A Rosemary Guide: 7 Health Benefits Of This Fragrant Herb + How To Use It
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
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 memory1, promote clarity, and enhance mental performance.
(Even Shakespeare knew rosemary had some major mental benefits: In Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance: pray you, love, remember.")
In one 2017 study on 40 school-age children, the students in a room infused with rosemary oil scored 5 to 7 points better on a memory test. Separate research on adults2 supports these findings that rosemary essential oil can boost cognitive performance.
Researchers believe this is because a compound in rosemary inhibits the breakdown of neurotransmitters3 responsible for encoding memories4 in the brain.
It has a positive effect on the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of neurotransmitter and cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body, many of them concentrated in the central nervous system and immune system. It plays a role in our stress response, anxiety levels, pain signaling, and more.
The system interacts with cannabinoids, which are either produced naturally by our bodies or ingested from plants. It was discovered while researchers were studying the cannabis plant—so naturally, the most well-known sources of plant-derived cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids5, are hemp and marijuana.
We now know that a few other plants also contain phytocannabinoids, including—you guessed it—rosemary. The specific phytocannabinoid in rosemary is beta-caryophyllene6 (BCP). BCP has been shown to ease anxiousness, making rosemary a good addition to your stress-management7 routine.
It is being studied as a therapy for neurodegenerative disease
Rosemary affects the brain in a similar way to current drug treatments for dementia, increasing and preserving acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. So it makes sense that the herb is now being explored as a potential therapy8 for those who have Alzheimer's.
One small study in the journal 9Psychogeriatrics9 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.
It may promote mental clarity
In addition to supporting memory, rosemary also seems to promote a clear mind. 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 temperature10, as well as mood in a 2013 study of young adults, many of whom reported feeling stimulated and mentally fresh after inhaling the herb.
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 properties1, 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.
It's high in antioxidants
Rosemary can improve overall health due to its potent antioxidant properties11.
Antioxidants act as a defense system in the body, fighting against free radicals that can damage our cells and accelerate aging. And rosemary is near the top of the list for herbs with the most antioxidants12. In fact, one small village in Italy credits rosemary for its large population of healthy people living past 100.
Its oil can promote hair growth
Rosemary oil has been touted for centuries for its ability to stimulate hair growth, and research now supports this long-held belief.
In one randomized aromatherapy trial back in 1998, a mix of essential oils, including rosemary oil, was found to successfully promote hair growth13 in almost half of the study participants with alopecia.
Another study found rosemary oil to be as effective as over-the-counter products14 for stimulating hair regrowth in patients with androgenetic alopecia (pattern baldness).
How to incorporate rosemary into your routine
Rosemary comes in many forms. It can be eaten fresh or as a dried herb, consumed as a supplement, or sniffed or applied as an essential oil.
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 system2. 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 them in a carrier oil before applying them to your wrists and inhaling 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 applied directly. Mix a couple of drops of rosemary essential oil with a carrier oil (like jojoba or grapeseed oil) and massage into skin or scalp for benefits.
Safety & side effects
High doses of rosemary can be dangerous for pregnant women. Pregnant or not, it's always best to check with your doctor before trying new rosemary supplements. Rosemary essential oil is safe for most people to inhale, but again, always mix it with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.
Rosemary is a wonderfully multifunctional plant that can help keep the mind sharp when inhaled and the belly comfortable when applied topically. And of course, cooking with the fragrant herb is always a great way to eat up its many health benefits.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 22, 2018. A previous version of this article indicated that rosemary can ease digestive upset. We have since clarified this statement to indicate that rosemary has antispasmodic properties, which can relax the muscles of the GI system and allow for proper digestion.
Darcy McDonough, M.S., is the Senior Manager, SEO & Content Strategy at mindbodygreen. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She has previously worked in nutrition communications for Joy Bauer, the nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY Show.
McDonough has developed & lead nutrition education programming in schools. She’s covered a wide range of topics as a health & nutrition reporter from the rise in the use of psychedelics for depression to the frustrating trend in shorter doctors' appointments and the connection between diet and disease.