Lamiaceae (Plant Family)
Native to Portugal and the Mediterranean area, rosemary is widely cultivated
in several parts of the world, especially Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and France.
Rosemary takes it name from ros marinus, a Latin term which means
"sea dew." Well known to the ancients, this plant was touted as a remedy for
Rosemary today is used more frequently as a household spice and a food
flavoring than a medicinal agent. However, it has traditionally been employed as
a diuretic, emmenagogue, and antispasmodic remedy. The oil is a skin irritant in
humans, and when administered externally, it increases blood supply. During the
19th century, rosemary leaf and its essential oil were used as a tonic for
hypotension and other circulatory ailments. However, the evidence for the
effectiveness of rosemary given orally in treating chronic circulatory weakness
Rosemary oil is often unsafe for internal consumption since a large amount of
it is required for therapeutic benefits. Ingesting excessive quantities of
rosemary can irritate the stomach, intestines, and kidneys.
Rosmarinus officinalis is an erect evergreen shrub that grows to a
height of two meters. It 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 pungently aromatic with a slight camphor-like
scent. The small, labiate flowers are pale-blue. Volatile oil is found in the
leaves and calyces of the flowers.
Part Used/Pharmaceutical Designation
- Volatile oil (1.0% to 2.5%); chief components are monoterpene
hydrocarbons, camphene and limonene, 1,8-cineole (20% to 50%), alpha-pinene (15%
to 25%), camphor (10% to 25%); other compounds include cineole, linalool,
verbinol, camphene, borneol, isobutyl acetate, beta-caryophyllene, p-cymene,
myrcene, terpineol, 3-octonone, isobornyl acetate)
- Terpenoids: carnosol (diterpene, bitter), carnosolic acid
(picrosalvin), oleanolic acid (10%), ursolic acid (5%) (triterpenes),
isorosmanol, rosmadial, rosmaridiphenol, rosmariquinone
- Phenols: caffeic acid derivatives (e.g., rosmarinic, neochlorogenic,
cholorogenic, and labiatic acids)
- Flavonoids: cirsimarin, diosmetin, diosmin, hesperidin, luteolin and
derivatives, hispidulin, apigenin, homoplantiginin, phegopolin
- Tannins: oligomeric proanthocyanidins
Commercial preparations of rosemary are available as powdered herb, dry
extract, and other preparations derived from fresh or dried leaves. Infusions
for internal and external use are made with cut or ground dried leaf material
collected during flowering. Rosemary herb generally contains a minimum of 1.2%
(v/w) volatile oil, and is often added to remedies for dyspeptic and rheumatic
conditions. Plant material grown in southern regions such as Dalmatia is
especially valued for medicinal preparations because of its more pungent aroma.
Traditional internal uses: dyspepsia (gastrointestinal ailments), headache,
spasmolytic, sedative, diuretic, antimicrobial, diaphoretic
(perspiration-promoting), emmenagogues (menstrual-flow stimulating),
Traditional external uses: poultice for wound healing, eczema; topically for
myalgia, sciatica, intercostal neuralgia, rubefacient, mild analgesic,
parasiticidal; balneotherapy; supportive therapy (adjuvant) for circulatory
disorders, rheumatic conditions
Conditions: digestive (dyspepsia), circulatory, pain, neuralgia, spasm
nervousness, diuretic, wounds, eczema, myalgia, sciatica, rheumatism,
Clinical applications: loss of appetite, blood pressure problems,
liver and gallbladder complaints, rheumatism
Numerous studies have shown that rosemary has a wide array of pharmacological
properties. Rosemary oil exhibited antibacterial and antifungal activities in
vitro. Two of its constituents, carnosol and ursolic acid, had
antioxidant effects against spoilage microbes. The oil and several of its active
principles produced spasmolytic effects in smooth muscle (gallbladder and small
intestines) and, to a lesser extent, in cardiac muscle. A calcium antagonistic
action of rosemary may be responsible for the antispasmolytic activity.
