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Rosemary: Get your blood moving

Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Rosemary: Get your blood moving

Sarah Sorci

There's rosemary; that's for remembrance. Pray you love, remember.'
   -Ophelia, Shakespeare's Hamlet

I confess-- I am not a nurturing houseplant owner. I bring a handful of potted herbs indoors each fall in hopes of cooking with them throughout the chilly months. My intention is to bring them back outside in the spring, alive. Right now, my catnip, thyme and ashwagandha are languishing from lack of water, sun, and/or nutrients. (I just got up and watered them. Relax.) However, the rosemary plant (Rosmarinus officinalis) looks as perfect now as the day it came inside. I regularly rub the leaves for the intoxicating scent, and have been using it in pizza crust and stew.

Rosemary's genus name, Rosmarinus, is latin for "dew of the sea." This may refer to its pale blue or purple flowers. It may also point to rosemary's preference for the sandy soils and hot sun near the Mediterranean, where it is native. Its species name, officinalis, is given to plants widely recognized for their medicinal value. Though we generally think of cooking with rosemary for its flavor, there is deeper wisdom in the tradition of adding it to savory meat dishes. Due to its essential oil profile, rosemary is one of the more potent antioxidant and antimicrobial herbs. It is an excellent natural preservative. Into the 1900s, it was customary to burn rosemary in French hospitals to prevent the spread of infection (Grieve).

As with many aromatic mint family plants, rosemary is a fine supporter of both the digestive and nervous systems. Its oils have a stimulating effect on the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, helping to move waste and gas through. Rosemary also supports digestion by stimulating the secretion of bile from the gallbladder. This helps to ensure proper digestion of fats (Smith).

Indeed, stimulating may be the most common descriptor for rosemary in herbal medicine. It is a circulatory stimulant, and may reduce capillary fragility (Winston, 380). Rosemary's inclusion in winter stews is a wise choice for its support of peripheral circulation. Its stimulating effect on the nervous system and cerebral circulation helps to explain rosemary's ability to lift mood and improve memory (Winston, 380). Click here for a study on rosemary's volatile oils and their effects on cognitive performance and mood.

Rosemary's reputation for enhancing memory may explain its time-honored role in commemorating life's milestones.  Rosemary has traditionally been added to bridal bouquets. Wedding guests have been given sprigs as a keepsake. Rosemary has been added to couples' wine as a symbol of keeping their vows. Across cultures, rosemary is a symbol of remembrance of those who have died. Ancient Egyptians laid sprigs of rosemary on tombs and coffins. Shakespeare's Juliette was gifted rosemary upon her passing. During Australia's Anzac Day celebrating ancestors, it is still common to wear rosemary sprigs (Grieve; Monterrey).

Rosemary's antispasmodic and circulation-enhancing nature explain its topical use for relief of muscle, joint, and nerve pain. In Europe, it has also been used to ease headaches. Click here for a rosemary-infused oil recipe.

The notable antioxidant activity in rosemary may explain research demonstrating its anticancer properties. In a study of laboratory animals, adding rosemary to the diet "reduced the incidence of experimentally caused mammary tumors by 47%." Skin cancers were also inhibited using a topical application (Winston, 380). In Herbal Therapy and Supplements, Winston and Kuhn recommend applying rosemary topically as a skin cancer preventative (380). Though this is no replacement for proper sun protection, perhaps rosemary oil can be used alongside aloe vera after we've spent time outdoors.

Rosemary's stimulating nature makes it an excellent supporter of menstrual discomfort. However, medicinal doses may be unsafe during pregnancy. Enjoy whole rosemary leaves in food when pregnant, in moderation.

Grieve, Maude. A Modern Herbal. 1931.
Materia Medica Resource. "Rosemary."
Monterrey Spice Company.
Smith, Ed. Therapeutic Herb Manual. Williams: 2011. pp. 61-62.
Winston, David and Merrily Kuhn. Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach. pp. 380-381.