Rosemary, aka Rosmarinus officinalis, is a stalwart, spicy shrubbery we don’t really think of as medicinal yet Rosemary packs a bit of a punch. In fact, Herbalists and Physicians of the Middle Ages in Europe were well-acquainted with this potent member of the mint family. Many of the Herbal Greats of yore, Galen, Dioscorides, Plinius, and many other Elder Herbal Celebs, documented their great appreciation for Rosemary’s healing gifts, which are now the foundation many modern herbalists draw on when they include Rosemary in their formulas and medicines.
Modern herbalists have some good scientific studies to back their use of Rosemary, and many of us draw upon both traditional practice and modern scientific study when we reach for Rosemary. For the most part, we all agree that Rosemary tends to be both warming and drying, has a distinct bitter and pungent taste, and that the aromatic or volatile oils in Rosemary are particularly important if you really want to tap into Rosemary’s healing and protective powers.
Traditional Western Herbalism and Rosemary
Many of the references we have today for traditional medicinal use of Rosemary come from the European tradition. This is one medicinal plant whose native land is undeniably European. Rosemary is described as warm to hot in nature with a generally drying effect, making it good for sluggish, cold, and even stagnant tissue states.
Rosemary has traditionally and in modern practice been used as a circulatory stimulant and to support heart health. Herbalists Matthew Wood and Juliette de Bairacli Levy both document their own experience using Rosemary to support folks suffering from severe heart disease, particularly that hallmarked by low blood pressure and heart edema. Their formulas were supported by a long tradition of European formulation including Rosemary as a nervine, circulatory and digestive stimulant, and an astringent or drying agent that helps move stuck or stagnant water or phlegm without draining or exhausting the system.
As a Woman’s medicine, Rosemary is used for menstrual cramps and headaches that are cold in nature…so not the kind of headache that pulses or cramps accompanied by diarrhea. For any gender, Rosemary helps folks who suffer from digestive and cramping conditions that are more cold and damp in nature, often accompanied by bloating or constipation or both. The commonality here is Rosemary’s stimulating or warming effect that increases activity without sedating or draining. Matthew Wood describes the Rosemary type as one who is pale, weakened or easily exhausted, often rather thin but not exclusively so. The only constitutional type who may be ill-suited to Rosemary, he suggests, is the strongly Sanguine type who needs to cool and sedate rather than stimulate.
Ayurveda and Rosemary
Rosemary is not a traditional Ayurvedic herb, but that hasn’t stopped practitioners from drawing on Rosemary. According to Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad, Rosemary is generally increasing to the Pitta dosha while it reduces Vata and is fairly neutral to Kapha. Taken with foods, Rosemary is particularly helpful in balancing digestive fire while supporting the organs that remove ama from the body.
Vegan and Vegetarian individuals can incorporate a bit of Rosemary into salads, soups, and stews to help build their digestive fire, drawing more energy and blood to the digestive system and aiding in the assimilation of nutrients. Folks transitioning into a plant-based diet and those who eat meat may want to consider incorporating Rosemary into their daily diet to support the systems of elimination by increasing circulation and supporting Liver and Kidney activity. In all cases, Rosemary supports increased Pitta, or the body’s fire. Rosemary also helps eliminate excessive Vata, particularly in the lower digestive tract, reducing gas, constipation, and bloating in the intestinal tract.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Rosemary
As with Ayurveda, Rosemary is not a traditional part of TCM’s materia medica. We can look at Rosemary through the lens of Chinese Medicine Theory, though, to gain some insight. April Crowell suggests Rosemary tends to balance Yin and Yang, making this plant one of a relatively small group in Chinese Medicine that are neither Yin nor Yang in nature. We can see this action or nature when you apply rosemary topically to a wound. Rosemary tends to draw circulation to the area while also opening the channels of elimination around the wound, thus reducing inflammation, bruising, redness, and balancing any hot or cold in the wound.
Rosemary’s affinities are for the Liver, Kidney, Heart, Lung, and Spleen channels. April explains Rosemary’s affect on many of the conditions we’ve already discussed in This Article, including as a digestive support, for respiratory conditions, and to treat depression, anxiety, and a generally timid or shy nature. Her conclusions are backed by the properties Peter Holmes attributes to Rosemary essential oils, which provide the bulk of Rosemary’s medicinal action.
What Chinese Medicine theory contributes in particular is a deeper understanding of how Rosemary links to the reproductive system beyond as a Woman’s medicine for menstrual difficulties. April suggests that Rosemary’s ability to stimulate Qi energy and balance Yin and Yang can help improve fertility for both men and women. Rosemary can help to improve libido by tonifying the Kidney Yang. The action she describes is increasing warmth and activity in the lower back, where the kidney organs are seated, as well as stimulating the active or warm nature of Kidney activity.
In other words, Rosemary has a positive affect on kidney function and on the movement of the waters of the body. This isn’t limited just to the kidneys and their blood-cleansing functions; the Kidney meridian is closely linked to the Water element and the Bladder meridian, making Rosemary a potentially wise choice when bladder function is compromised or sluggish as often occurs during menopausal transition or perimenopause. In TCM, weak knees are linked with Kidney function, and April suggests that Rosemary may be indicated when they are part of the overall pattern or symptom set you’re addressing. In addition, this connection suggests Rosemary may be useful in formulation for boosting fertility in both men and women.
Cautions for Using Rosemary
As a culinary herb, Rosemary is considered generally safe. In medicinal doses or higher amounts, Rosemary may cause uterine contractions. It is considered generally unwise to take medicinal or higher doses of Rosemary during pregnancy or while breastfeeding; culinary use of Rosemary during pregnancy and while breastfeeding are generally considered safe.
Be aware that the supporting affect of Rosemary on both the liver and kidneys means that medicinal use of Rosemary while taking pharmaceuticals that affect those organs may be unwise. Rosemary has been shown to affect blood glucose levels, so those who take insulin should monitor their levels closely while taking Rosemary medicinally. If you’re uncertain, consult your medical team before taking Rosemary internally.
Resources for Using Rosemary
- “Rosemary Quotes from Literature”
- “History of Rosemary”
- The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants
- The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine
- Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Principles and Profiles
- Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal
- “Rosemary for More than Remembrance”