Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.)
Nature never ceases to amaze us with what it offers. One such example is the herb, rosemary. Easy to grow in the garden or even a pot, if short of space, this aromatic herb adds a delicious flavour to foods, along with offering an array of health benefits.
History of Rosemary
Rosemary was used in Ancient Rome and Greece for both weddings and during time of death, due to being inter-linked with remembrance.
Rosemary has been linked to having therapeutic benefits for a long time and has traditionally been used as a mental stimulant helping improve memory; helping aid circulation; and used within tonics to improve well-being.
Pliny and other authors believed that rosemary was associated with memory, as well as being good for the stomach and other health benefits (Food and Drink in the Ancient World, 2016).
Even Shakespeare referred to it in Hamlet, when Ophelia says “there’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
For its association with remembrance, rosemary was used by brides in their bouquets but it was also used for times of burials, where it would either be burned or placed like flowers.
During the bubonic plague, individuals were advised to ward off the plague by burning incense to protect them from harm, one of the herbs included was rosemary (Porter, 2014). This lead to a steep increase in price for rosemary for a small amount (Our Herb Garden, 2016). As we move forward in time, there has still been a continuous link to rosemary being beneficial for our health.
Rosemary is a common herb which we use in recipes today and we can either use it dried or fresh.
If using a fresh sprig of rosemary, crush the leaves to remove the aromatic oils or, alternatively, pull the leaves from the stalk and chop them finely.
It has been a staple ingredient to those living in the Mediterranean as it is native to these parts and can be added numerous dishes, bringing its own unique flavour.
It works well with lamb or beef dishes (think lamb tagine or roast beef); sprinkled over roasted vegetables; include it in potato recipes (your Sunday roast will love you for it!); use it in baked breads, pasta sauces or pizza toppings; stuffings; and infused into oils or salad dressings, to name a few!
A particular favourite of ours is to blitz a large handful of rosemary with olive oil, in a high powered blender to make the most wonderful oil/dressing - it's delicious drizzled over fish or meats or used as a dip (I love it with a toasted cheese and onion sandwich!).
So, what’s the deal with rosemary? Were our ancestors all onto something?
Firstly, rosemary contains phenolic phytochemicals - this just means that these are active compounds found within rosemary which have some beneficial properties to them (King and Young, 1999).
The Benefits of Rosemary
These beneficial effects on our body include:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Hepatoprotective which means it can help protect the liver from damage (Hassani et al., 2016).
Two of these compounds which we will be looking at in this article are carnosic acid and rosemarinic acid, which have been found to play a role in producing these effects.
Both rosemarinic and carnosic acid have been shown to be protective against oxidative damage in the cells, with carnosic acid having the highest levels of antioxidant capacity (Pérez-Fons et al., 2010). It is believed that the combination of rosemarinic acid and carnosic acid may work together to enhance their activation and therefore improve their beneficial health effects (Bahri et al., 2016).
Carnosic acid is also found within sage. In rosemary this compound is found within the leaves and has been found to play a role in protecting the leaves from environmental damage by removing free-radicals and also protecting the cell membranes stability (Bahri et al., 2016).
It has been indicated that carnosic acid can help work with other natural anticancer compounds including vitamin D, in working with inhibiting the cell growth and multiplication of leukaemia cells (Bahri et al., 2016).
It has been found that it may also be beneficial during colorectal cancer treatment, and may have anticancer properties (Barni et al., 2012). Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, carnosic acid may be beneficial in protecting our heart’s health.
Similarly, rosemarinic acid has been linked to being beneficial to our health for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral activity (Petersen and Simmonds, 2003).
It has been suggested that rosemarinic acid may help in inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones. This process can help inhibit tumour cells from becoming malignant, or controlling the tumour’s growth. This effect may be due to the antioxidant effects of rosemarinic acid (Huang and Zheng, 2006).
Nutritional Values of Rosemary
As well as the phenolic compounds, rosemary also contains:
- vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B2, B5, B6
Rosemary is also a source of dietary fibre, which as adults we are required to get 30g/day.
We require all of these vitamins and minerals to maintain a functioning, healthy body throughout our lifecycle! They enable our body to continue working and each nutrient has its own purpose and role in this maintenance, whether this be aiding with vision; skin; blood vessels; organs; bone health; blood health; antioxidants; and improving our immune system.
Rosemary, the Mediterranean Diet and Good Health
Rosemary is also a staple part of the Mediterranean diet.
There is one study which is currently being carried out which is looking at why Acciaroli, a remote Italian village, found between the ocean and the mountains, has 300 citizens whom are all over the age of 100 years.
In Italy, the average life expectancy is 83, coming 6th in the rankings, while in the UK, our life expectancy is 81 years and we just make it into the top 20….. at number 20!
It has been found that those within this group have low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
There are also two important factors to think about when looking at this village. Those within the community favour a Mediterranean diet, which includes rosemary and due to the location of the village, rosemary grows well in this area.
As well as their physical activity levels, the locals all walk long distances and hike up in the mountains, this is all a part of the day to day living (Brubaker, 2016).
The study is aiming to find out why these individuals are living for so long, and whether it is their lifestyle including their diet and their physical activity that is inducing longevity, or if there are any genetic factors which are implicated. This is long-term research which has only just begun this year, so hopefully it will come up with some interesting results!
The Mediterranean diet is really all about just eating fresh – be it vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, fresh fish, and olive oil to name a few components.
Including rosemary into part of your regular diet may provide some of these health benefits, and it’s a tasty addition to your olive oil or meal!
You can find rosemary in both a fresh and dried form and, as with many things, the fresh leaves are of higher quality than dried form.
If you are unable to get fresh, dried will work within meals, but may lose its potency more quickly.
As we know, it is important to maintain a healthy, balanced and varied diet and to take part in physical activity, whether that includes increasing your steps, going to the gym or a class, cycling, swimming, or just walking to places!
It has been noted that an excess intake of rosemary may cause miscarriage in pregnant women, so it is advised that those who are pregnant do not take large supplementations. However, I would always say it’s best not to take supplements unless your GP, a dietician or a nutritionist you see recommends it.
You can get all the benefits from rosemary itself in its whole form, and not just in a supplementation. Obviously, this article isn’t saying that by consuming rosemary it will result in a longer life, but it’s a great addition to your diet, and has been shown to have some health benefits that we should be aware of.
Check out my second article on herbs which grow in an English garden, where I talk about bay - its history, benefits and uses. Click here for details.
Daisy, MSc PGDip ANutr, is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition, both of which are Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course.
Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street.
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Barni, MV. Carlini, MJ. Cafferata, EG. Puricelli, L. and Moreno, S. (2012). Carnosic acid inhibits the proliferation and migration capacity of human colorectal cancer cells. Oncology Reports, 27(4), pp. 1041-1048. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22246562
Brubaker, M. (2016). Remote Italian village could harbour secrets of healthy aging. University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. Available: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2016-03-29-remote-italian-village-may-hold-key-to-longevity.aspx
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