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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is best appreciated as an aromatic culinary spice that adds distinctive flavor to chicken, breads, and many other foods. Well known to ancient peoples, this plant has also been touted as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, such as improving memory, relieving muscle pain, and stimulating the circulatory and nervous systems.

Plant Description

Native to Portugal and the Mediterranean area, rosemary is now grown in several parts of the world, especially Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and France. The plant takes its name from ros marinus, a Latin term meaning "sea dew." It is an erect evergreen shrub that grows to a height of two meters. Rosemary thrives in somewhat dry soil and a light, warm environment. The woody rootstock bears rigid branches with fissured bark. The long, linear, needle-like leaves are dark green above and white beneath. Both the fresh and dried leaves are pungent. The small flowers are pale blue. The leaves and parts of the flowers contain volatile oil.

Parts Used

The leaves and twigs of the rosemary plant are used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Medicinal Uses/Indications

Rosemary is used for treating people with the following types of conditions and symptoms.

bulletNeuralgia (pain along a nerve)
bulletMild spasms
bulletMuscle pain
bulletSciatica (pain felt down the back, hip, and outer side of thigh, leg, and foot)

Traditionally, rosemary has been employed as a diuretic (for increasing urine production) and antispasmodic, and to stimulate menstrual blood flow, as well as externally as a poultice for wound healing.

Available Forms

Rosemary is available in the following forms.

bulletPowdered drug
bulletDry extract
bulletPreparations derived from fresh or dried leaves, such as tinctures, infusions, liquid extract, and rosemary wine
bulletDrug containing volatile oil

How to Take It

The following are the recommended doses for rosemary.

bulletTincture (1:5): 2 to 4 ml three times a day
bulletInfusion: 2 to 4 g three times a day
bulletFluid extract (1:1 in 45 percent alcohol): 1 to 2 ml three times a day
bulletRosemary wine: add 20 g herb to 1 liter of wine and allow to stand for five days, shaking occasionally

Externally, rosemary may be used as follows.

bulletEssential oil (6 to 10 percent): 2 drops semisolid or liquid in 1 tablespoon base oil
bulletInfusion: place 50 g herb in 1 liter hot water, then add to bath water


Rosemary is generally considered safe and devoid of adverse side effects when taken in recommended doses. However, there have been occasional reports of allergic reactions. Large quantities of rosemary leaves, particularly due to the rosemary oil, can cause serious adverse side effects, including coma, spasm, and vomiting, and, in some cases, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which can result in death. Do not use rosemary in quantities larger than those used in foods if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Rosemary oil, taken orally, can trigger convulsions; epileptic patients should exercise caution in using rosemary and never ingest quantities larger than those used in foods. Topical preparations containing rosemary oil are potentially harmful to hypersensitive people who may be allergic to camphor.

Possible Interactions

No harmful drug interactions have been reported.

Supporting Research

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

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:197

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB. Saunders; 1974.

Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. II. New York, NY: Dover; 1971:681-683.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 1998:1101-1103.

Hoefler C, Fleurentin J, Mortier F, Pelt JM, Guillemain J. Comparative choleretic and hepatoprotective properties of young sprouts and total plant extracts of Rosmarinus officinalis in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1987;19(2):133-143.

Huang MT, Ho CT, Wang ZY, et al. Inhibition of skin tumorigenesis by rosemary and its constituents carnosol and ursolic acid. Cancer Res. 1994;54(ISS 3):701-708.

Lemonica IP, Damasceno DC, di-Stasi LC. Study of the embryotoxic effects of an extract of rosemary (Rosmarinusofficinalis L.) Braz Med Biol Res. 1996;19(2):223-227.


Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996: 229-230.

Offord EA, Macé K, Ruffieux C, Malnöe A, Pfeifer AM. Rosemary components inhibit benzo[a]pyrene-induced genotoxicity inhuman bronchial cells. Carcinogenesis. 1995;16(ISS 9):2057-2062.

Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 1998:105.

Singletary KW, Nelshoppen JM. Inhibition of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary umorigenesis and of in vivo formation of mammary DMBA-DNA adducts by rosemary extract. Cancer Lett. 1991;10(6):169-175.

Thomson WA. Medicines from the Earth: A Guide to Healing Plants. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill Book Company; 1978:95.

Tyler V. Herbs of Choice:The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1994:111.

Tyler V. The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. 3rd ed. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1993:265-266.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein