The properties of rosemary make it a particularly popular spice in the culinary world. In addition, its applications in folk medicine have for some time aroused a productive scientific interest.
Distinguished by its strong aromatic connotation, rosemary boasts great popularity among spice connoisseurs. As far as purely botanical aspects are concerned, rosemary is known, in the taxonomic field, as Rosmarinus officinalis, classifying itself as a perennial plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family. Originally from the temperate areas of the Mediterranean, rosemary is grown all over the world and, in addition to being appreciated for its effective use in cooking, it is particularly interesting for its numerous phytotherapeutic potential.
In the following discussion, the nutritional and healing properties of rosemary will be described, with an emphasis on the experimental evidence underlying its potential benefits for human health. Subsequently, the possible culinary applications will be considered, as well as some practical ideas on the preparation of rosemary herbal teas. Finally, there will be some considerations about any adverse effects related to the use of rosemary as a spice or as a curative expedient.
Rosemary: nutritional properties
As mentioned above, rosemary boasts an intense aroma, constituting a spice with a rather widespread use. As a direct consequence of its role, rosemary is generally used in small quantities, making it weakly relevant for nutritional purposes. However, it may be interesting to introduce some information about its macro- and micronutrient composition.
A common table spoon can contain just over 3g of dried rosemary leaves, providing about 11 kcal. As far as the macronutrient content is concerned, 3g of rosemary provide about 2g of carbohydrates, while fatty acids are present only in trace amounts and divided between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids; among the fatty acids, the monounsaturated fraction is present in a higher quantity (0.243g). The protein component is instead mostly absent.
A tablespoon of rosemary also provides various micronutrients , also present in traces; among the latter, calcium (42.2mg), potassium (31.5mg) and vitamin C (2.02mg) are relatively noteworthy. The same quantity of rosemary also contains about one and a half grams of dietary fiber and, as a plant food, rosemary does not provide cholesterol.
For completeness, the following is a table showing the nutritional values of romarino, relating to 100g of dried leaves.
Nutritional values per 100g of rosemary:
- Waterfall: 9.31g
- Power: 331 kcal
- Proteins: 4.88g
- Total fat: 15.2g
- of which saturated: 7.37g (total)
- of which monounsaturated: 3.01g (total)
- of which polyunsaturated: 2.34g (total)
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Carbohydrates: 64.1g
- Fiber: 42.6g
- Soccer: 1280 mg
- Iron: 29.2mg
- Magnesium: 220mg
- Phosphorus: 70mg
- Potassium: 955mg
- Sodium: 50mg
- Zinc: 3.23mg
- Copper: 0.55mg
- Manganese: 1.87mg
- Selenium: 4.6μg
- C vitamin: 61.2mg
- Thiamine: 0.514mg
- Riboflavin: 0.428mg
- Niacin: 1mg
- Vitamin B6: 1.74mg
- Total folate: 307μg
- Vitamin A: 156μg
Rosemary: the health benefits
Beyond the nutritional values just described, it is absolutely interesting to evaluate the phytochemical profile of rosemary, to which various medicinal properties have been attributed. Chemical analyzes conducted on rosemary extracts reveal the presence of different components, which can be classified as diterpenoids, triterpenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids. Among these, the dominant components in quantitative terms are ursolic acid and carnosic acid, followed by betulinic acid and rosmarinic acid.
As for the essential oils of rosemary, they are mainly composed of camphor, 1,8-cineole, α-pinene and β-pinene. These components give rosemary antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and high cholesterol properties, but not only. Let’s now see the individual benefits associated with the components of rosemary, underlining the experimental evidence supporting them.
✓ Antimicrobial activity: a weapon against infections
The massive use of antibiotics, both in the medical and agricultural fields, is at the root of the growing spread of resistant bacterial strains, identifying itself as a very relevant problem for public health, on a global level. The direct consequence of this is the constant search, by the experts, for new substances that can effectively fight infections.
Among the various properties attributed to it, rosemary is relatively known for its antimicrobial potential, also finding application in food preservation. In vitro studies have attributed a marked antibacterial power to the bioactive components of rosemary , also highlighting a possible synergistic action relating to the constituents of essential oils.
In particular, this activity appears to occur against gram-positive bacterial species, such as Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis, as well as against gram-negative species, such as Proteus vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli. There is no lack of further evidence with respect to some fungal species, such as Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger, against which the bioactive components of rosemary seem to have an effect. In addition, carnosic acid appears to exhibit antiviral action against human respiratory syncytial virus.
✓ Antioxidant activity: to counteract the action of free radicals
Several in vitro studies have made it possible to investigate the antioxidant properties of the extracts and essential oils of rosemary, returning important positive results. Specifically, some bioactive components making up rosemary extracts seem to counteract oxidative damage by neutralizing free radicals. In addition, some in vivo studies conducted subsequently attributed the same antioxidant capabilities to rosemary essential oils.
