Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is widely used as a culinary herb,
especially in Mediterranean dishes, and is also used as a fragrant additive in
soaps and other cosmetics. Traditionally, rosemary has been used by herbalists
to improve memory, relieve muscle pain and spasm, stimulate hair growth, and
support the circulatory and nervous systems. It is also believed to affect the
menstrual cycle, act as an abortifacient (inducing miscarriage), relieve
menstrual cramps, increase urine flow, and reduce kidney pain (for example, from
kidney stones). Recently, rosemary has been the object of laboratory and animal
studies investigating its potential in the prevention of cancer and its
Native to the Mediterranean area, rosemary is now cultivated widely in other
parts of the world, although it thrives in a warm and relatively dry climate.
The plant takes its name from rosmarinus, a Latin term meaning "sea dew."
It is an erect evergreen shrub that can grow to a height of six and a half feet.
The woody rootstock bears rigid branches with fissured bark. The long, linear,
needle-like leaves are dark green above and white beneath. Both the fresh and
dried leaves are pungent. The small flowers are pale blue. The leaves and parts
of the flowers contain volatile oil.
The leaves and twigs of the rosemary plant are used for culinary and
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Food Preservation Most evidence for rosemary's medicinal uses
comes from clinical experience rather than from scientific studies. However,
recent laboratory studies have shown that rosemary slows the growth of a number
of bacteria such as E. coli and S. aureus that are involved in
food spoilage, and may actually perform better than some commercially used food
Alopecia As stated above, one traditional use of rosemary has
been to try to stimulate hair growth. In one study of 86 people with alopecia
areata (a disease of unknown cause characterized by significant hair loss,
generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with rosemary and other
essential oils (including lavender, thyme, and cedarwood) every day for 7 months
experienced significant hair re-growth compared to those who massaged their
scalps without the essential oils. It is not entirely clear from this study
whether rosemary (or a combination of rosemary and the other essential oils) was
responsible for the beneficial effects.
Cancer Both laboratory and animal studies suggest that
rosemary's antioxidant properties may have activity against colon, breast,
stomach, lung, and skin cancer cells. Much more research in this area, including
trials involving people, must be conducted before conclusions can be drawn about
the value of rosemary for cancer.
Dried whole herb
Dried, powdered extract (in capsules)
Preparations derived from fresh or dried leaves, such as tinctures,
infusions, liquid extract, and rosemary wine
Volatile oil (to be used externally, not to be ingested)
How to Take It
There are no known scientific reports on the medicinal use of rosemary in
children. Therefore, it is not currently recommended for this age group.
Listed below are the recommended adult doses for rosemary. (Total daily
intake should not exceed 4 to 6 grams of the dried herb.):
Tea: 3 cups daily. Prepare using the infusion method of pouring
boiling water over the herb and then steeping for 3 to 5 minutes. Use 6 g
powdered herb to 2 cups water. Divide into three small cups and drink over the
course of the day.
Tincture (1:5): 2 to 4 mL three times per day
Fluid extract (1:1 in 45% alcohol): 1 to 2 mL three times per day
Rosemary wine: add 20 g herb to 1 liter of wine and allow to stand for
five days, shaking occasionally
Externally, rosemary may be used as follows:
Essential oil (6 to 10%): 2 drops semisolid or liquid in 1 tablespoon
Decoction (for bath): Place 50 g herb in 1 liter water, boil, then let
stand for 30 minutes. Add to bath water.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Rosemary is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses.
However, there have been occasional reports of allergic reactions. Large
quantities of rosemary leaves, because of their volatile oil content, can cause
serious side effects, including vomiting, spasms, coma and, in some cases,
pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).
Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use rosemary in quantities
larger than those normally used in cooking. An overdose of rosemary may induce a
miscarriage or cause damage to the fetus.
Rosemary oil, taken orally, can trigger convulsions and should not be used
internally. Topical preparations containing rosemary oil are potentially harmful
to hypersensitive people who may be allergic to camphor.
Doxorubicin In a laboratory study, rosemary extract increased
the effectiveness of doxorubicin in treating human breast cancer cells. Human
studies will be necessary to determine whether this is true in people.
Meanwhile, those taking doxorubicin should consult with a healthcare
practitioner before taking rosemary.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director,
Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts,
University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(September 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction
sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD
(July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed