If you’re familiar with the intoxicating scent of fresh rosemary, you may already have a sense of the herb’s powerful, yet subtle effects. The flame-shaped bush prospers in dry soils but tolerates damp climates as well. And, during the middle of the summer, the fragrance of the needle-shaped leaves can emanate for entire neighborhood blocks. Interestingly, the dispersive, fiery character of the plant mirrors its effects on our bodies.
Traditional western herbalists consider rosemary to be a warming herb–no surprises there—with important effects on the circulatory system and the digestive system. Matthew Wood, a renowned western herbalist notes that rosemary stimulates metabolism by warming the body. It has a special effect on the liver and gallbladder that helps to ease digestion and resolve gas.
As a warming herb, Wood claims, rosemary is helpful for bringing blood and nutrition to the skin, warming the skin in the process. This may explain its use for some cases of thinning hair or hair loss. He also considers rosemary to be something of a stimulant to the nervous system, perhaps as a replacement for coffee for promoting alertness.
While traditional herbalists may be among the best sources for learning about how herbs can support human health, researchers are working to corroborate the findings of herbalists and describe how herbs work with human physiology. And they’re finding a lot of similarities.
Researchers in Thailand match the herbalists’ use of rosemary perfectly. They measured the effects of smelling rosemary essential oil and found that it stimulated heart rates, respiratory rates and blood pressure. Study participants also said they felt “fresher” while the researchers noted that they were more active. In keeping with the fiery nature of the herb, it adds a little spark to your day.
Research has also confirmed the herb’s influence on the nervous system. Rosemary oil has a particular action on adrenergic receptors, an integral part of the sympathetic nervous system – the part that’s in charge of the “fight or flight” response. Researchers found that through inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system, rosemary oil promotes circulation, which warms the body aids in pain relief. They also found that it eases digestion through those same effects on the sympathetic nervous system.
What the herbalists did not predict was rosemary’s promise as an anticancer agent. Of the compounds found in rosemary, carnosol, carnosic acid, rosmanol have each shown several mechanisms for potential anticancer activity. Some of the observed mechanisms include improving immune system signaling, decreasing inflammation and promoting the organized death of cancer cells.
Rosemary is generally recognized as a safe additive to food. Explore adding it to meats, beans, stews, and dips for a delicious, healthful way to add flavor and interest. Of course, if you have specific health concerns, like digestion, mental alertness or pain, be sure to schedule an appointment to learn about even more ways to feel better.
 Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I, A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2011.
 Sayorwan W, Ruangrungsi N, Piriyapunyporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Siripornpanich V. Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. Sci Pharm. 2013;81(2):531-42.
 Petiwala SM, Johnson JJ. Diterpenes from rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Defining their potential for anti-cancer activity. Cancer Lett. 2015;367(2):93-102.