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Rosemary - Uses and Benefits

Taxonomic class

Lamiaceae

Common Trade Names

Rosemary Oil

Common Forms

Available as infusion, tea, or volatile oil and in bath and toiletry products.

Source

The leaves, twigs, and flowering tops are typically pursued for active medicinal components of Rosmarinus officinalis. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region but commonly cultivated indoors and in mild climates of North America .

Chemical Components

The leaves contain a volatile oil, from which several compounds have been isolated (monoterpene hydrocarbons, camphor, borneol, and cineole). The leaves also contain the flavonoid pigments diosmin, diosmetin, and genkwanin. Numerous volatile and aromatic compounds are also present.

Actions

Several pharmacologic effects have been described for rosemary or its components. Antibacterial and antifungal properties have been demonstrated for the volatile oil. Various gram-positive and gram-negative organisms commonly responsible for food spoilage are inhibited by the presence of rosemary oil. The antioxidant properties are attributed to carnosol and ursol components of rosemary oil or rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid.

Several sources report that diosmin reduces capillary permeability and fragility, whereas a derivative of rosemaricine is capable of inducing smooth-muscle relaxant and analgesic effects in vitro . I.V. administration of rosemary oil has demonstrated spasmolytic action on the Oddi muscle sphincter of guinea pigs. Rabbit models of septic shock have shown that I.V. rosemarinic acid suppresses endotox­in-mediated activation of the sequence of steps leading to septic shock. It also suppresses release of thromboxane A 2 , formation of prostacyclin, thrombocytopenia, and hypotension . Although these effects are believed to be the result of the inhibitory effect of rosmarinic acid on complement (a component of blood), other studies have suggested other mechanisms of anti-inflammatory activity .

Rosmarinic acid has also been touted as the component responsible for successful prevention of adult respiratory distress syndrome in rabbit models . Additional rodent studies of rosemary oil and rosmarinic acid have demonstrated increased locomotor effects and anti gonadotropic effects, respectively.

Rosmarinic acid has demonstrated inhibitory activity against HIV integrase .

A number of studies have been published that suggest potential anticancer properties of the plant. These preliminary studies suggest that rosemary components have the potential to decrease activation and increase detoxification of important human carcinogens. Rosemary components might have potential as chemoprotectants, but studies in humans are needed .

Reported Uses

The clinical effects of rosemary are not well known; few studies have been conducted in humans. Rosemary is widely used as a spice in cooking. It has been claimed to be of use in traditional medicine for its anti­flatulent, antispasmodic, astringent, diaphoretic, and tonic properties.

Rosemary extract and the volatile oil have been used through the centuries to promote menstrual flow and as an abortifacient. Rosemary oil has been used topically and taken internally to improve chronic circulatory weakness and hypotension, although a few tertiary references warn against internal consumption of the undiluted volatile oil. Rosemary has also been used for indigestion and rheumatic disorders; efficacy is yet to be demonstrated.

A lotion consisting of rosemary has been suggested to stimulate hair growth and prevent baldness, although this has not been proved.

Dosage

Therapeutic doses of rosemary have not been defined, but the following have been promoted:

Liquid extract (1:1 in 45% alcohol): 1 to 4 ml P.O. t.i.d.

Tea: 1 to 4 g of the leaf as a tea P.O. t.i.d.

Essential oil in an ointment preparation may also be used externally.

Adverse Reactions

GI: GI irritation (with large quantities of volatile oil).

GU: antifertility effects (rosemary oil may prevent implantation but does not appear to interfere with the normal development of the fertilized ova after implantation renal damage (with large quantities of volatile oil).

Skin: dermatitis and photosensitivity in hypersensitive people, erythema (possible with preparations meant for bathing).

Interactions

Disulfiram: Disulfiram reaction if herbal product contains alcohol. Do not use together.

Contraindications and Precautions

Avoid using rosemary in pregnant or breast-feeding patients; effects are unknown. Use cautiously in patients who have experienced a plant sensitivity reaction.

Special Considerations

  • Inform the patient that therapeutic efficacy has not been demonstrated for rosemary or its components for any disease.

  • Caution the patient that the undiluted oil should not be taken internally until its safety can be established.

  • Caution women who wants to become pregnant to avoid consumption of this herb.

  • Advise the patient taking disulfiram not to take a form of this herb that contains alcohol.

Points of Interest

  • German health authorities have approved rosemary for internal use for indigestion and as a supportive treatment for rheumatic disorders. It is also approved for external use for circulatory disorders.

  • A review on the therapeutic potential of the pharmacologic constituents of R. officinalis has been published.

  • Rosemary extract may function as an effective food preservative for meat products.

Commentary

Rosemary is widely used in both cooking and cosmetics. Several components of rosemary oil have been shown to possess pharmacologic activity. Enthusiasm for some interesting pharmacologic effects seen in animals must be interpreted in light of the fact that studies in humans are unavailable. Until studies are conducted in humans, this herb cannot be recommended for any therapeutic application. Future areas of research will probably focus on the potential of rosemary in treating acute inflammatory conditions, such as adult respiratory distress syndrome and septic shock, or as a chemotherapeutic agent.

   

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