A Rosemary Guide: 7 Health Benefits Of This Fragrant Herb + How To Use It

mbg Associate Health Editor By Darcy McDonough, M.S.
mbg Associate Health Editor

Darcy McDonough is the associate health editor at mbg. She has a master’s degree in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

This Seasonal Spice Also Deserves A Spot In Your Supplement Cabinet

You probably already know that rosemary packs a delicious flavor—especially when sprinkled in soup, roasted on potatoes, or rubbed on chicken—but did you know the herb and its oils also come with health benefits?

Rosemary has been used medicinally for centuries and today, we're unpacking the healing potential of this holiday favorite.

7 promising health benefits of rosemary.

1. It supports memory.

There's no denying that the fresh scent of rosemary awakens the senses, and in fact, the herb's best-known health property is its ability to support memory. Even Shakespeare knew rosemary had some major memory power: In Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance: pray you, love, remember."

The scent of rosemary oil has been shown to promote clarity and mental performance. In one study, students in a room infused with rosemary oil scored 5 to 7 points better on a memory test. Similar experiments support these findings in healthy adults as well.

Researchers believe this is because a compound in rosemary inhibits the breakdown of neurotransmitters responsible for encoding memories in the brain.


2. It has a positive effect on the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is a network of neurotransmitter and cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body, many of them concentrated in the central nervous system and immune system. The endocannabinoid system interacts with cannabinoids, which are either produced naturally by our bodies or ingested from plants. This system rules our stress response, anxiety levels, pain signaling, and more.

The endocannabinoid system was discovered while researchers were studying the cannabis plant, so naturally, the most well-known source of plant-derived cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, are hemp and marijuana.

It has since been discovered that a few other plants also contain phytocannabinoids, though, including—you guessed it—rosemary. The specific phytocannabinoid in rosemary is beta-caryophyllene (BCP). BCP has been shown to ease anxiousness, making rosemary a good addition to your stress-management routine.

3. It is being studied as a therapy for neurodegenerative disease.

In fact, low levels of this memory neurotransmitter, called acetylcholine, is one of the characteristic signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Current drug treatments for dementia act on the brain in a similar manner as rosemary to increase and preserve the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. So it makes sense that the herb is now being explored as a potential therapy for those who have Alzheimer's. One small study found that exposure to rosemary-scented aromatherapy improved cognitive function in dementia patients. While these results are promising, more research is needed to determine the full potential of rosemary for dementia treatment.

4. It may promote mental clarity.

In addition to supporting memory, rosemary also seems to promote mental awareness. Its interaction with the brain and central nervous system can be physically and mentally invigorating. Inhaling rosemary was shown to elevate heart rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature, as well as mood in a study of young adults. Many of the studied individuals reported feeling stimulated and mentally fresh after inhaling rosemary.

The stimulatory effects of rosemary may further support cognitive function and capabilities.


5. It may support healthy digestion.

Traditionally, rosemary has been hailed for its ability to ease digestive discomfort. Researchers believe this is because it has antispasmodic properties, relaxing the muscles of the gastrointestinal system and allowing for proper digestion. When eaten with meals, rosemary may also support healthy blood flow, thereby aiding digestion and absorption.

Additionally, many people swear by rubbing rosemary oil on their stomach to relieve cramping, but this has not yet been scientifically studied.

6. It's high in antioxidants.

Rosemary can improve overall health due to its potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants act as a defense system in the body, fighting against free radicals that can damage our cells and cause diseases of aging. And rosemary is near the top of the list for herbs with the most antioxidants. In fact, one small village in Italy credits rosemary for its large population of healthy people living past 100.


7. Its oil can promote hair growth.

Rosemary oil has been touted for centuries for its ability to stimulate hair growth, and recent studies support this long-held belief. In one study, a mix of essential oils, including rosemary oil, was found to successfully promote hair growth in almost half of study participants with alopecia.

Another study found rosemary oil to be as effective as over-the-counter products for stimulating hair regrowth in patients with androgenetic alopecia (pattern baldness).

How to incorporate rosemary into your routine.

Medicinal and culinary rosemary comes in many forms. It can be eaten fresh or as a dried herb, as well as taken as an extract or essential oil.

In fact, if you are looking to reap the brain-boosting medicinal benefits of rosemary, smelling the herb's oil is probably your best bet. Science shows that the invigorating chemicals in rosemary can be more efficiently and completely absorbed by the body through the olfactory system. This is because it does not have to be broken down in the gastrointestinal system. So the next time you want a quick pick-me-up, try adding a couple of drops of rosemary essential oil to a diffuser or diluting a few drops in a carrier oil and placing on your wrists to inhale the stimulating scent.

If you are looking for digestive relief or hair regrowth, topical administration is the way to go. Just be sure to dilute your oil, since essential oils are extremely concentrated and can burn the skin when undiluted. Mix a couple of drops of rosemary essential oil with a carrier oil (like jojoba or grapeseed oil) and massage into skin or hair for benefits.

One thing to be aware of: High doses of rosemary can be dangerous for pregnant women, and it's always best to check with your doctor before trying new oils or supplements.

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