The herb rosemary has been used as a food spice and as a medicine since ancient times. Traditional medicinal uses of rosemary leaf preparations taken internally include digestive distress, headaches, and anxiety. The fragrance of rosemary leaf has been said to enhance memory. Rosemary oil was applied to the skin to treat muscle and joint pain and taken internally to promote abortions.
Germany’s Commission E
has approved rosemary leaf for treatment of
(non-specific digestive distress) and rosemary oil (used externally) for joint pain and poor circulation. However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that rosemary is effective for any of these uses. Only
double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove that a treatment really works, and no studies of this type have found rosemary effective. (For information on why such studies are essential, see
Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
Rosemary essential oil, like many essential oils, has antimicrobial properties when it comes in direct contact with bacteria and other microorganisms.1-5
Note, however, that is does not mean that rosemary oil is an antibiotic. Antibiotics are substances that can be taken internally to kill microorganisms throughout the body. Rosemary oil, rather, has shown potential antiseptic properties.
found evidence that rosemary might help
withdrawal from narcotics.6
Even weaker evidence hints that rosemary or its constituents may have antithrombotic (“blood thinning”),7anticancer,8-11 diuretic,12 liver-protective,13-15
Rosmarinic acid from rosemary has shown potential anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic actions, but most published studies (including double-blind trials) have used a different plant source of the substance (the herb
One controlled study failed to find rosemary cream protective against skin irritation caused by sodium lauryl-sulfate (a common ingredient of cosmetic products).23
Rosemary essential oil has been used in
aromatherapy (treating conditions through scent). One controlled study evaluated rosemary aromatherapy for enhancing memory, but found results that were mixed at best.24 Another study failed to find that rosemary aromatherapy reduced tension during an anxiety-provoking task; in fact, it appeared that use of rosemary actually increased anxiety.25
A typical dosage of rosemary leaf is 4-6 grams daily. Rosemary essential oil should not be used internally.
Although rosemary’s use as a food spice suggests a relatively low level of toxicity, rosemary has not undergone comprehensive safety testing. Rosemary essential oil can be toxic if taken even in fairly low doses, and the maximum safe dose is not known.
Based on its traditional use for abortion, as well as preliminary evidence showing embryotoxic effects,26
rosemary should not be used by pregnant women or women who wish to become pregnant.
One study suggests that rosemary may have diuretic effects.12
If it does, the herb could theoretically present risks in people taking the medication
Other weak evidence hints that rosemary may enhance the liver’s rate of deactivating estrogen in the body.28
This suggests that rosemary might present risks for females, as well as anyone who uses medications containing estrogen.
Additionally, one study hints that rosemary might worsen blood sugar control in people with
If you are taking:
Santoyo S, Cavero S, Jaime L, et al. Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of
L. essential oil obtained via supercritical fluid extraction.
J Food Prot. 2005;68:790-795.
Oluwatuyi M, Kaatz GW, Gibbons S, et al. Antibacterial and resistance modifying activity of
Lai PK, Roy J. Antimicrobial and chemopreventive properties of herbs and spices.
Curr Med Chem. 2004;11:1451-1460.
Mangena T, Muyima NY. Comparative evaluation of the antimicrobial activities of essential oils of
on selected bacteria and yeast strains.
Lett Appl Microbiol. 1999;28:291-296.
Larrondo JV, Agut M, Calvo-Torras MA. Antimicrobial activity of essences from labiates.
Hosseinzadeh H, Nourbakhsh M. Effect of
L. aerial parts extract on morphine withdrawal syndrome in mice.
Phytother Res. 2003;17:938-941.
Yamamoto J, Yamada K, Naemura A, et al. Testing various herbs for antithrombotic effect.
Zhu BT, Loder DP, Cai MX, et al. Dietary administration of an extract from rosemary leaves enhances the liver microsomal metabolism of endogenous estrogens and decreases their uterotropic action in CD-1 mice.
Singletary KW, Nelshoppen JM. Inhibition of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary tumorigenesis and of in vivo formation of mammary DMBA-DNA adducts by rosemary extract.
Cancer Lett. 1991;60:169-175.
Slamenova D, Kuboskova K, Horvathova E, et al. Rosemary-stimulated reduction of DNA strand breaks and FPG-sensitive sites in mammalian cells treated with H2O2 or visible light-excited Methylene Blue.
Cancer Lett. 2002;177:145-153.
Offord EA, Mace K, Ruffieux C, et al. Rosemary components inhibit benzo[a]pyrene-induced genotoxicity in human bronchial cells.
Haloui M, Louedec L, Michel JB, et al. Experimental diuretic effects of
J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;71:465-472.
Fahim FA, Esmat AY, Fadel HM, et al. Allied studies on the effect of
L. on experimental hepatotoxicity and mutagenesis.
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Hoefler C, Fleurentin J, Mortier F, et al. Comparative choleretic and hepatoprotective properties of young sprouts and total plant extracts of
J Ethnopharmacol. 1987;19:133-143.
Vitaglione P, Morisco F, Caporaso N, et al. Dietary antioxidant compounds and liver health.
Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2005;44:575-586.
Dias PC, Foglio MA, Possenti A, et al. Antiulcerogenic activity of crude hydroalcoholic extract of
J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;69:57-62.
Osakabe N, Takano H, Sanbongi C, et al. Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect of rosmarinic acid (RA); inhibition of seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (SAR) and its mechanism.
Takano H, Osakabe N, Sanbongi C, et al. Extract of
enriched for rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic phytochemical, inhibits seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis in humans.
Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004;229:247-254.
Makino T, Furuta Y, Wakushima H, et al. Anti-allergic effect of
and its active constituents.
Phytother Res. 2003;17:240-243.
Makino T, Furuta A, Fujii H, et al. Effect of oral treatment of
and its constituents on type-I allergy in mice.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2001;24:1206-1209.
Youn J, Lee KH, Won J, et al. Beneficial effects of rosmarinic acid on suppression of collagen induced arthritis.
J Rheumatol. 2003;30:1203-1207.
Osakabe N, Yasuda A, Natsume M, et al. Rosmarinic acid inhibits epidermal inflammatory responses: anticarcinogenic effect of
extract in the murine two-stage skin model.
Fuchs SM, Schliemann-Willers S, Fischer TW, et al. Protective effects of different marigold (
L.) and rosemary cream preparations against sodium-lauryl-sulfate-induced irritant contact dermatitis.
Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2005;18:195-200.
Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, et al. Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults.
Int J Neurosci. 2003;113:15-38.
Burnett KM, Solterbeck LA, Strapp CM, et al. Scent and mood state following an anxiety-provoking task.
Psychol Rep. 2004;95:707-722.
Lemonica IP, Damasceno DC, di-Stasi LC. Study of the embryotoxic effects of an extract of rosemary (
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Pyevich D, Bogenschutz MP. Herbal diuretics and lithium toxicity.
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al-Hader AA, Hasan ZA, Aqel MB. Hyperglycemic and insulin release inhibitory effects of
J Ethnopharmacol. 1994;43:217-221.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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