Rosemary is one of the famous culinary herbs (as in Scarborough Fair and Shakespearean famous) that rarely gets the main stage when it comes to Medicinal Herbalism. Like it’s partners, Parsley, Sage, and Thyme, Rosemary packs a lot of medicine into those tiny leaves. That’s part of why Rosemary is more connected with cooking than with herbal remedies, I suppose. You really are best off with a little Rosemary every day if you’d like to improve your circulation and respiratory health, keep your mind moving, and strengthen your immune and digestive systems.
Rosemary, aka Rosmarinus officinalis, grows best in warm to hot climates and mainly dry conditions with full- to partial-sunshine. If the climate or conditions are especially dry, partial-sun works. If you’re living in a humid or particularly cool location, you’ll want to compensate with as much sunshine as you reasonably can.
In temperate climates, Rosemary can withstand a bit of winter frost and even a short stint of snow. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have many huge, healthy Rosemary bushes that seem to grow with very little attention. Our winters may include a week of snow with temperatures that could dip into the 20s F (-6 C), but mostly we keep it above freezing.
If you’re living in a colder climate, like the deep-freeze of Minnesota, Michigan, or Montana, you’ll want to plant Rosemary as an annual in the garden or keep it in a pot you can shelter indoors through winter; Rosemary won’t withstand a prolonged freeze or ground that freezes for long.
Once established, Rosemary is surprisingly drought tolerant. Considering that it hails from the rocky, warm, dry Mediterranean climate, I suppose it ought not be that surprising, but since I grew up in the frozen North where Rosemary needed a lot of Tender Loving Care I’m amazed at how well mine does despite very little watering through summer’s heat. Unlike Sage and Thyme, Rosemary tends to stay full and lush, or as lush as those spare leaves get, for years. When it’s time to replant your sage or thyme, you’ll likely find Rosemary still looking healthy, fully, and happy to keep on.
Folks who live where Rosemary needs no special winter care can clip the tips of Rosemary’s branches through the winter, taking care to keep the whole plant looking generally full and healthy. Rosemary doesn’t grow a lot during winter, but generally blooms rather early in spring. I generally wait until I see some of the mid-spring plants beginning to bloom before I harvest Rosemary’s blossoms. As one of the early bloomers in my area, Rosemary is a gift to the early bees who are just awakening from winter’s fast.
If you’re living in a colder climate, it makes a lot of sense to start trimming and drying Rosemary early in summer. Trim and dry a little each week for use through winter as both a culinary herb and a terrific partner in staying healthy during flu season. Rosemary supports a healthy respiratory system, making it a particularly valuable herb for use in Herbal Steams at the first sign of cold, flu, or other respiratory distress. Store-bought dried Rosemary may not quite cut-it medicinally, but the stuff you dry at home is likely to pack plenty of punch to serve as a fine herbal remedy.
Using Rosemary: Herbal Medicine Meets Herbal Kitchen
Although herbalists may not tout Rosemary as a main-stage act in tincture blends and teas, we all quietly add Rosemary to our cooking and beauty care. Rosemary’s most famous for helping improve circulation while calming the nervous system. That’s the key to why Rosemary has been connected with Memory and Remembrance for centuries.
It’s also the tip of the iceberg in terms of Rosemary’s herbal properties. In small doses, Rosemary is helpful for preventing colds and flus through both it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. It’s a carminative herb, making it a digestive herb that supports the natural contractions your gut uses to move food along. The German E Commission recommends Rosemary for use in digestive blends that help ease a variety of stomach and intestinal complaints as well as topically for pain relief.
You can use Rosemary topically or internally to ease pain and spasmodic muscles as well as prevent bacterial or fungal infection and bring blood to the area. Topically, Rosemary is generally used in formula (use a 1-5 percent dilution rate if you’re using essential oils or use Rosemary as 1-5 percent of your formula according to Maria Noel Groves). Vinegar, tea, and liniment are the easiest Rosemary topicals to make. If you’re making Rosemary oil, Maria also recommends using an alcohol intermediary to draw out more of Rosemary’s resins.
Kami McBride touts Rosemary for the bath, describing it as a terrific pick-me-up, especially if you’re feeling sluggish, fatigued, or generally have low-energy. Rosemary’s mild stimulating properties and gentle circulatory-moving energy will help boost your energy and bring you a little renewal and joy.
Herbal Nerd Society Members: Learn more about Rosemary this month!