Rosmarinus officinalis - family Labiatae (Lamiaceae)
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
The name ‘Rosemary’ is derived from the Latin ros marinus meaning ‘rose of the sea’ or ‘sea dew’. Rosemary has several chemotypes used in aromatherapy:
- 1,8-cineole (the commonly used rosemary)
Other varieties include:
- Verbena scented Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct. verbnone)
- Prostrate Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var. Lavandulaceus/repens)
- Pine-scented Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var angustifolia/ternufolius)
- White Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var. albiflorus)
- Pink Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’)
- Golden Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Aureus’)
Rosemary has been used medicinally as far back as Ancient Egypt where it was burnt as ritual incense and placed in the Pharaoh’s tombs to help them remember their former life. The Greeks and Romans wove rosemary twigs into their wedding crowns and bouquets as a symbol of love and constancy, and burnt it as incense at funerals in respect and memory of the dead.
In the Middle Ages rosemary was used to freshen and purify the air in French hospitals. Courts of law had branches strewn on the floor to protect against gaol fever. Rosemary has been worn by travellers in neck pouches around the neck during the Plague and in the hollow handle of walking sticks during the Victorian period.
First distilled in the 13th century, the essential oil of rosemary was an important ingredient in a number of eau de colognes. Medicinally it was often thought as a panacea and reputed to strengthen the brain and memory as well as prevent baldness.
Isabella, Queen of Hungary, had much to do with rosemary’s reputation as a rejuvenating tonic. Her famous Royal Hungarian Water is made by distilling rosemary, lavender, rose petals, orange flower and lemon balm.
It is a common plant in the domestic herb garden as it is one of the most useful of culinary herbs combining with meat, especially lamb, casseroles, tomato sauces, baked fish, rice, salads, egg dishes, apples, summer wine cups, cordials, vinegars and oils.
Put rosemary twigs on the barbeque or wood burning stove for a delicious aroma. One can use the twigs as aromatic skewers when making kebabs. Rosemary is widely used in many herbal shampoos and a final rinse for dark hair can be made by decocting some fresh rosemary.
Rosemary is a shrub that originated in the Mediterranean and is now widely cultivated throughout the temperate regions especially France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, the Middle East and California. Rosemary verbenone is grown in Corsica and Morocco.
Rosemary is an evergreen perennial shrub that grow between 80-180cm in height, with leathery needle-like green leaves and small tubular flowers which are usually pale blue. Certain varieties produce dark blue, pink or white flowers.
As rosemary is highly aromatic, it is not troubled by pests and diseases. The shrubs prefer growing in sunny well drained soil although adapt to most conditions and can be grown as a low border in a formal garden. Rosemary is tricky to grow from seed as the seedlings dampen off easily so the more reliable method is via cuttings. These are taken from the new growth in spring, or semi-hardwood in summer.
Rosemary is beneficial planted next to sage in the herb garden and will provide nectar for bees.
Rosemary tea has long been used as a final hair rinse for dark hair.
Put rosemary twigs on the barbeque or wood burning stove for a delicious aroma. One can use the twigs as aromatic skewers when making kebabs.
The flowering tops, leaves and stems are used for steam distillation with a yield between 0.4% and 0.7% The resulting oil is clear. The odour profile is one of sweet fresh herbaceous notes. The 1,8-cineole has camphoraceous and slightly woody notes in contrast to the verbenone with its green citrusy Verbena like notes. Rosemary would be used in perfumery primarily as a top note.
A comparison of main chemical constituents between two chemotypes shows:
- Rosmarinus officinalis ct 1,8-cineole: oxides incl cineol(15-55%), monoterpenes inclusing alpha pinene (4.4-32%%), camphene (3-22%) and myrcene (1-5%); ketones including camphor (6.4-30%); monoterpenols including borneol (3-12%) ; numerous trace elements.
- Rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenone: ketones including verbenone(15-37%) and camphor (1-15%); monoterpenes incl alpha pinene (15-34%), beta pinene, myrcene and limonene; oxides incl 1,8-cineole (trace-20%); sesquiterpenes incl beta -caryophyllene monoterpenic alcohols incl borneol (trace-7%); esters incl bornyl acetate; numerous trace compounds
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES COMPARED
Common rosemary : Rosmarinus officinalis ct 1,8-cineole:
Cephalic, cardiotonic, neurotonic, anti-rheumatic, anti catarrhal, carminative, expectorant, , general tonic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, anti-infectious, aphrodisiac, choleretic, digestive stimulant, hepatic stimulant.
Verbena-scented rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenone :
Anti-spasmodic, anti catarrhal, expectorant, cicatrisant, antibacterial, antidepressive, anti-infectious, anti-rheumatic, calmative, cardiotonic, general tonic.
Rosemary blends well with basil, bergamot, black pepper, cajuput, cedar, frankincense, ginger, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemongrass, lemon, lime, mandarin, myrtle, orange, peppermint, petitgrain, tea tree, thyme.
Rosemary is associated chiefly with the Fire Element (Heart) however it is an all-rounder and acts on all five Elements as one of nature’s tonics. It imparts positivity, confidence and concentration.
Energetically, Common rosemary is considered warm and dry (more yang), while in direct contrast, Verbena-scented rosemary is classified as cool and dry.
Common Rosemary tonifies the QI and yang: use for lethargy, chilliness. It tonifies the Heart –yang, circulates the Blood, raises Qi to the head, restores the nerve, supports the Shen: so use for palpitations, poor circulation, cold extremities, vertigo, fainting, poor concentration and memory, nervous debility, depression. Regulates Qi in the Stomach and intestine, promotion of digestion and bowel functions so indicated for dyspepsia, epigastic and abdominal distension or pain, constipation. Tonifies Lung-yang, clears Phlegm-Cold, expels Wind-Cold, retrains infection: useful for white or clear catarrh, cough, colds, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis. Tonifies Kidney-yang so helps lower backache. Clears Damp-Cold, circulates QI and the Blood, alleviates BI (Painful Obstruction): muscular stiffness, aching and fatigue and osteoarthritis.
