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Rosemary

Scientific Name(s): Rosmarinus officinalis L.
Common Name(s): Anthos, Old man, Rosemary

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 1, 2018.

Clinical Overview

Use

Clinical studies supporting traditional uses of rosemary are limited. A few small studies of questionable quality have suggested altered perception of pain and improved speed of recall with rosemary aromatherapy. Oral rosemary has been evaluated for potential use in dementia. Clinical studies, sometimes conducted by the product manufacturer, have used rosemary in combination with other ingredients (such as those found in commercial preparations), making it difficult to attribute efficacy to any one agent. Potential applications in alopecia and cancer, and as an antioxidant, have been studied.

Dosing

Traditional uses include 2 g of chopped leaf infused in water, or 2 to 4 g of the shoot. Rosemary leaf is approved in the Complete German Commission E Monographs for dyspepsia, high blood pressure, and rheumatism at doses of 4 to 6 g/day, although evidence is lacking to support such indications. The essential oil has been used at doses of 0.1 to 1 mL. In a clinical study, low oral doses (750 mg) of dried rosemary leaf powder improved memory speed in elderly patients, while higher doses (6 g) impaired memory speed. Studies evaluating rosemary as aromatherapy used 3 to 4 drops for inhalation.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven. Rosemary may have emmenagogue and abortifacient effects.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Dermatitis and allergy to rosemary have been reported. Although case reports of seizures due to rosemary are lacking, the potential for toxicity exists, possibly due to the ketone content of the plant.

Toxicology

Information is limited. As with most essential oils, ingestion of large amounts can be toxic. Antigonadotrophic activity has been described in mice, and an anti-implantation effect has also been described in rat experimentation.

Scientific Family

  • Lamiaceae (mint)

Botany

R. officinalis grows as a small evergreen shrub with thick, aromatic leaves. The plant has small, pale blue flowers that bloom in late winter and early spring. Although rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, it is now cultivated worldwide, with more than 20 varieties described. R. officinalis should not be confused with bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) or marsh rosemary (Rhododendron tomentosum) from the heath family.1, 2, 3, 4

History

Rosemary is a widely used culinary spice. Rosemary has sometimes been traditionally said to grow only in gardens of households where the "mistress" is truly the "master."5 The plant has been used in traditional medicine for its astringent, tonic, carminative, antispasmodic, and diaphoretic properties. Extracts and the volatile oil have been used to promote menstrual flow and as abortifacients.5 Rosemary extracts are commonly found in cosmetics, and a lotion of the plant has been said to stimulate hair growth and prevent baldness.3 Historical reports regarding the therapeutic use of rosemary as a medicinal plant are available.6, 7 Rosemary, one of the oldest known medicinal herbs, was used centuries ago to enhance mental function and memory.3

Chemistry

Rosemary has a wide variety of volatile and aromatic components. The plant’s leaves contain 0.5% to 2.5% of volatile oil, with major components including monoterpene hydrocarbons (alpha- and beta-pinene), camphene, limonene, camphor (10% to 20%), borneol, cineole, linalool, and verbinol. Flavonoids in the plant include diosmetin, diosmin, genkwanin, luteolin, hispidulin, and apigenin.2, 8 Other terpenoid constituents in rosemary include triterpenes oleanolic and ursolic acids and diterpene carnosol.8 Phenols in rosemary include caffeic, chlorogenic, labiatic, neochlorogenic, rosmarinic, and salicylic acids.4, 8, 9

Uses and Pharmacology

Clinical studies, sometimes conducted by the product manufacturer, have used rosemary in combination with other ingredients (such as those found in commercial preparations), making it difficult to attribute efficacy to any one agent.

Antimicrobial effects

Animal data

Rosemary oil has significant in vitro antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.4, 8, 9 Carnosic acid, isolated from rosemary, exhibited strong in vitro inhibitory effects against HIV protease in one study.10 Combination formulations that include rosemary oil have been used to treat sheep ringworm11 and as alternatives to growth-promoting antibiotics in chickens.12

Clinical data

Clinical data regarding the use of rosemary oil or extracts for antibacterial or antifungal use is limited. A report on the use of rosemary to treat head lice found it to be ineffective, although it has been traditionally used for this purpose.13

Antioxidant activity

Animal data

Antioxidant activity has been described for rosemary, with the chemical constituents carnosol and carnosic acid accounting for the majority of the antioxidant properties.4, 9, 14

Clinical data

Although there is no clinical data regarding antioxidant use of rosemary oil or extracts, antioxidant activity may be the underlying mechanism of action for other pharmacological effects.

