Rosemary: What’s All The Fuss About?

Rosemary: What’s All The Fuss About?

Should you eat it every single day for the rest of your life? The answer is probably, Yes!

Ingredient feature

We are living amidst the Great Rosemary Renaissance as more and more doctors, naturopaths, scientists and nutritionists agree that this remarkable garnish is worth consuming daily. But what, exactly, is all the fuss about?

The Memory Herb

Initially emerging from the rocky shores of coastal Mediterranean areas, the name rosemary derives from the Latin roots Ros (dew) and Marinus (sea). This 'dew of the sea' has been used to enhance memory since time immemorial. Ancient Greek scholars would wear garlands of it on their heads or weave it into their hair during important exams and bouts of intense study.

Rosemary's connection to recollection also explains its history as a hallmark of funeral traditions. Diverse burial rites from Ancient Egypt to Old England involved the placement of ceremonial rosemary sprigs, poetically symbolizing the immortal remembrance of the beloved deceased. Leaving a rich impact on the popular imagination, rosemary is mentioned by name in no fewer than five of William Shakespeare's plays, not to mention countless songs and poems.

Contemporary science is confirming ancient connotations of memory and clear thinking and discovering incredible unknown aspects of this medicinal food.


The Epigenetic Effects of Rosemary

The herb is celebrated as a DNA methylation adaptogen in functional nutrition circles. This nerdy mouthful basically means that rosemary's sophisticated cocktail of carnosol, carnosic acid, rosmarinic acid and aromatic terpenes supports the balanced and optimal expression of health-promoting genes.

Rosemary is rightly known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Most of these profound effects come from triggering our biological mechanisms by switching protective and regenerative genes to the 'on' position. When thusly activated, these crucial segments of the genetic code create scores of enzymes and proteins that quench inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body.

Our DNA is like a blueprint, carefully protected in the double-walled fortress of our cells' nucleus. The chemicals in rosemary provide unique and specific commands, like a password or a key in a lock, to start the construction of the blueprint's best designs. This is why rosemary compounds like rosmarinic acid are known as epinutrients.

It may seem counterintuitive that a few rosemary sprigs with your chicken and roast potatoes could do anything significant. But when you understand that it is not, strictly speaking, the herb itself, but our own genetic expression and cellular machinery that makes the magic happen, you start to understand why even small amounts can do big things in the body.


A 2022 meta-analysis of 15 studies shows robust benefits for cognitive function, memory, and markers of brain decline. The two primary rosemary polyphenols, carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid, freely cross the blood-brain barrier and switch on a series of mechanisms to fortify neurons against many different types of damage and toxicity. While more study is warranted, the picture is becoming clearer: the beloved memory herb can help protect against a broad range of age-related cognitive decline, from mild impairment to Alzheimer's.


While lavender diffusions slow the brain down, rosemary wakes it up and sharpens its edge. A 2013 study on the effect of inhaling diffused rosemary oil for 20 healthy participants showed pronounced and quantifiable effects on brain wave frequencies and nervous system function while causing subjective effects of feeling more active, alert and refreshed.

Memory and Concentration

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on 28 elderly adults found that low doses of rosemary - the levels of intake that would come from just eating normal amounts in food - had significant and measurable effects on memory, speed of recall, focus and attention. This is huge because we often need reminders that food can make a real difference in an era of extracts, supplements, and isolated compounds. The most scientifically validated way of making rosemary work for you is to enjoy eating it regularly.



Another placebo-controlled trial found that rosmarinic acid (one of the main active compounds in rosemary) profoundly reduced seasonal allergy symptoms and sinus inflammation with zero adverse reactions or side effects. Those who suffer from itchy, watery eyes and congestion due to ragweed and pollen can rejoice that they likely have nothing to lose and much to gain from incorporating a little 'sea dew' into all their seasons.

Eye Health

Rosemary keeps our eyes healthy and our vision sharp. As the years pass, age, light, and free radical damage can take a toll on our peepers. Much of the damage they cause is due to oxidative stress on the rods and cones in our retinas, and food has a fundamental role in providing antioxidants to keep this all at bay. Carnosic acid stimulates our DNA to produce protective antioxidant enzymes that stop macular degeneration. Fascinatingly, rosemary protects the eyes even more effectively in the presence of other nutrients like zinc.

Hair Growth

A 2015 clinical trial of 100 volunteers with alopecia found that rosemary oil was equally effective as minoxidil in generating significant amounts of new hair growth after six months of treatment. As a bonus, the rosemary group didn't experience dandruff, dry or greasy hair, or scalp itching symptoms consistent in the minoxidil group.


Chemical Synergy

Some scientists have claimed that 90 per cent of rosemary's antioxidant activity (which in turn is responsible for many of its health benefits) comes from just two compounds, carnosol and carnosic acid. These two chemicals are powerful and have astonishing anti-inflammatory effects.

However, beyond the impressive qualities of its components, recent research has confirmed that the herb is greater than the sum of these parts; rosemary extracts enriched with carnosic acid and carnosol are significantly more effective at quenching free radicals than those compounds alone. This means that the chemical constituents of the whole food combine to work in health-promoting ways that isolated extracts could never.

Rosmarinic acid, carnosol and carnosic acid are the most intensely studied compounds in the herb and are considered the most bioactive. But many more lesser-known jewels abound, like rosmanol, epirosmanol, methyl carnosate and carnosol quinone, not to mention functional terpenes like α-pinene and 1-8-cineol …

The list goes on and on, and many of these are unique to rosemary. The main takeaway is that while it's convenient to ascribe all healing properties of a superfood to its most active components, the truth is invariably far more complex and beautiful. They all work together in ways that we know about and in ways that we have yet to learn.

Acciaroli: Rosemary's Best Proof?

To see rosemary in action, we don't need to look to modern studies or antiquity. A phenomenal ongoing case study for its power to extend cognitive function into (very) old age can be found in Acciaroli, the seaside hamlet in Salerno. The town is as famous for healthy, social, active centenarians as it is for downright ubiquitous rosemary consumption. Around every corner, in pots and gardens, the herb is grown abundantly and tends to appear at nearly every meal in one dish or another. After reviewing the broad health impacts of this savoury seasoning, which is generally enjoyed for its distinct flavour and not its medicinal value, it's easy to see why it fully deserves a place in the Acciarolian lifestyle.

I suspect that even among those who see rosemary as a healthy thing to eat, it's eaten more for its addictively savoury and wonderfully herbaceous flavour profile. Very few are truly aware of its secret identity as an anti-aging superhero. But the secret is getting out. Rosemary keeps us remembering and keeps us around to make more memories.

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Damien ZielinskiA cloud-based functional medicine practitioner with a focus on mental health and insomnia
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