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Rosemary for Remembrance

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 217 - October 2014

Enlivening your cuisine with the distinctive flavour of rosemary, which not only scintillates the taste buds but also provides a wealth of medicinal benefits to nurture the body and invigorate the brain. Rosemary is a wonderful nervine and rejuvenative; it increases blood flow to the brain, improves mental clarity, heightens concentration and improves memory. Even in the days of the ancient Greeks, rosemary was valued by students revising for exams and it was customary to wear wreaths of rosemary on the head on such occasions. ….almost 35 years ago at the School of Herbal Medicine, my fellow students and I clutched sprigs of rosemary and dabbed our temples with rosemary oil in the hope that our memories would not fail us in our final exams.

Rosemary for Remembrance

Shakespeare knew all about rosemary’s reputation for improving memory when he had Ophelia say in Hamlet, “Here’s rosemary for remembrance - I pray you, love, remember.” Research has revealed that rosemary is rich in calcium, vital for normal nerve function, and in antioxidants, helping to protect against the ravages of the ageing process which include dwindling alertness and a failing memory.[1] Studies into the effect of essential oils on mood demonstrated that rosemary decreased frontal alpha and beta power, suggesting an increase in alertness. Subjects showed better memory and greater accuracy at maths computations and reported feeling more relaxed.[4]

For Rejuvenation

As a circulatory stimulant, rosemary has a warming effect; a steaming cup of rosemary tea makes an invigorating start to a winter’s morning and helps throw off early morning stupor, warm cold hands and feet, prevent chilblains, and dispel the winter blues, while its calming and mood elevating effects increase resilience to the stresses of the day. Its antioxidant effect, attributed to constituents including rosmarinic acid and bioflavonoids, protects the vascular system; it is used for varicose veins, tendency to bruising and arteriosclerosis.

Rosemary is a good remedy for tension, anxiety, lethargy, exhaustion, depression and insomnia and this may be attributed to its ability to support the adrenals. Carnosic acid in rosemary is neuro-protective, helping to protect the nervous system from free radical damage caused by stress.

Rubbed into the scalp, rosemary helps check hair fall and condition the hair, explaining its use in shampoos and conditioners. A trial on patients with alopecia areata showed that rubbing thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood into the scalp was safe and effective.[3] An infusion applied to the skin can speed healing of cuts, wounds, sores, chilblains, scalds and burns, as well as reduce wrinkles and puffiness under the eyes. Rosemary was the main ingredient of Hungary Water, a famous old recipe given to the 14th century queen of Hungary, Izabella, by a hermit. She was seventy-two and “infirm of limb and afflicted with gout”. She took a dram once a week and washed her face and limbs with it each morning; after a year she apparently recovered her health, strength and beauty so much that the king of Poland proposed to her!

The aromatic volatile oils that lend rosemary its penetrating taste and fragrance have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. They help combat infections including colds and flu, coughs and chest infections, stomach and bowel infections and help to balance the microbiota in the gut.[6,7] Their relaxant effects relieve bronchospasm, helpful in prevention and treatment of asthma.[5]

The antioxidant polyphenolic compounds, including carnosic acid protect against oxidative stress and radiation and have anti-mutagenic effects.[9] Carnosic acid combined with vitamin D, was found to reduce leukaemia cell spread.[8] As an anti-inflammatory, rosemary helps relieve pain and swelling; massage with dilute oil can relieve tense muscles, arthritis, gout, sciatica and neuralgia.

A Great Digestive

Rosemary promotes appetite, digestion and absorption; it combats dysbiosis, and can relieve wind, bloating and colic. Its astringent tannins protect the gut mucosa, preventing gut irritation and inflammation, explaining its use in diarrhoea. The bitters stimulate the liver and gall-bladder, increasing bile flow, aiding fat digestion and helping clear toxins that contribute to headaches, lethargy, irritability and malaise. Rosemary protects the liver from damage from chemicals and alcohol; the antioxidants stimulate liver enzymes that detoxify poisons including carcinogens and xenobiotics.[2]

Rosemary is famous as a remedy for headaches and migraines. By stimulating blood flow to the head, relaxing tense muscles, aiding digestion and cleansing the liver, rosemary provides a remedy for headaches of varying origins. With its diuretic effect, it also helps with the elimination of wastes through the kidneys.

NB. Avoid in pregnancy. Take away from mineral supplements.


1. Haraguchi H, Saito T, Okamura N, Yagi A. ‘Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and superoxide generation by diterpenoids from Rosmarinus officinalis.’ Planta Med. Aug;61(4):333-6. 1995.

2.Barnett R. Tonics. Harper Collins New York NY;232. 1997.

3.Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. ‘Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata.’ Arch Dermatol. 134(11):1349-52. Nov 1998.

4.Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, McAdam V, Galamaga R, Galamaga M ‘Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations’ Int J Neurosci  96(3-4): 217-24. Dec 1998.

5.Aqel MB. ‘Relaxant effect of the volatile oil of Rosmarinus officinalis on tracheal smooth muscle.’ J Ethnopharmacol. 33(1-2): 57-62. May-Jun 1991.

6.Mangena T, Muyima NY. ‘Comparative evaluation of the antimicrobial activities of essential oils of Artemisia afra, Pteronia incana and Rosmarinus officinalis on selected bacteria and yeast strains.’ Lett Appl Microbiol. 28(4):291-6. Apr 1999.

7. Mazumder A, Neamati N, Sunder S, Schulz J, Pertz H, Eich E, Pommier Y. ‘Curcumin analogs with altered potencies against HIV-1 integrase as probes for biochemical mechanisms of drug action.’ J Med Chem. 40(19):3057-63. Sep 12 1997.

8. Sharaboni H. Cooperative anti-tumour effects of vitamin D3 derivatives and rosemary preparations in a mouse model of myeloid leukaemia. Int J cancer. 118(12):3012-21. Jun 15 2006.

9. Del Bano MJ, Castillo J, Benavente-Garcia O, Lorente J, Martin-Gil R, Acevedo C, Alcaraz M. Radioprotective-antimutagenic effects of rosemary phenolics against chromosomal damage induced in human lymphocytes by gamma-rays. J agric Food Chem. 54:2064-2068. 2006.


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096

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