Rosemary is one of the most commonly used and widely known aromatic plants. Chances are you’ve eaten this herb in food, perhaps on roasted potatoes, or met this plant growing in an herb garden. But Rosemary is much more than a simple flavorful herb in recipes, or an invigorating aroma – it also holds many medicinal gifts.
In fact, the Rosemary plant has a rich history that extends far back to ancient times. Many cultures have called upon this plant for its emotional, mental, and physical healing support. It has been traditionally used medicinally in a multitude of ways, including in incense, aromatherapy, topically, and internally.
The plant itself has long been a symbol for many people, representing love, remembrance, and strength. Let’s explore the deep history of Rosemary and the wide variety of medicinal gifts this plant offers us. You’ll also learn how to use this plant in different herbal applications, and you’ll get a DIY recipe you can try making at home.
History and Folklore
Rosemary is an aromatic plant in the Lamiaceae, or Mint family. It is a perennial plant, meaning it persists and thrives throughout all the seasons and keeps growing year after year. It grows as a woody shrub that can reach anywhere from 2 to 6 feet high, depending on how much space it has to grow.
In the spring and summer, the plant blooms clusters of flowers toward the tops of its stems that range in color from blue to lavender, with some varieties having white or slightly pink flowers. Rosemary is native to the coastal Mediterranean region, but is now cultivated worldwide.
During Medieval times in France, Rosemary was commonly burned as incense – along with other plants – to fumigate, cleanse, and purify the air in hospitals to help prevent infection due to its antimicrobial properties.
In Greek mythology, as written in the Iliad by Homer, the daughter of the King of Sparta fell in love with the God of the Sun, and as a punishment, the King buried his daughter alive. The God of the Sun was struck with grief and as he wept over his lover's grave, his tears watered the earth, and from it, the Rosemary shrub grew.
It is thought that this is why the Rosemary plant has tear-drop shaped flowers and is considered to be a plant governed by the Sun. The Sun reigns over the realm of the heart and emotional body, supporting courage and the process of grief.
In literature, Rosemary has been featured in many poems, as well as the Bible and five of Shakespeare’s plays. In the story of Hamlet, Ophelia says: “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance; I pray you, love, remember.” This is a nod to how well known the plant has been for promoting memory.
Rosemary has also been used as a way to honor and remember those who have passed on. Egyptian mummies were commonly found wrapped with Rosemary as a way to honor the dead. In England and Wales, sprigs of Rosemary were traditionally used in funerals and worn pinned to clothing and accessories to support the grieving process after the loss of a loved one. Some of these traditions still live on today.
Medicinal Benefits of Rosemary
Rosemary helps stimulate circulation and can is often used for health issues like heart palpitations, low blood pressure, and cold hands and feet. Healthy blood circulation helps build vitality and overall health, which in turn supports the immune system.
Rosemary has an ancient history of being used in cuisine, and for good reason. Not only does it add a strong and uniquely fresh taste to food, but when consumed, it also acts as a warming, aromatic bitter that helps stimulate and support the digestive process.
The bitter taste in the mouth sends signals to the digestive organs to release secretions, bile flow, and pancreatic enzymes that aid in digestion. Bitters also encourage the absorption of nutrients and aid in peristalsis, which is the rhythmic movement of food in the intestines.
Rosemary has antispasmodic properties which can help address a lack of appetite, as well as soothe stomach cramps or digestive upset. It is known as a carminative, meaning it helps relieve gas and bloating. For these reasons, it is common to see Rosemary as an ingredient in many traditional recipes, since consuming the plant has a direct positive impact on the digestive process.
When used topically, Rosemary is believed to help heal, cleanse, and clear the skin. If you’ve ever used Rosemary as an ingredient in facial skin care products, you may have noticed it helps brighten and bring clarity to your complexion. This is because Rosemary naturally stimulates circulation in the skin. Plus, the rosmarinic acid in Rosemary contains antioxidant properties, which help protect against oxidative stress and promote overall skin health.
When applied to the scalp, Rosemary is believed to encourage hair growth by stimulating the hair follicles. It can also help heal the scalp and clear up dandruff. If you want to apply Rosemary essential oil to your hair, you can dilute the essential oil into a carrier oil to make a hair oil, vinegar to make a hair rinse, or add a couple drops to your shampoo. Some people will also make a Rosemary vinegar infusion using the live plant foliage for hair use (see recipe below).
Mental and Emotional Health
Since ancient times, Rosemary has been used to support cognition and promote mental clarity. We know that Rosemary stimulates circulation in the body, and this includes blood flow to the brain. The increased blood supply to the brain helps stimulate the mind and concentration.
If you’ve ever smelled Rosemary essential oil, or even rubbed its leaves between your fingers and inhaled its aroma, you’ve likely experienced an immediate clearing of the mind and sharpening of your focus.
Rosemary has long been associated with memory support, as highlighted in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The Rosemary plant has been commonly used as a memory tonic in both internal and aromatic medicinal applications. Scientific studies have shown us that aromatherapy with Rosemary has been linked with improved cognitive function and memory, and that it could potentially be helpful in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This is dependent on many factors, such as the cause of Alzheimer's. Research in this area is lacking.
Rosemary has been known in many ancient modalities of medicine as a remedy for improving memory. In ancient Greece, scholars would place a sprig of Rosemary behind their ear as it was believed to help them retain the knowledge they were gaining from their studies.
As a symbol of honor and remembrance, Rosemary has also been commonly used to help support grief and the grieving process. This may be due to Rosemary’s ability to comfort and soothe the spirit during hard times with its antidepressant qualities. Rosemary is an age-old remedy for easing feelings of apathy and darkness.
