Do you have a super herb in your spice cabinet and not know it?
Is rosemary eligible for super herb status? I think so! It is one of the most diverse and practical herbs you can have in your garden, kitchen, and apothecary. Rosemary benefits have a long history of culinary use, have been studied extensively for their medicinal applications, and rosemary is one of the easiest herbs to grow.
Rosemary is an evergreen perennial so it offers our landscapes year-round beauty. The rosemary shrub has an incredible diversity of growth habits: dwarf, medium, and tall with compact, open or spiraling habits of growth. Prostrate forms can be used in a hanging basket or cascading over fences and stone walls.
Native to the southern Mediterranean, it’s a resilient genus: it can handle stifling heat, drought, harsh winds, salt air, and droughts but what it can’t handle is cold winter weather below 10° F. Those of us in USDA Zones 7 and below grow our rosemary plants in pots that we lug inside when the snow flies.
For many of us, the kitchen is where we first met rosemary. Rosemary’s antibacterial properties were once used to preserve food before refrigeration, and rosemary extracts are often used in modern body care products to help with preservation. Traditionally, rosemary is used with fatty foods like meats and cheeses. It is also a well-known soup herb. The foliage on rosemary is needle-like and a bit tough so often a fresh sprig or two is added to the soup and then retrieved before serving.
Like many of our European native herbs, rosemary was used medicinally before it was brought into the kitchen. Rosemary and its essential oil have been studied for an array of medicinal uses: antibacterial, neuroprotective, liver protective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, muscle and joint pain relief, cancer cell suppression, cognitive and memory enhancement, blood sugar management, mental health (increased alertness, reduced anxiety, mood enhancer), gut health, cardio-vascular improvement, hair loss reversal and dermatitis.
And, remarkably, it helps with mathematical problem-solving!1
Historically associated with memory, Ancient Greek scholars often wore a garland of rosemary on their heads to help with their memory and concentration during examinations. Research supports the use of rosemary’s volatile oils to enhance brain wave activities, including mood improvement and brain stimulation.2 Our modern work environments demand much from our brains, including multi-tasking, long hours on computers and jumping from task to task. It should not surprise anyone that, by late afternoon, many people experience a kind of brain fog: concentration and alertness are diminished. Drinking rosemary water or tea could be the ideal pick-me-up.3
Medicinally, as an aromatic and restorative herb, rosemary’s warming, drying, and dispersive properties offer support to the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems. Rosemary stimulates the liver and gallbladder, making it an important herb for people with slow and sluggish digestion. Considered a circulatory stimulant and nervine, herbalist Matthew Wood recommends it for nerve stimulation and opening capillaries.4
While doing research on strategies for healthy aging, I discovered that several members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), most of which are common culinary herbs, contain compounds that inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE). Increased activity of AChE leads to reduced levels of neurotransmitter activities and is known to be a contributing factor to Alzheimers.5
CAUTION: Used as a culinary seasoning, rosemary is safe for everyone. Medicinal doses of rosemary should not be used during pregnancy and may interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs. Do not ingest rosemary essential oil as it can cause seizures and be toxic to the liver and heart.
Rosemary and lemon balm can keep your brain young and can improve memory and cognition.
For a two-cup pot of tea:
Place herbs in teapot, pour 2 cups of just-boiled water over the herbs and cover. Steep for 10 minutes.
Adding rosemary to your grilled meats is easy and delicious!
Mix the following herbs in a small bowl:
Add enough olive oil to make a paste and rub onto meats before grilling or frying.
To use as a marinade for meat: add ¼ cup red wine vinegar and ½ cup olive oil to rub mixture. Pour into a shallow pan with a cover and place meat into the pan, turning over several times to coat. Cover with lid, and store in the refrigerator for several hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Sue Kusch, a former community college instructor and academic advisor, incorporates her experiential wisdom, expertise and science-based research garnered from her three decades of growing vegetables, fruit and herbs into her educational writing about plants and how people use them. In addition to her BA in Social Sciences and Masters in Education, she completed the Master Gardener training in 2011 and two permaculture courses in 2001 and 2014. She has studied medicinal and nutritional uses of herbs, including studies at Herbmentor and East West School of Planetary Herbology, since 1997. An avid reader, lover of historical and folkloric information, and a promising storyteller, Sue writes about the intersection of plants and people at www.plantsnpeople.com.