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Written by: Emily Cartwright (2015)
Editor: Raffael Dudler (Dudler Herbal July 2016).
(We acknowledge and thank Lincoln College for their support in sharing this monograph for educational purposes).

Plant family

Rosmarinus officinalis (L) is commonly known as Rosemary or dew of the sea. (Kress, 1995), and is a member of the Lamiaceae family. Members of the mint family are relatively easy to identify from their square stalks, opposite leaves and their aromatic scent. Many species from the mint family are found within kitchens all over the world (Epel, 2013, p 157).

Growing habitats/climate

Rosmarinus officinalis, is native to the Mediterranean region but is cultivated across the globe. The plant itself bears a woody quadrangular stem; linear leafs (approximately 1.5-3.5cm long) with strong revolute margins. If flowers are present they are blue/lilac colour with two lips and two stamens only. The plant is fragrant and characteristic in its aroma(Williamson et al., 2003).


The key phytochemicals found in Rosmarinus officinalis are the volatile oils, flavonoids, rosmarinic acid, bitters and tannins (McIntyre, 2010 and Williamson et al., 2003).

Tannins represent the largest group of polyphenols and they are widely found in the tree bark, leaves, stems and fruit of many different plants. They are the key constituent responsible for astringency and a sour taste (Pengelly et al., 2004).

Rosmarinic acid is an ester of caffeic acid, commonly found in species of Boraginaceae and Lamiaceae. The acid yields a number of pharmacological effects such as antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant (Petersen et al., 2013). Volatile oils are extracted from plants to produce essential oils and are usually responsible for the smell/aroma of the plant.

Plant part used

The aerial part of Rosmarinus officinalis is used medicinally (McIntyre, 2010), internally and externally, and commonly used culinary purposes.

History of Rosmarinus officinalis uses in Herbal Medicine

Rosmarinus officinalis, has been used as a food spice and medicine since ancient times. Traditionally, it has been used internally for the treatment of flatulent dyspepsia, headache and topically for myalgia, sciatica and intercostal neuralgia (Council, 2000).

This enhancement of blood flow and increased circulation of blood flow to the head, which helps improve mental clarity, improve memory. Helping to reduces inflammation and muscle spasms makes this an useful herb for treating headaches and migraines.

This stimulation of general circulation helps to improve peripheral blood flow making it also beneficial for the treatment of varicose veins and arteriosclerosis. As a cardio and nervine tonic it would be effective for the treatment of chronic circulatory weakness including hypotension (Marciano, 2015)

Rosmarinus officinalis, can be used internally for its carminative, sedative, spasmolytic, thymoleptic, sedative, diuretic and antimicrobial actions. The carminative, spasmolytic and antimicrobial actions are very important and beneficial when applied to the digestive tract.

Rosmarinus officinalis, relaxes smooth muscle spasms in the gastrointestinal tract it also relaxes the smooth muscles of capillaries and arteries, enhancing blood flow. As a carminative and spasmolytic, Rosmarinus officinalis could be used for relieving flatulence, distension, for enhancing waste elimination, stimulating appetite, an aid for digestion and nutrient absorption (McIntyre, 2010)

Volatile oils are known to be effective in the treatment of infections as they hold antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, enhancing immunity (Mangena et al., 1999), suggesting benefits for the respiratory and immune system by dispelling infections, fevers, colds, flus, chest infections, catarrh, and sore throats.

Used internally volatile oils can be stimulating (with actions of being an expectorant, antimicrobial) and nervine actions, working on the nervous system to offer a sedative, carminative and antispasmodic properties within the body (Marciano, 2013).

Externally when applied topically the volatile oils stimulate the tissue that they come into contact with properties of being : rubefacient, analgesic and parasiticide (BHMA et al., 2009).

As an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory it would also be helpful for those suffering with asthma. As a powerful anti-oxidant it may have the potential to be an anti-cancer remedy with anti-carcinogenic properties.

