Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an herb commonly used in savory cooking. It is a fragrant evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean. Rosemary is a key ingredient in many pasta sauces, pizza recipes, and vinaigrettes. It was traditionally used to help alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory system, and promote hair growth.
Rosemary grows in bushes with wood-like stems and short, pine-like needles. Rosemary is a perineal evergreen that is often grown as an ornamental shrub because of its ability to withstand harsh conditions.
Rosemary is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, along with many other herbs, such as oregano, thyme, basil, and lavender. When it blooms, its flower are white, purple, pink or deep blue.
Rosemary is known to have one of the highest antioxidant properties of spices and can combat fungus, bacteria, and cancer.
The antioxidant properties of rosemary extracts differ due to:
- Genetic and growth conditions
- Geographical origin
- Climatic conditions
- Extraction process
- Quality of original plant
- Harvesting date
- Storage and processing
Rosemary can be taken in a wide range of forms including:
The different forms of rosemary can produce different effects. The extracts especially differ depending on how the rosemary is extracted and what compounds are extracted.
One study that involved 28 older adults found that a consumption of a low dose, but not a higher dose, of dried rosemary powder, was associated with significantly improved memory speed.
Some research looked at how the smell of rosemary affects cognition. Participants were exposed to the aroma of rosemary while performing visual processing tasks and serial subtraction tasks. With higher amounts of the rosemary aroma, both speed and accuracy in the tasks increased. Interestingly, mood also improved with exposure to the rosemary aroma.
Research that was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society also highlighted the benefits of the aroma of rosemary. Research included 40 school-age children who were placed either in a room that contained the rosemary aroma or another room without an aroma. The results found that those in the rosemary aroma room demonstrated higher memory scores than those in the room without the rosemary scent.
Another study was performed with 53 students who were between 13 and 15 years old. Researchers found that their memory of images and numbers improved when the essential oil of rosemary was sprayed in the room.
One study involved 80 adults who drank 250 milliliters of rosemary water or mineral water. Those who drank the rosemary water demonstrated improved cognitive functioning as compared to those who drank the mineral water.
Several other studies have been published in peer reviewed journals about the effect of rosemary consumption, with results that fairly consistently show benefits in memory associated with rosemary.
Research by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center shows that rosemary appears to lower anxiety, which in turn, may increase the ability to concentrate.
Rosemary is also used as a perfume and added to shampoo, conditioner and soap.
While rosemary shows some promise for boosting our brain power, it’s important to check with your doctor before you begin supplementing your diet heavily with it. It does have the potential to interact with other medicines including blood thinners, ACE inhibitors (for treating high blood pressure), lithium, diuretics (such as Lasix) and diabetes medications.
How to Buy
You can find dried rosemary in the spice section of a grocery store. Fresh rosemary may be sold with other herbs in the produce section. It is often sold in bunches or small packages containing a few sprigs.
It is easy to grow rosemary either outdoors or indoors. It may not survive over the winter outdoors in northern zones and should be brought inside.
How to Store
Rosemary should be kept refrigerated, either in the original packaging or wrapped lightly in a tea towel. Fresh rosemary is hearty and when stored properly should retain flavor and potency for up to two weeks.
Dried rosemary should be kept in an air-tight container away from light and heat. If it is stored properly, it will retain flavor and potency for up to a year.
When you have too much rosemary, it can be easily dried at home for storage and later use. To dry rosemary, tie sprigs together and hang the bunch inverted in a dry place. Make sure to keep the rosemary away from moisture to prevent mold and fungus growth. Once dried, store the rosemary in an air-tight container away from heat and moisture.
How to Cook
Chopped rosemary can be added to bread or biscuit dough, and the flavor will infuse throughout during cooking. I like it in shortbread cookies with fennel. Potatoes, beans, and lentils also pair well with rosemary. Rosemary can be quite potent and is therefore usually used sparingly.
Because rosemary has a low moisture content even when fresh, it retains its flavor after drying. Both fresh and dried rosemary can have a tough, pine-needle like texture, and it is usually chopped or crushed with a mortar and pestle before adding to recipes. Sprigs of rosemary with the stem intact can be added to soups and stews and then removed prior to serving.
To remove the leaves from a rosemary stem, simply pinch the tip of the stem and pull back toward the base and the leaves should easily pull away. The leaves are usually then chopped further to prevent using large, tough pieces of the herb.
Rosemary, along with other herbs, can be used to flavor olive oil.