Verbena scented Rosemary possesses much of the same fortifying, uplifting qualities as Common Rosemary but is more gentle, calmative and soothing in nature due to its cool and dry nature. Dissolving self doubt and confusion, it works to clarify the Mind (Shen) and restore emotional equilibrium, especially against a background of Phlegm and stagnant Qi. It tonifies Lung Qi, clears Phlegm-Heat, disperses Wind-Heat, restrains infection: when catarrh is yellow/sticky, cough, asthma, colds, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, laryngitis. It tonifies the Heart Qi, circulates the Blood, restores and relaxes the nerve, supports the Shen, uplifts the Spirit: lethargy, palpitations, poor circulation, poor concentration, nervous debility, depression. It regulates Qi in the Stomach and intestines, promotes digestion and bowel function, dyspepsia, epigastiric and abdominal distension, constipation. It clears Damp-Heat from the genito-urinary system and retrains infection: cystitis, urethritis, thrush, leucorrhoea.
In summary, one would use the cooler Verbena-scented rosemary in conditions of Heat, and the warmer more yang Common rosemary in conditions of Cold.
According to Dr Vogel, adding rosemary to old wine produces a beneficial heart tonic for those with low blood pressure or who are always pale and weak. He says a glass of rosemary wine is a good pick-me-up for convalescents recovering from a bout or flu or other infectious disease, and will speed up recovery.
Today rosemary is still thought of as the herb of memory and widely used in shampoos to promote hair growth. It imparts a lovely shine to dark hair when fresh sprigs are boiled to make a final hair rinse.
Robbi Zeck believes rosemary with its pungent and penetrating fragrance, assists our creativity when we are feeling restricted, sluggish and stuck in habitual behaviour.
Use the camphor rich rosemary for muscular aches and pains, the cineole rich rosemary for pulmonary congestion and to facilitate elimination from the liver and kidneys.
The verbenone rosemary is considered a safe non-irritant oil for skincare and children over the age of 2.
Use for respiratory conditions such as the common cold, catarrh, sinusitis, coughs, asthma and sore throats. If there is heat (yellow catarrh) use the more cooling Verbena-scented rosemary. In contrast if the patient is showing signs of Cold (Yellow or clear catarrh) then use the more yang Common Rosemary.
Use in muscle rubs after strenuous exercise or a stint of gardening. For the elderly, use in a blend for rheumatism and arthritis. For those with low blood pressure, consider rosemary an ally. It will also boost circulation for those who suffer from cold feet, tired or weak legs and circulation problems in the extremities.
The anti bacterial and anti fungal properties of rosemary make it an ideal mouth wash for halitosis and an anti septic gargle. It is said to help the digestive tract and reduce flatulence.
It is useful for headaches and will assist concentration when studying for exams.
Rosemary is also an excellent tonic for the liver and gall bladder, as well as the treatment of gall bladder infections, biliary colic and gall stones. It also helps lower high blood sugar and is an aid for arteriosclerosis.
It is an excellent tonic of the central nervous system, strengthening , mental clarity and awareness. It is an excellent brain stimulant and a history of assisting memory.
Rosemary is widely used in many herbal shampoos and a final rinse for dark hair can be made by decocting some fresh rosemary
Psychologically, rosemary can renew enthusiasm and bolster self confidence, being associated astrologically with the Sun, our symbol of vitality and individuality.
According to Gabriel Mojay, Rosemary is suited to the cold, debilitated individual with poor sense of self worth who over-thinks and doubts their every action. Rosemary will add fire and make the person bold and offer inspiration and as a Herb of Remembrance, will help us to recall loved ones and to remember our own true path.
Non-toxic and non-irritant in prescribed doses. Avoid during pregnancy or breast feeding or on children younger than 2 years. Due to its highly stimulating nature, not suitable for individual with epilepsy or high blood pressure.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
It would be a good addition with ginger and black pepper in the winter: Stir the essential oils into a spoonful of full fat milk or honey then swish into a warm bath just before you climb in.
Mix with a drop of peppermint on a tissue to help those studying for exams. This blend would also help keep the nose clear and mind alert when driving.
It is also possible to use rosemary in an insect repellent along with peppermint, lemon eucalyptus (or citronella or lemongrass) and geranium. Use a xanthum gum gel base in a rollerball or make yourself a solid balm stick with beeswax and shea butter.
Combine rosemary with tea tree, niaouli, ravensara, pine, lavender, thyme and eucalyptus when there are coughs, colds and flu in the household. Add a few drops to a vaporiser before bedtime and prop the ailing person up with an extra pillow or two. Stir a few drops into Materia Aromatica’s soft shea butter and make yourself a warming chest and shoulder balm, and for good measure, rub this mixture onto the soles of your feet. This works especially well for the smaller members of the family who quite enjoy a warming foot rub before bedtime.
Recipe to promote hair growth and increase blood circulation
In a 50ml bottle combine:
- 20ml coconut
- 10ml sesame or jojoba
- 10ml hazelnut or apricot
- 10ml rosehip
- 20 drops rosemary
- 5 drops ginger
- 2 drops black pepper
Massage well into the scalp. Cover the hair with a warmed towel for an hour or overnight. This blend could also be used as an after sports rub.
The next time you need an all round tonic… remember Rosemary!
- The Nature Doctor by Alfred Vogel
- Jekka’s Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar
- The Blossoming Heart by Robbi Zeck
- The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia
- ITHMA Course Notes