
  6. Headaches, Migraine
  7. Stress
  8. Liver Problems
  9. Poor Memory and Concentration

Healing benefits of Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Rosemary offers several health benefits. It is an edible plant and has positive effect on whole body. It is full of antioxidant activities. Rosemary has affinity to brain and nervous system and has been used for thousands of years to improve memory. It stimulates circulation of blood to the head, improving concentration and memory, easing headaches and migraine, and encourages hair growth.

1. Anticancer effect

Rosemary has anticancer activity due to presence of carnosol, carnosic acid, ursolic acid, befulinic acid, rosmaridiphenol and rosemanol. It works by preventing binding of carcinogen to body cells and also by increasing the intracellular accumulation of the common chemotherapy drugs and thus increasing their availability for action in body. For anticancer action, extract of whole plant should be used.

Research shows that colon, breast and lung cancer incidence was cut in half for animals ingesting rosemary.

2. Antidiabetic Effect

The infusion of dried rosemary leaves lowers the blood glucose level.

3. Urinary system

The decoction / infusion of Rosemary has diuretic effect. Its intake increases the passing of urine which helps to enhance the removal of wastes from the body.

4. Digestive system

Rosemary is a digester, cholagogue, and calms the stomach. It improves appetite and digestion. It increases flow of digestive juices. It has stimulating action on gallbladder and liver. It improves liver function and detoxifies it.

Due to carminative properties, Rosemary gives relief in flatulence and bloating.

Rosemary helps in better assimilation of nutrients. It is traditionally used in diseases of liver.

5. Nervous system

Rosemary is used to treat many common disorders of brain. It increases blood circulation to brain and supports better concentration, memory, alertness and clear thinking.

It relaxes the mind and helps in migraine nervousness, anxiety, exhaustion, lethargy, depression and insomnia.

6. Respiratory system

Rosemary is used since ancient times for sore throats, colds, flu and chest infections. It is an expectorant that dilutes nasal and respiratory mucus. Rosemary hot tea, reduces the phlegm and congestion. It has relaxant effects on smooth muscle to relieve spasm in the bronchial tubes and helping in difficult breathing and asthma.

Rosemary increases perspiration and helps in lowering body temperature in fevers.

7. Other Uses

The paste of leaves is applied on wounds due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Rosemary has insect, moth, flies, mosquito repellent properties and is used in wardrobes to protect clothing.

Rosemary tea can be used as a douche for vaginal infections. This can also be used as a mouthwash for bleeding gums.

In case of bad breath, infection of gums or teeth, few fresh leaves of plant can be chewed.

The infusion of the plant with borax is used as a hair wash for preventing hair fall.

Dosage of Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary can be administered in the form of infusion, decoction, tinctures, powder, liquid or dry extract.

  1. The daily dosage for oral use is 4–6 g of herb.
  2. Infusion can be prepared by soaking 2–4 g in 150 ml water three times daily.
  3. Rosemary Tincture (1:5, 70% ethanol) can be taken in dose of 3–8.5 ml daily.
  4. The recommended dose for dry extract is 0.36–0.44 g, three times daily.
  5. For external use, boil 50 g of herb in 1 liter of water and add to one full bath.
  6. The oil is used for oral, external use and aromatherapy. The daily dosage for oral administration is 1 ml of essential oil. For external use, 6–10% of essential oil in semi-solid and liquid preparations is used.

How to Brew Rosemary Tea

Rosemary tea is very easy to make. It has been used as a therapy for all sorts of ailments, including headaches, indigestion, to relieve flatulence, stimulate the heart, induce sleep, and alleviate depression. It has an astringent and relaxant effect on uterus, relieves cramps and helps regulate periods. Externally, Rosemary Tea can be used as a hair rinse to stimulate hair follicles and also as vaginal douche. It can also be used as a mouthwash.

For preparing flower tea, 1 teaspoon of dried flowers or 3 teaspoons of fresh flowers are added to cup of boiling water. It is steep to taste. For rosemary leaf tea, soak 1/2 teaspoon of dried or fresh herb in one cup of boiling water for few minutes. Little lemon or honey can be added to enhance the taste.

Contraindications, Interactions, Side-effects and Warnings Rosmarinus officinalis

  1. It is generally considered safe and does not produce any side-effect if taken in recommended doses.
  2. It should only be taken for a few days at a time.
  3. In some people allergic reaction such as skin irritation, dermatitis may occur.
  4. It has anti-implantation properties.
  5. It is contraindicated in cases of hypersensitivity or allergy to the plant material.
  6. It should not be used in pregnancy due to abortifacient, emmenagogue, and uterotonic action.
  7. Due to the lack of safety data, the use of the crude drug during breastfeeding is not recommended.
  8. It should not be used by people suffering from epilepsy due to richness in camphor. As the camphor in the volatile oil may cause convulsions.
  9. Rosemary oil should be used with caution in hypertension and insomnia.
  10. Excess intake of rosemary can cause kidney irritation, gastrointestinal disturbances, coma, spasm, vomiting and, in some cases, pulmonary oedema.
  11. Due to its irritant properties, the essential oil should not be used on the face or mucosa, and contact with the eyes should be avoided. After application of the essential oil, wash hands to avoid accidental contact with the face and eyes. As with all essential oils, do not exceed the recommended dose.
  12. Due to the lack of safety data, administration of the crude drug to children under the age of 12 years is not recommended.
  13. It can cause harmless red discoloration of the urine.
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