The rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) belongs to the Lamiaceae or Labiateae family and is a renowned aromatic herb widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. While native to coastal areas in Italy, it is cultivated almost everywhere due to its hardiness and easy maintenance. Notably, it’s considered an official medicinal plant, rich in health-enhancing properties commonly used in herbal practices.
Let’s delve into its botanical characteristics, medicinal properties, and diverse applications.
The Rosemary Plant
Rosmarinus officinalis is a perennial, evergreen shrub with varying postures based on subspecies or varieties. The typical shrub’s height can range from a few tens of centimeters to 2 meters. Its main branches have herbaceous texture at the top but become woody at the base, with short and dense ramifications frequently arising from new shoots at leaf axils. The bark is brown, peeling into longitudinal strips.
Rosemary leaves are distinctive, persistent, and leathery, present along the stem except in the woodiest part. They are sessile, paired at nodes, narrowly linear with downward-folded margins. The upper surface is glossy green, rough-textured, and sometimes dark. The lower surface is whitish due to a dense presence of fine tomentum made up of branched hairs and glandular hairs containing precious rosemary essential oil.
The flowers are clustered in leaf axils. The tubular calyx opens into two lips: the upper lip has three small teeth, and the lower one has two. The corolla is typically blue, tubular, and also divided into two lips: the upper one is divided into two lobes, and the lower one has three lobes with two linear lateral lobes and one large, oval, serrated central lobe with darker spots. In ornamental rosemary varieties like the sought-after Majorca pink, the flower is pink.
The fruit consists of four ovoid achenes with a smooth surface, brown in color, enclosed at the bottom of the persistent calyx.
Rosemary as a Melliferous Plant
Rosemary holds significant environmental importance, primarily due to its flowering, which spans most of the year. In northern regions, it’s concentrated in spring and summer, while in the south and islands, it can extend almost year-round. It is pollinated by insects, primarily bees and other pollinating insects. Rosmarinus officinalis is typically melliferous, rich in pollen and nectar, allowing bees in high-intensity areas to produce excellent monofloral honey.
Rosemary as an Ornamental Plant
Before delving into rosemary’s medicinal uses, let’s explore its primary purpose: being an ornamental plant. It finds diverse applications in gardens and landscapes. In gardens, it can be grown in large pots or in the ground, either as a standalone element or for creating floral borders. It’s also used as shrubbery in roadside landscaping and as ground cover (prostrate forms). Its rich and continuous flowering suggests it should be included as a nectariferous resource in apiculture.
In forestry, it’s essential as a pioneer species for reforesting areas stripped by fires.
Natural Habitat of Rosemary
Wild rosemary is a characteristic component of low Mediterranean maquis and garigue. It’s a pioneer species, also found in sparse woods, with a wide altitudinal range, from sea level up to 1,000 meters. It grows in all types of soil, although it prefers calcareous ones.
Active Ingredients and Properties
The active ingredients of rosemary are found in the leaves and tender branches, including essential oil (mainly composed of borneol, bornyl acetate, pinene, camphene), choline, an acidic saponin, heterosides, and organic acids. Its resulting beneficial properties include being aromatic, appetizing, digestive, antispasmodic, diuretic, balsamic, antiseptic, rubefacient, and stimulant.
Rosemary essential oil has various applications in natural medicine. It positively affects the nervous system and is effective against spasmodic conditions like cough, asthma, palpitations, vomiting, and menstrual pain. Studies and research have confirmed its ability to increase brain activity related to logical thinking. It’s also detoxifying, stimulating, aids diuresis, lowers blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels, promotes digestion, and is antiseptic and balsamic, making it useful for cold-related illnesses, sore throat, bronchial, and asthmatic conditions.
Externally, rosemary essential oil has toning properties on the skin and is used to alleviate sores and ulcers. When gargled, it disinfects and strengthens gums. It also possesses analgesic and rubefacient properties, making it useful when applied locally for joint and rheumatic pains, muscle fatigue, bruises, and stiff neck.
If you wish to try it, it’s available in herbal stores. To harness its benefits at home without purchasing it, dried leaves can be used directly by preparing herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions.
Rosemary also finds significant applications in cosmetics, especially in the form of essential oil. It’s used to create aftershaves, soaps, facial toners, and shampoos. Facial masks made with rosemary are effective against inflammations, swellings, and skin rashes, protecting the skin from aging. On the scalp, massages with rosemary essential oil have revitalizing effects and are useful against dandruff.
Rosemary in Cooking
As mentioned, rosemary is renowned for its aromatic properties. In the kitchen, its leaves (fresh or dried) are used to flavor and make meats, game, and fish more digestible. They find their way into dozens of recipes of traditional dishes, making it a commonly used culinary product. Its use is also interesting in flavored baked goods (bread, focaccia, grissini, etc.). Additionally, the leaves are used to prepare strongly aromatic herbal liqueurs.