In an in vivo study, rosemary extract added to the diet produced a
significant (47%) decline in mammary tumor incidence compared to controls.
Topical preparations of both carnosol and ursolic acid inhibited tumor
promotion. In other research, carnosol inhibited the initiation of
carcinogenesis by increasing detoxification of a procarcinogen in human
bronchial epithelial cells.
Recent evidence suggests that rosmarinic acid, one of the major constituents
of the leaves, has anticomplement and antioxidant properties, thus making
rosemary a potential prophylactic for endotoxin shock and adult respiratory
distress syndrome. In another investigation, ethanol extracts of young sprouts
from rosemary produced significant dose-related choleretic effects while aqueous
extracts of young sprouts showed significant hepatoprotective activity.
In an animal study evaluating the abortive effects of rosemary, an extract
elicited an anti-implantation effect during the pre-implantation period.
However, rosemary did not interfere with the normal development of conception
Rosemary oil administered orally or by inhalation enhanced locomotion
activity in animals. Other constituents isolated from rosemary reduced capillary
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- Tincture (1:5): 2 to 4 ml tid
- Infusion: 2 to 4 g tid
- Fluid extract (1:1 in 45% alcohol): 1 to 2 ml tid
- Essential oil (traditional preparation): 2 to 4 drops (however,
Germany's Commission E advises against internal use of essential oil)
- Rosemary wine: 20 g herb is added to 1 liter of wine and allowed to
stand for five days, shake occasionally
- Essential oil (6% to 10%): 2 drops semisolid or liquid in 1 tablespoon
- Infusion: 50 g herb in 1 liter hot water is added to bath water
Rosemary oil is generally non-irritating and non-sensitizing when used
topically in humans. However, erythema and dermatitis can occur in
hypersensitive individuals, and photosensitivity has been reported. The toxicity
of rosmarinic acid in mice is low (LD50, 561 mg/kg IV), and this
compound is readily removed from the circulation. Doses above 50 mg/kg IV can
exacerbate transient cardiovascular actions.
Rosemary is generally considered safe and devoid of adverse side effects when
administered in recommended therapeutic dosages. However, there have been
occasional reports of contact allergies.
Large quantities of rosemary leaves, particularly rosemary oil, can cause
adverse side effects of coma, spasm, vomiting, gastroenteritis, uterine
bleeding, kidney irritation, and in some cases, concomitant pulmonary edema
fatal to humans. Rosemary should not be used during pregnancy or lactation.
Topical preparations containing rosemary oil are potentially harmful to
hypersensitive individuals who may be allergic to camphor. Excessive quantities
of rosemary oil (10% to 20% camphor) taken orally can trigger epileptiform
convulsions. Epileptic patients should thus exercise caution in using rosemary
and never ingest quantities larger than those used in
In vitro, rosemary extract increased the sensitivity of drug-resistant MCF-7
human breast cancer cells to doxorubicin (Plouzek et al. 1999). This interaction
may have been due to inhibition of doxorubicin binding to P-glycoprotein, which
is responsible for efflux of chemotherapeutic agents from cells. Additional
clinical studies are needed to confirm these effects in
|Regulatory and Compendial
In the United Kingdom, rosemary is listed in the General Sale List (GSL).
Both the herb and oil are listed in category N2 as a source of natural food
flavoring by the Council of Europe. Herbs in this category can be added to
foodstuffs in small quantities.
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;
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.
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
Lemonica IP, Damasceno DC, di-Stasi LC. Study of the embryotoxic effects of
an extract of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 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:
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.
Plouzek CA, Ciolino HP, Clarke R, Yeh GC. Inhibition of P-glycoprotein
activity and reversal of multidrug resistance in vitro by rosemary extract.
Eur J Cancer. 1999;35(10):1541-1545.
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;
Tyler V. The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and
Related Remedies. 3rd ed. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press;
Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
information relating to general principles
of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific
instructions for individual patients. 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.
The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts)
for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, warnings,
interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or
supplement discussed herein.