FWD 2 Healthy Ingredients: Rosemary


Rosmarinus officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae
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Photo © Steven Foster


Rosemary is in a genus of the mint family that contains three species of evergreen shrub, Rosmarinus officinalis,.1   R. eriocalyx, and R. tomentosus.2  This evergreen shrub has upright to sprawling branches with blunt-ended, tough, needle-like leaves. Growing to 4 feet, rosemary has tubular, pale to dark blue, two-lipped flowers that bloom in the spring.1  Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is currently cultivated in the US, China, and Europe.3  The leaves, flowering tops, and oil are used.1  

History and Cultural Significance

Scholars in ancient Greece wore garlands of rosemary during examinations to improve memory and concentration.1  Many cultures considered it to be a symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance.1  Rosemary was believed to only grow in the gardens of righteous people.4  Christians used rosemary in weddings and funerals as a symbol of fidelity and remembrance.4  In the 14th century, a rosemary tonic was claimed to revitalize Queen Izabella of Hungary’s beauty and health after being debilitated by rheumatism and gout.1  

Traditionally, rosemary was used for stomach upset and topically for muscle and lower back pain.5  In China, rosemary and borax were mixed and used as an infusion to prevent baldness.3  In Europe, a similar formula was used to prevent dandruff. In both China and Europe, rosemary was used for headaches and in Europe it was used to relieve gas, indigestion, head colds, and nervous tension.4  

The German Commission E has approved the internal use of rosemary leaves for dyspeptic complaints and external use as a supportive therapy for rheumatic diseases and circulatory problems.6  In European phytomedicine, the herb is used externally in baths as a stimulant to increase blood flow to the skin.3  

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans brewed rosemary leaves to use as a freshening douche.7  

Rosemary oil is an important ingredient in cosmetics and perfumes.8  The oil is used as a fragrance component, masking agent, or a source of natural antioxidants.3  Various creams, detergents, lotions, soaps, and perfumes (especially toilet waters and colognes) contain rosemary oil.3  

Modern Research

Research on the use of rosemary in aromatherapy suggests that it may affect alertness and anxiety.9  

Future Outlook

There is currently no information available on the size of the rosemary market, its sustainability, and what can be expected from it in the near future.


1  Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.

2  Tucker AO, Debaggio T. Big Book of Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press; 2000.

3  Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1996.

4  Onstad, D. Whole Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1996.

5  Barnes J, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2002.

6  Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, editors. Klein S, Rister RS, translators. The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.

7  Kay MA. Healing With Plants in the American and Mexican West. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press; 1996.

8  Skenderi G. Herbal Vade Mecum. 1st ed. Rutherford, NJ: Herbacy Press; 2003.

9  Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. Dec 1998;96(3-4):217-224.