7 Reasons to Love Rosemary

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You may not realize it, but you probably have one of nature's most powerful substances in your kitchen right now. Say hello to your new best friend, rosemary

Rosemary is, understandably, one of the world's most popular herbs. When you brush the branches of a rosemary bush, the fragrant aromatics that emit intoxicate the senses. A desirable shrub, rosemary is found in planters and backyard greenspaces the world over, thanks to its pleasing appearance and hardy growth. Culinary and lifestyle enthusiasts favor rosemary for the delicate flavor and fragrance it imparts when cooked and infused in oils.

Besides being a useful addition to your kitchen and bath, this Mediterranean evergreen is a medicinal powerhouse, credited with an impressive list of healthful benefits. Rosemary is rich in phytochemicals, bioactive plant compounds with health-boosting properties that are also responsible for rosemary's pleasing aroma.

7 Reasons to Love Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis L., or rosemary, was used in traditional pharmacopeia to alleviate ailments like headache, stomachache, rheumatic and menstrual pain, and to dispel fatigue.[i] Rosemary was believed to possess neuroprotective properties and was used to treat spasms and epilepsy, ease nervousness and depression, and boost a failing memory.[ii]

Science has weighed in on rosemary, supporting its usefulness as a traditional medicinal due to significant antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, among other documented benefits.[iii] Rosemary's tonifying properties were validated in a comprehensive meta-analysis deeming rosemary "a worthy source" for curing inflammation, easing pain, boosting memory and alleviating anxiety.[iv]

Let's unpack the science around rosemary as an aid to disease prevention and review the impressive list of pharmacological actions credited to this highly favored herb.

1. Anti-inflammatory

A 2022 review studied the anti-inflammatory effect of whole rosemary in ground and distilled forms. A daily dose of rosemary powder or extract was provided to mice daily for 21 days to treat inflammatory injuries including swollen extremities, acute liver injury and asthma. Both forms of rosemary treatment showed diverse anti-inflammatory activity across multiple biomarkers, during and after the treatment period.[v]

You may not need to ingest rosemary to benefit from these anti-inflammatory properties. Diffused rosemary essential oil was shown to be a potentially useful adjunct to anti-inflammatory drug treatment.[vi] A topical application of rosemary leaf extract was also found to possess anti-inflammatory potency similar to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin.[vii]

2. Antioxidant

When you consume an antioxidant substance, the boost to your body helps fortify cells against oxidative damage. According to research, rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid are the phytoactive phenolic compounds in rosemary that bestow the most anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits to your body.[viii] In a 2015 paper, researchers evaluated the protective effect of rosmarinic acid for systemic inflammation and found that it caused a substantial reduction in inflammation,[ix] evidence of potent antioxidant effects.

A rosemary extract containing high concentrations of carnosic acid compounds was tested for antiproliferative effects against human prostate cancer cells in vitro. Results showed that the rosemary extract promoted antioxidant activity and reduced cancer cell viability in a concentration-dependent manner.[x] Researchers deemed rosemary plants useful for conceptualizing new drugs to effectively fight cancer and free radical-mediated diseases.

3. Analgesic

Analgesic substances act to relieve pain, making them indispensable in the modern medicine cabinet. But drug-based analgesics can be toxic to your liver and may carry dangerous risks of dependency. Herbal analgesics are typically nontoxic, non-habit-forming alternatives that can safely assuage pain; some are even proven to work as well as their clinical counterparts.

A 2007 trial investigated the analgesic properties of rosemary extract using three different experimental pain models. Response curves were calculated to determine optimal dosage and timing for analgesic effects. Pain relief was observed in all pain models, with effects like those produced by tramadol, a narcotic with high risk for addiction and dependence.[xi]

A later study on rosemary's analgesic properties identified 11 chemical compounds that may contribute to rosemary's painkilling.[xii] Researchers determined that rosemary's ability to relieve pain involves the serotonergic system -- a transmitter system in the brain -- including endogenous opioids.[xiii]

4. Anxiety Relief

It's estimated that 264 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety.[xiv] Aromatherapy is a simple and effective way to de-stress, and there is no herb better suited to boosting your mood than the distilled extract of rosemary leaves.