Want to learn even more about Rosemary's many virtues? Click here to watch the full Rosemary plant monograph video session!
The aroma of Rosemary helps break up stagnation, both physically and energetically. Rosemary is highly uplifting to the mood and spirit – it is known to help clear stagnant or “stuck” energy and stimulate motivation, inspiration, and insight.
Its ability to clear the mind helps make way for new ideas and fresh growth. The next time you feel stuck in indecision or negative thoughts, invite some Rosemary aromatherapy into your life. You might be surprised at how effective this plant is at cleansing, clearing, and renewing your mental and emotional state.
Not only that, but Rosemary's aroma can help decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. Scientific studies have shown that inhaling Rosemary's aromatics can help decrease cortisol levels in the body, which is known as the “stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol cause your body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode, which can lead to chronic stress and other long-term health issues. The aroma of Rosemary can help lower this stress response and relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression associated with it.
Never consume an essential oil or apply it directly to the skin. Always dilute an essential oil before using it topically.
Avoid using Rosemary internally for long periods of time if you have high blood pressure.
ways to use rosemary
There are several ways to benefit from Rosemary aromatherapeutically: as essential oil in a diffuser; essential oil properly diluted into a carrier oil for a massage or herbal bath; the plant burned as incense or used in fumigation; or a hydrosol or room spray. It can add a lot to an incense blend in terms of aroma and medicinal qualities.
For topical use on the face, scalp, or skin, you could apply Rosemary hydrosol externally or make a Rosemary oil by diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil. Please follow the Proper Essential Oil Dilution Chart and Guide when blending essential oils with carrier oils to be used topically.
There are many reasons to use Rosemary topically. You may want to make a face oil to help nourish the skin and brighten complexion, or blend a hair oil to help with dandruff, dry scalp, and stimulate healthy hair growth, or a body oil to help with mental clarity.
For internal use, you could utilize Rosemary in culinary ways, such as adding the dried or fresh leaves in food for flavor and to support digestion. You can also infuse Rosemary in vinegar, olive oil, or other oils to be used in cooking, salad dressings, dips, sauces, and more.
Other internal uses of Rosemary include brewing up herbal tea or making your own Rosemary tincture. You may decide to make a tincture using alcohol, apple cider vinegar, or vegetable glycerin as the solvent. Follow the instructions below to make your own Rosemary infused apple cider vinegar extract!
You could also play around with making a honey extract, also known as an electuary or honey paste, or you could try making a delicious cordial.
diy Rosemary Apple Cider Vinegar recipe
There are many reasons you might want to use Rosemary apple cider vinegar. Oftentimes, an apple cider vinegar herbal extract is used as an alcohol-free herbal tincture. This type of tincture involves using apple cider vinegar instead of alcohol as the solvent to extract herbal constituents and aromatics.
Rosemary apple cider vinegar can be utilized for culinary uses, medicinally, and topically. For culinary purposes, you can incorporate the vinegar into dishes as a salad dressing, marinade, sauce ingredient, and more.
For external uses, it can be diluted and used topically on your face to cleanse and brighten the complexion, or used on the hair and scalp as a healing and cleansing rinse.
For internal use, Rosemary herbal vinegar can be consumed like an herbal tincture to aid in digestion or support mental clarity. Transfer your vinegar into a dropper bottle and take one dropperful (about 30 drops) before meals. You can also pour it into a 1 ounce shot glass and consume that before meals.
This recipe uses the folk tincture method, which means there are no exact measurements. To make an apple cider vinegar herbal extract, you can use fresh or dried plant material. Using dried herbs may enhance the flavor strength and intensity of the extract.
You will need:
16 oz glass mason jar with lid
Dried or fresh Rosemary leaves
Apple cider vinegar
Cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve
Label and pen
1. Cut up the herbs using a knife and cutting board to maximize the extraction potential.
2. Place the herbs in a glass mason jar. For fresh herbs, fill the jar about ⅔ to ¾ full with plant material. For dried herbs, fill the jar ½ full.
3. Cover the plant material completely with apple cider vinegar and screw on the lid.
4. Label the jar with all ingredients and the date.
5. Place the jar in a cool, dark place for about 2 weeks to infuse. Visit the jar and give it a good shake every day.
6. After about 2 weeks, strain the herbs out using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Store it in the refrigerator to extend shelf-life and it should last anywhere from 1-3 months.
Note: You can experiment and use other types of vinegar instead if you prefer, but be sure to keep in mind that the flavor of the vinegar will have an impact on the final taste results.
Latin name: previously known as Rosemarinus officinalis, now called Salvia rosmarinus
Other Common Names: Dew of the Sea
Genus: Salvia (Sage)
Plant Family: Lamiaceae (Mint)
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, tender shoots
Herbal Energetics and Actions: bitter, warming, drying, circulatory stimulant, bitter, aromatic, cephalic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, carminative, antispasmodic, antidepressant, rubefacient, emmenagogue
Body System(s) Affiliation: cardiovascular, circulatory, skin, digestive, respiratory, emotional body
Aroma: sweet, strong, camphorous, mint-like, pine-like, slightly woody, clarifying, stimulating
rosemary and beyond
If you enjoyed this plant monograph, but want to learn even more, you can join us in the Aromatic Medicine Garden to download the full 11 page Rosemary monograph, and explore our library of other plant talk videos to become more confident and competent with aromatic plants.
You'll also get instructions on exactly how to make your own herbal oils, apple cider vinegar extracts, alcohol extracts, vegetable glycerin extracts, electuaries, cordials, and more. And you'll get even more detailed info on how to grow, harvest, and prepare Rosemary to get the most out of your herbal medicine.
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Article Written By Melissa Szaro
© 2023 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.