What is rosemary?
A member of the sage family, rosemary is an evergreen bushy herb with highly aromatic needle-like leaves and blue, white or pink flowers. It is traditionally served with lamb, chicken or game and used widely in Mediterranean cuisine. It can be used in sweet and savoury baked goods, including breads, muffins and biscuits. Fresh rosemary can also be used to make tea, to flavour cocktails or infused in oil or vinegar for making dressings and marinades. In addition to its many culinary uses, rosemary has been used for thousands of years to treat a range of illnesses, including digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, rheumatic pain and as a tonic to improve physical, emotional and mental well-being. Rosemary has been shown to contain over 50 different phytochemicals linked with various health benefits.
Health benefits of rosemary
- Could help keep the brain healthy
- May improve memory
- Aids digestion
- May help you stay alert
- Can help combat halitosis, tooth decay and gum disease
- May help relieve stress, anxiety and depression
- May offer protection against some types of cancer
- Can help support the immune system
3g (1 tsp) fresh rosemary contains:
- 0.1g fat (0.1g sat fat)
- 0g protein
- 0.4g fibre
- 0.4g carbohydrate (0g sugar)
- 0g salt
1. Could help keep the brain healthy
Cognitive decline, which occurs mainly as we age, is thought to be partly caused by damage to the brain cells by free radicals (harmful molecules found in our environment, food and even released by our immune system). Studies show that carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid – phytochemicals found in rosemary – can help neutralise free radicals and scientists believe this could help keep the brain healthy.
2. May improve memory
Memory loss is also linked to brain ageing and damage from oxidative stress. Rosemary’s antioxidants are again believed to help combat this damage and protect against memory loss. Although most of the research has been done on rats and mice, there are some studies that suggest rosemary may help improve memory and learning in humans. In a study carried out at Northumberland University, when people were asked to take a memory test, they scored 15% higher when they room was scented with rosemary oil.
3. May aid digestion
One of the reasons rosemary is traditionally paired with lamb is because it is thought to stimulate the liver to produce bile which helps the body digest fat. Studies carried out in mice show that rosemary extract can help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, which suggests it may be helpful for people suffering from inflammatory bowel ailments like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Naturopaths often recommend rosemary tea to help relieve symptoms of indigestion, including bloating, flatulence and stomach cramps.
4. May help you to stay alert
Are you revising for exams or have a long drive ahead? To stop yourself feeling drowsy, try taking a sniff of rosemary oil. A study carried out on nurses working night shifts found that the group who were given a drop of rosemary essential oil to inhale felt less sleepy and more alert than the control group.
5. May help combat bad breath and fight dental disease
Phytochemicals in rosemary are believed to have an antibacterial effect which can help neutralise the bacteria responsible for bad breath. Gargling with a mixture of warm water mixed with 1 drop of rosemary oil is said to help protect against other problems like tooth decay and gingivitis. A study in which people were asked to use a toothpaste containing rosemary extract (or a regular toothpaste as a control) found that the group using the rosemary toothpaste had less gum bleeding and plaque than the control group.
6. May help relieve stress, anxiety and depression
Several studies have shown that phytochemicals, called polyphenols, in rosemary have anti-depressive and anti-anxiety properties, which is why inhalation of rosemary oil is sometimes recommended as a treatment for stress. The mechanism by which it works is not fully understood but some studies suggest it helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain. A small study in 22 healthy volunteers revealed that drinking rosemary tea could have a positive effect on levels of markers for anxiety and depression in the blood, suggesting that it could help relieve anxiety and stress. But the authors pointed out that larger studies are needed.
7. May offer protection against some types of cancer
Carnosic acid, one of the many phytochemicals found in rosemary, is known to be a powerful antioxidant. Some studies suggest it may help slow the growth of cancer cells in the body and reduce the risk of tumours developing.
8. Can help support the immune system
Phytochemicals carnosic acid and rosmarinic acids found in rosemary have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, and have been shown to be active against a range of common bacteria.
Is rosemary oil good for the hair?
Tik Tok is awash with people extolling the virtues of rosemary oil for healthy hair, claiming it can help the hair grow longer and stronger, and can be used as a treatment for dandruff and hair loss. But is there any truth behind this? One study that compared rosemary oil with minoxidil – an over-the-counter treatment for hair loss – found both products led to similar results after six months. The mechanism by which rosemary oil works is not fully understood but a possible explanation is that it increases blood flow to the hair follicles.
If you want to try this for yourself, mix a few drops of rosemary oil with a neutral carrier oil like jojoba or coconut and massaged into your scalp for 5 to 10 minutes once or twice a week. Don’t expect instant results – the study suggests it could take up to six months to work.
The bottom line
Rosemary is a pleasant and versatile herb, which is easy to grow at home in your garden or in a pot. While there is a growing body of research that suggests the bioactive compounds (phytochemicals) present in rosemary may offer a range of health benefits, further and larger studies are needed to support many of the claims.
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