Learn all about rosemary’s culinary and medicinal benefits, including how to grow, harvest and use this flavorful herb.
I keep a rosemary topiary in a pot at my front door. Because its fragrant aroma is absolutely delightful, I frequently run my hands through its branches to send the smell wafting through the air. Rosemary’s botanical name, Rosmarinus officinalis, means “dew of the sea”—probably linked to its native Mediterranean. Rosemary has been used in many cultures as a symbol for remembering those who have passed away. Due to rosemary’s reputation for enhancing memory, Shakespeare’s Ophelia petitions Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.” In ancient Greece, students inserted rosemary sprigs into their hair when studying for exams.
You can purchase a rosemary plant, or alternatively snip a stem from an existing plant, dip the end in rooting compound (available from garden stores), plant it in soil with plenty of sun and excellent drainage, and water regularly to prevent soil from drying out. If you live in a frost-free area, you can leave it outside during winters. Otherwise, keep rosemary in a planter to bring indoors during winter. Be careful not to overwater; just water whenever the soil feels dry.
To harvest, snip a branch off as needed. Remove the rosemary needles from the stem and finely chop to add to your favorite dish, or toss the whole stem directly into a soup, stew or meat dish. (If you use a whole stem, remove before serving.) To dry rosemary, tie bundles of stems together with elastic bands and hang upside down until dry. Remove needles from stems and store in a spice jar.
Flavor Enhancer: Rosemary is a delicious addition to meat dishes, as well as to omelets or tomato sauces, and it can be puréed with olive oil for a delicious dip. Rosemary also makes a tasty and healthful tea. To make rosemary tea: Add 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary needles or a 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary to boiled water and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink.
Brain Booster and Memory Aid: Rosemary’s reputation for enhancing memory likely stems from its research-proven ability to increase blood flow to the brain. Other research proves that rosemary’s reputation as a memory aid is well-deserved. Researchers at Poland’s Department of Pharmaceutical Botany and Plant Biotechnology, Poznan University of Medical Sciences, found that rosemary eaten as part of a regular diet or used as a natural medicine had the ability to improve long-term memory in animals. The scientists found that rosemary slowed degradation of an important brain hormone known as acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is involved in the formation of new memories and in regulating muscle activity. The scientists propose that rosemary may be valuable for the prevention and treatment of dementia.
Prostate Cancer Prevention: In preliminary research, a standardized extract of one of rosemary’s active ingredients, carnosic acid, demonstrated the ability to target prostate cancer cells as opposed to normal cells. While further research is needed to determine rosemary’s ability to prevent cancer, this study suggests it has promise as a natural cancer-prevention aid.
Atherosclerosis Remedy: New preliminary research shows that rosemary has anti-inflammatory effects and holds promise as a natural remedy for atherosclerosis—a chronic inflammatory condition that leads to heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.
Hair Growth Tonic: In the journal Phytotherapy Research, scientists found that applying an extract made of rosemary leaves improved hair regrowth in animals affected by excess amounts of the hormone testosterone. Both men and women can have excess testosterone, which can cause hair thinning. Scientists found that the rosemary extract appears to block the active form of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, from binding to androgen receptor sites. Learn to make a Rosemary Hair Tonic.