Cancer

Animal data

In vitro and animal studies have demonstrated anticancer effects of rosemary extracts (especially carnosol and carnosic, ursolic, and rosemarinic acids), with a variety of mechanisms of action proposed, including induction of apoptosis, radical scavenging, and inhibition of tumorigenesis.15

Dietary supplementation in laboratory animals with rosemary extract 1% resulted in a 47% decrease in the incidence of experimentally induced mammary tumors compared with results in controls.16, 17 This extract enhanced activities of enzymes that detoxify reactive substances in mouse liver and stomach.18 Skin tumors in mice were inhibited by application of rosemary extract to the area.19

Clinical data

Although in vitro studies have assessed use of rosemary extract on human cancer tissues, including human ovarian cancer cells,20 there is no clinical data regarding the use of rosemary in cancer, except as adjuvant therapy.15

CNS effects

Animal data

A neuroprotective effect was demonstrated in vitro, and rosemary extract enhanced the synthesis of nerve growth factor in T98G human glioblastoma cells.9 In older studies using rodents, administration or inhalation of the oil affected the cerebral cortex, decreased immobility duration (antidepressant-like effects), and improved endurance tests.9

Clinical data

Studies have examined the aromatherapeutic effects of rosemary oil, with improved recall demonstrated in at least 2 small, randomized controlled trials.21, 22 Although experimental studies showed decreased anxiety and increased alertness with rosemary oil inhalation, additional studies are needed.9 One study demonstrated improved speed but not accuracy in computing mathematical calculations.9, 23 Rosemary aromatherapy improved dementia scores in another study. Two studies have suggested that the effects of rosemary essential oil in managing pain may have been due to altered perceptions rather than direct analgesia.25, 26

Clinical studies evaluating the administration of oral rosemary extracts demonstrated equivocal results, with one study suggesting a dose-dependent effect.27, 28 In a crossover study of 28 elderly participants, low-dose rosemary (750 mg) improved measures of memory speed, whereas higher doses (6 g) impaired responses.27 A study of healthy young adults found no effect on motivation to perform cognitive tasks with administration of rosemary 1.7 g orally with olfactory senses blocked.28

Dermatology/Alopecia

Animal data:

A study in mice demonstrated that rosemary leaf extract applied topically improved hair growth, possibly via inhibition of testosterone reductase.29

Clinical data

In a randomized clinical trial evaluating rosemary oil and minoxidil 2% in androgenetic alopecia (N = 100), no change in outcome measures at 3 months occurred; however, at 6 months both groups showed increased hair counts on photographic assessment from baseline. Effects of rosemary oil were reported to be equivalent to those of minoxidil.30 Although older studies suggested increased circulation in the scalp due to rosemary extracts, because combination therapies were used it is difficult to attribute efficacy to a particular agent.9 Other dermatological studies, in dermatitis and ultraviolet radiation, have also used combination preparations.9, 31, 32

Other uses

Antispasmodic action of rosemary oil in isolated guinea pig smooth muscle and cardiac tissue has been described, although the isolated spasmogenic constituent pinene is inactive on cardiac muscle.3

Limited laboratory studies have suggested a hypoglycemic effect.9 A clinical study evaluating rosemary in combination with polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with type 1 diabetes as a strategy to improve the oxidative damage had equivocal results.33

Dosing

Traditional uses include 2 g of chopped leaf infused in water, or 2 to 4 g of the shoot. Other decoctions have been described.3 Rosemary leaf is approved in the Complete German Commission E Monographs for dyspepsia, high blood pressure, and rheumatism at doses of 4 to 6 g/day, although evidence is lacking to support such indications. The essential oil has been used at doses of 0.1 to 1 mL.34

In a clinical study, low oral doses (750 mg) of dried rosemary leaf powder improved memory speed in elderly patients, while higher doses (6 g) impaired memory speed.27

Studies evaluating rosemary aromatherapy used 3 to 4 drops for inhalation.21, 22

Pregnancy / Lactation

GRAS when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven. Rosemary inhibited uterotropic actions of estradiol and estrone in rodent studies.35 Rosemary may have emmenagogue and abortifacient effects, although evidence is weak.3, 36

Interactions

Case reports are lacking, but rosemary may interact with medicines affected by the cytochrome P450 system.9

Adverse Reactions

Dermatitis and allergy to rosemary have been reported.2, 3 Although case reports of seizures due to rosemary are lacking, the potential for toxicity exists, possibly due to camphor and other monoterpene ketone content of the plant.37

Toxicology

Information is limited. As with most essential oils, ingestion of large amounts can be toxic.3 Antigonadotrophic activity has been described in mice38 and an anti-implantation effect has also been described in rat experimentation.39

References

1. Rosmarinus officinalis L. USDA, NRCS. 2015. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 30 September 2015). National Plant Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
2. Khan IA, Abourashed EA. Leung’s Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2009.
3. Duke J, Bogenschutz-Godwin M, duCellier J, Duke P. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.
4. Begum A, Sandhya S, Shaffath Ali S, Vinod KR, Reddy S, Banji D. An in-depth review on the medicinal flora Rosmarinus officinalis (Lamiaceae). Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment. 2013; 12(1):61-73.24584866
5. Tyler V. The New Honest Herbal. Philadelphia, PA: G.F. Stickley Co.; 1987.
6. Selmi G. Therapeutic use of rosemary through the centuries [in Italian]. Policlinico Prat. 1967;74(13):439-441.
7. Zimmermann V. Rosemary as a medicinal plant and wonder-drug. A report on the medieval drug monographs [in German]. Sudhoffs Arch. 1980;64(4):351-370.4883210
8. Duke J. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Inc.; 1992.6451961
9. Ulbricht C, Abrams TR, Brigham A, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2010;7(4):351-413.22432564
10. Paris A, Strukelj B, Renko M, et al. Inhibitory effect of carnosic acid on HIV-1 protease in cell-free assays. J Nat Prod. 1993;56(8):1426-1430.
11. Mugnaini L, Nardoni S, Pistelli L, et al. A herbal antifungal formulation of Thymus serpillum, Origanum vulgare and Rosmarinus officinalis for treating ovine dermatophytosis due to Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Mycoses. 2013;56(3):333-337.7765765
12. Mathlouthi N, Bouzaienne T, Oueslati I, et al. Use of rosemary, oregano, and a commercial blend of essential oils in broiler chickens: in vitro antimicrobial activities and effects on growth performance. J Anim Sci. 2012;90(3):813-823.1529646
13. Veal L. The potential effectiveness of essential oils as a treatment for headlice, Pediculus humanus capitis. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 1996;2(4):97-101.4019987
14. Aruoma OI, Halliwell B, Aeschbach R, Löligers J . Antioxidant and pro-oxidant properties of active rosemary constituents: carnosol and carnosic acid. Xenobiotica. 1992;22(2):257-268.
15. Ngo SN, Williams DB, Head RJ. Rosemary and cancer prevention: preclinical perspectives. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011;51(10):946-954.9310850
16. 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(2):169-175.3287155
17. Singletary K, MacDonald C, Wallig M. Inhibition by rosemary of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced rat mammary tumorigenesis and in vivo DMBA-DNA adduct formation. Cancer Lett. 1996;104(1):43-48.7823297
18. Singletary KW, Rokusek JT. Tissue-specific enhancement of xenobiotic detoxification enzymes in mice by dietary rosemary extract. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1997;50(1):47-53.9439284
19. 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(3):701-708.8061594
20. Tai J, Cheung S, Wu M, Hasman D. Antiproliferation effect of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) on human ovarian cancer cells in vitro. Phytomedicine. 2012;19(5):436-443.9103309
21. Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P. Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults. Int J Neurosci. 2003;113(1):15-38.1933840
22. Burnett KM, Solterbeck LA, Strapp CM. Scent and mood state following an anxiety-provoking task. Psychol Rep. 2004;95(2):707-722.8640744
23. Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1998;96(3-4):217-224.9198114
24. Jimbo D, Kimura Y, Taniguchi M, Inoue M, Urakami K. Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer's disease. Psychogeriatrics. 2009;9(4):173-179.8306331
25. Gedney JJ, Glover TL, Fillingim RB. Sensory and affective pain discrimination after inhalation of essential oils. Psychosom Med. 2004;66(4):599-606.7554054
26. Buckle J. Use of aromatherapy as a complementary treatment for chronic pain. Altern Ther Health Med. 1999;5(5):42-51.8229021
27. Pengelly A, Snow J, Mills SY, Scholey A, Wesnes K, Butler LR. Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population. J Med Food. 2012;15(1):10-17.1383702
28. Lindheimer JB, Loy BD, O'Connor PJ. Short-term effects of black pepper (Piper nigrum) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus eriocalyx) on sustained attention and on energy and fatigue mood states in young adults with low energy. J Med Food. 2013;16(8):765-771.7787296
29. Murata K, Noguchi K, Kondo M, et al. Promotion of Hair Growth by Rosmarinus officinalis leaf extract. Phytother Res. 2013;27(2):212-217.8655093
30. Panahi Y, Taghizadeh M, Marzony ET, Sahebkar A. Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2% for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial. Skinmed. 2015;13(1):15-21.9649877
31. Pérez-Sánchez A, Barrajón-Catalán E, Caturla N, et al. Protective effects of citrus and rosemary extracts on UV-induced damage in skin cell model and human volunteers. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2014;136:12-18.10400454
32. Fuchs SM, Schliemann-Willers S, Fischer TW, Elsner P. Protective effects of different marigold (Calendula officinalis L.) and rosemary cream preparations against sodium-lauryl-sulfate-induced irritant contact dermatitis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2005;18(4):195-200.1378672
33. Balderas C, Villasenor A, Garcia A, et al. Metabolomic approach to the nutraceutical effect of rosemary extract plus Ω-3 PUFAs in diabetic children with capillary electrophoresis. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2010;53(5):1298-1304.7827696
34. Blumenthal M, Brinckmann J, Goldberg A, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.2472207
35. Zhu BT, Loder DP, Cai MX, Ho CT, Huang MT, Conney AH. 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. Carcinogenesis. 1998;19(10):1821-1827.8620433
36. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG. 2002;109(3):227-235.10472794
37. Burkhard PR, Burkhardt K, Haenggeli CA, Landis T . Plant-induced seizures: reappearance of an old problem. J Neurol. 1999;246(8):667-670.10484830
38. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD, eds. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press;1996:229-230.10641130
39. Lemonica IP, Damasceno DC, di-Stasi LC. Study of the embryotoxic effects of an extract of rosemary (L.). Braz J Med Biol Res. 1996;29(2):223-227.9806165

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This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

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