A study was done to test the anti-proliferative effect of Rosmarinus officinalis in vitro on a human melanoma A375 cell line. The effect was assayed by measuring the mitochondrial activity of the living cells by using a MTT test. The report shows that a 65% (v/v) hydroalcoholic extract of Rosmarinus officinalis, reduced cell growth in a time and dose-dependent manner, and did indeed drastically reduce cellular metabolic activity (Cattaneo et al., 2015).

Rosmarinus officinalis, also has a powerful hepato-protective effect, helping to stimulate liver enzymes that detoxify poisons including carcinogens. As a diuretic this also helps to stimulate urination, which aids the elimination of waste from the urinary system. It also has a stimulating effect on the reproductive system for females acting as an emmenagogue, reducing heavy bleeding and reliving painful dysmenorrhea. (McIntyre, 2013).

As a nervine tonic and its stimulating effect within the body and mind could make it beneficial for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Bartram, 1998).

Safe use of herb

Traditionally, it has also been used as an abortifacient, so should not be used in pregnant women or women who wish to become pregnant. Rosmarinus officinalis, should be avoided in pregnancy in higher dosages.

Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil can be toxic if ingested even in low doses, so should not be taken internally.

With its diuretic affects, advice should be sought when taking the medication Lithium (EBSCO CAM Review Board, 2015)


Rosmarinus officinalis is used with foods, commonly.


BHMA and British Herbal Medicine Association (2009) British herbal pharmacopoeia 1983, Exeter, British Herbal Medicine Association.

Bartram, T. (1998) Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine, London, Constable & Robinson.

Cattaneo, L., Cicconi, R., Mignogna, G., Giorgi, A., Mattei, M., Graziani, G., Ferracane, R., Grosso, A., Aducci, P., Schininà, M. E., and Marra, M. (2015) Anti-Proliferative Effect of Rosmarinus officinalis L. Extract on Human Melanoma A375 Cells [Article] PLoS ONE. 10(7) pp. 1 – 18 [on line] Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=108664745&site=eds-live [Accessed 2016].

Council, A. B. (2000) The Complete German Commission E monographs: Therapeutic guide to herbal medicines, United Kingdom, Churchill Livingstone.

EBSCO CAM Review Board (2015) Rosemary’s therapeutic uses [on line] Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=94416230&site=eds-live [Accessed 2016)

Elpel, T. J. (2013) Botany in a day: The patterns method of plant identification: An herbal field guide to plant families of North America, 6th Edition, United States, HOPS Press.

Kress, H. (1995) Rosmarinus officinalis [online] Available from: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/plants/rosmarinus/officinalis.html [Accessed 2016].

Mangena, T. & Muyima, N. Y. O. (1999) Comparative evaluation of the antimicrobial activities of essential oils of artemisia afra, Pteronia incana and Rosmarinus officinalis on selected bacteria and yeast strains, Letters in Applied Microbiology, 28(4) pp. 291–296.

Marciano, M. (2015) Rosmarinus officinalis [online] The Naturopathic Herbalist Available from: http://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2015/09/13/rosmarinus-officinalis/ [Accessed 2016].

Marciano, M. (2013) Volatile oils [online] The Naturopathic Herbalist [ Available at]: http://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/plant-constituents/volatile-oils/ [Accessed 2016].

McIntyre, A. (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor: The definitive guide to the principles and practices of herbal medicine, London, Gaia Books.

Pengelly, A. & Bone, K. (2004) The Constituents of Medicinal plants: An introduction to the chemistry and therapeutics of herbal medicines, 2nd edition, United Kingdom, CABI Publishing.

Petersen, M. & Simmonds, M. S. (2003) Rosmarinic acid, Phytochemistry. 62(2) pp. 121–125. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031942202005137 [Accessed 2016].

Williamson, E. M. & Wren, R. C. (2003) Potter’s herbal ecyclopedia: The most modern and practical book for all those interested in the scientific as well as the traditional use of herbs in medicine, 2 edition, United Kingdom, Random House UK.