In a recent neurological study, researchers tested rosemary and lavender essential oils for their effects on alertness and mood. Forty adults were assessed after three-minute aromatherapy sessions to determine each oil's effects on brain wave activity, level of alertness and self-reported mood. True to its traditional reputation, rosemary essential oil was found to be an effective anxiety aid.[xv]

Lavender's usefulness as a relaxant was also validated. Participants in the lavender test group showed increased beta brain waves, indicating drowsiness, and reported better mood and feeling more relaxed. The rosemary group demonstrated increased alertness through decreased frontal alpha and beta brain waves and reported lower anxiety and feeling more relaxed and alert.[xvi]

Adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil to a diffuser can be a simple way to soothe stressed nerves throughout the day and placing a lavender-scented sachet inside your pillowcase can provide a calming, relaxing effect to ease you into sleep at night.

5. Cognition Enhancing

If you're prone to "senior moments," you're not alone: 1 in 9 U.S. adults aged 45 and older has reported symptoms of memory loss.[xvii] Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an age-related condition that is increasingly common but may be helped by the support of brain-boosting supplements like rosemary.

A 2022 meta-analysis on rosemary's cognition-enhancing effects reviewed 22 animal studies to determine the qualitative and quantitative effects. Overall, rosemary improved cognitive outcomes in both normal and cognitively impaired animals, with robust results across species, type of extract, duration of treatment and type of memory.[xviii] Researchers acknowledged that rosemary's reputation as "the herb of remembrance" is not hearsay.[xix]

6. Neuroprotective

When cognitive decline is not curtailed, it may give way to dementia, a general diagnosis of the impaired ability to think, remember and make normal everyday decisions. It's estimated that 14 million people may suffer from dementia by the year 2060.[xx] Supplementation with rosemary may help to stave off cognitive decline that can lead to this devastating diagnosis.

Rosemary was tested in a placebo-controlled trial of a combined herbal extract on memory enhancement in healthy older adults. The extract combined three traditional medicinal herbs, rosemary, sage and lemon balm. The 44 study participants were blinded and randomized to take the herbal extract or placebo for a single, two-week term. Immediate and delayed word recall were used to assess memory after taking the active extract or placebo each day.

Results showed that, in as little as two weeks, the herbal extract containing rosemary was significantly more effective than placebo at enhancing memory in individuals under 63 years of age, with no adverse effects. Researchers called for further research on this "simple, cost effective" protocol for its potential as an adjunct treatment for patients with Alzheimer's disease and in the general aging population.[xxi]  

7. Antidepressant

Depression is a natural state of mood that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. But what to do when a depressed mood becomes more than a passing phase, and you're averse to potentially addicting, long-term drug therapy? Why not try adding more rosemary to your life?

Massage is a holistic healing modality with known therapeutic benefits. By combining the powerful effects of aromatherapy with healing touch, you get a two-fold boost that has been clinically proven to improve mood. A 2022 study on elders living in a nursing care facility found that a 20-minute aromatherapy massage using oil infused with lavender, chamomile and rosemary extracts significantly reduced anxiety and depression.[xxii]

Another easy way to boost your mood is as simple as taking a daily cup of rosemary tea. A 2021 study found that healthy subjects between 20 and 50 years of age who consumed a 5-gram infusion of rosemary tea daily for 10 days showed significantly improved blood plasma biomarkers for anxiety and depression.[xxiii] Research findings highlighted the promise of rosemary as both an antianxiety treatment and an antidepressant, with rosemary increasing the most reliable biomarker for depression.[xxiv]

To learn more about the health benefits of rosemary, consult GreenMedInfo.com, the world's most widely referenced, evidence-based natural medical resource


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[ii] Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2020;23(9):1100-1112. doi:10.22038/ijbms.2020.45269.10541. PMID: 32963731

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[iv] Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2020;23(9):1100-1112. doi:10.22038/ijbms.2020.45269.10541. PMID: 32963731

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[xiii] Planta Med. 2009 Apr;75(5):508-11. Epub 2009 Jan 30. PMID: 19184968

[xiv] WHO, Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders, Global Health Estimates https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/254610/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf

[xv] Int J Neurosci. 1998 Dec;96(3-4):217-24. PMID: 10069621

[xvi] Int J Neurosci. 1998 Dec;96(3-4):217-24. PMID: 10069621

[xvii] Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:753–757. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6727a1.

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[xxiii] Am Coll Nutr. 2021 Feb 10:1-10. Epub 2021 Feb 10. PMID: 33565922

[xxiv] Am Coll Nutr. 2021 Feb 10:1-10. Epub 2021 Feb 10. PMID: 33565922

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