Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Rosmarinus officinalis L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis L., is an evergreen, perennial shrub native to the chalky, calcareous hills along the Mediterranean Sea. Reaching a height of up to 1.8 meters, the plant is characterized by linear, narrow leaves whose undersides are matted with thick hair. Leading areas of rosemary production are the Mediterranean countries, the United States, and England.

The reported life zone for rosemary is 9 to 28 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.7 meters and a soil pH of 4.5 to 8.7 (4.1-31). The drought tolerant plant grows in rocky to sandy soils, as long as there is adequate drainage and a minimum soil depth of about 0.2 meters. The pale-blue flowers can develop throughout the growing season, although profuse blooming occurs during late winter or early spring. Rosemary has no serious pests or diseases. The plant is not cold hardy.

Commercial production is from both cultivated and wild plants. Fields of rosemary are usually harvested once or twice each year, depending upon the geographical area and whether the harvest is for plant material or essential oil. A first cutting can be obtained in the seeding year but is usually delayed until 18 months after seeding. Leaves are dried in the shade directly after harvest to maximize retention of color and aroma. There is some loss of color when leaves are frozen.

The volatile or essential oil of rosemary includes 1,8-cineole, - and -pinene, camphor, bornylacetate, camphene, linalool, d-limonene, borneol, myrcene, -terpineol, and -caryophyllene (3.1-85, 6.4-101 8.2-48, 14.1-8). The oil is extracted from flowering tops, stems, and leaves by steam distillation or the use of organic solvents. An oleoresin is also commercially available.

Dried rosemary leaves, whole or ground, are used as seasonings for soups, stews, sausages, meat, fish, and poultry. The essential oil is used in food products, perfumes, and cosmetics, such as soaps, creams, deodorants, hair tonics, and shampoos. Rosemary is also used in nonalcoholic beverages. The plant and extracts have antibacterial and antioxidant activity and can be used to extend the keeping quality of fats and meats (6.4-80, 6.4-104, 11.1-126). There are many varieties and forms of rosemary available and the species is grown as an ornamental and hedgerow plant. Often the plant is used as a ground cover along roads and on embankments because of its beauty and deep root system, which helps stabilize the soil and allows the plant to withstand hot, dry periods. The plant is considered a good source of nectar for bees, having blossoms that both attract bees and appear when few other plants are blooming.

As a medicinal plant, rosemary has been used as an external stimulant and as a relaxant for nervousness, muscle spasms, and headaches. At one time it was used in wines as a carminative, and it is thought to act as a stimulant to the kidneys. Rosemary has been used as an expectorant and as a folk remedy against asthma, eczema, rheumatism, and wounds. It has been used in the treatment of cancer, and is categorized today as a therapeutic emmenagogue (14.1-16, 14.1-35). The plant is used as an insect repellent.

Rosmarinus officinalis L. var. prostratus is a creeping, prostrate rosemary, often grown as a potted plant, in rock gardens, or along walks as a ground cover. Bog rosemary, Andromeda species, and wild or marsh rosemary, Ledum palustre L., are members of the Ericaceae family and not related to rosemary.

Rosemary is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as both a natural flavoring/seasoning and as a plant extract/essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [l982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997