As has been amply demonstrated, the continuous exposure to reactive oxygen species is responsible for various functional and structural damage to biological systems, placing itself at the basis of serious pathological conditions. Cancer processes are undoubtedly among these. Some experimental investigations correlate the bioactive components of rosemary to an anticancer activity by virtue, among other things, of their antioxidant effect. Furthermore, the antioxidant power attributed to the bioactive components of rosemary has been associated, through in vivo observations conducted on animal models, to the decrease in oxidative damageaffecting the brain tissues. What has been observed at an experimental level could have implications in the neurodegenerative field.
✓ Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties: rosemary as a remedy for pain
The properties of rosemary have been exploited by popular medicine for some time. In particular, it is known for its beneficial effects in case of abdominal pain and inflammatory pathologies. These include diseases affecting the respiratory system, such as bronchial asthma and cough.
Experimental evidences attribute to the constituents of the essential oils of rosemary, as well as to other bioactive components, such as carnosic, ursolic and betulinic acids, an anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. More specifically, some studies have correlated the action of the aforementioned substances to the lower expression of inflammatory mediators, such as some chemical species of a protein nature known as pro-inflammatory cytokines. Further investigations conducted on an animal model show a correlation between rosemary extracts and the inactivation of inflammatory processes in the hippocampus. All this translates into a possible reduction in the sensation of pain.
✓ Hypoglycemic activity and against high cholesterol
Continuing with the benefits of rosemary for human health, it appears to play a role in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. The related in vitro experimental evidence shows some points of overlap between the action performed by rosemary extracts and metformin, a substance with a significant impact on blood glucose levels and blood lipid components, as well as a first-line pharmacological option in the treatment of diabetes type II.
More specifically, rosemary extracts seem to lower glucose and blood lipid levels by impacting some signaling pathways taking place in the cellular environment. These pathways normally take place within human hepatocytes and are the target of metformin (in summary, rosemary extracts appear to function in a similar way to metformin). Other in vivo observations also correlated the action performed by the rosemary extracts to the decrease in the cholesterol levels examined.
✓ Benefits on the nervous system: to face challenging periods
Although further scientific confirmation is useful to support this, some experimental studies attribute to rosemary a potentiating effect on memory abilities, as well as on attention levels. Scientific evidence obtained from studies on animal models and from subsequent investigations on humans, also correlates the properties of rosemary, and its phytochemical composition, to a mitigating activity on the levels of anxiety and depression, as well as a beneficial effect on the quality of sleep.
How to use rosemary in cooking
The intense and pleasant aroma is undoubtedly one of the best known characteristics of rosemary, so that it is often used to give food its distinctive aroma. Among the dishes in question, the meat preparations, be it white or red, undoubtedly stand out. However, rosemary is effectively used to flavor other culinary preparations, such as legume soups, potatoes cooked in the oven or in a pan and dough for focaccia.
For practical reasons it is more appropriate to use dried and chopped rosemary, the quantities of which will vary according to preferences, reserving the starting twigs for decorative purposes only.
Beyond the more classic uses, rosemary is also suitable for the preparation of flavored seasoning oils, preferably starting from a good quality extra virgin olive oil. To obtain a decidedly aromatic compound, it is necessary to leave the rosemary sprigs to infuse for at least two weeks, shaking everything slightly at alternate periods. The intensity of the final aroma will depend on the amount of rosemary used at the start. For optimal conservation, it is good practice to keep the final preparation in dark glass containers, preferably in a cool and dry place.
The most sought-after applications of rosemary are aimed at the preparation of first courses, providing for the creation of pesto and velvety with which to season pasta or rice. In this regard, it could be very simple and fun to create innovative recipes, combining rosemary with other spices or herbs, such as sage, thyme and basil, as well as dried fruit, such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios.
Finally, rosemary also lends itself excellently to the preparation of savory aperitif biscuits, easily made at home from a few ingredients. If the aroma of this spice is appreciated at three hundred and sixty degrees, it is very simple to obtain sweet variants of rosemary biscuits, resorting to the addition of sugar and lemon zest. If you want more ideas for using rosemary in the kitchen, you can try our recipe for baked pumpkin with thyme and rosemary or the light version of baked chestnuts.
Rosemary herbal tea: the benefits and the recipe
The release of different bioactive components in boiling water allows you to benefit from multiple healing properties attributed to aromatic herbs. In this regard, it can be very useful and pleasant, especially in the winter months, to consume an infusion of rosemary, as well as a decoction of rosemary, or herbal teas that have this aromatic herb as the main constituent.
In particular, it is possible to use rosemary herbal tea for the treatment of migraines and rheumatism, taking advantage of its anti-inflammatory effect; in the same way, it is possible to exploit its antioxidant and antimicrobial effect, as well as the tonic effect in periods of particular stress and anxiety. In the long run, it is possible to benefit from the positive effects exerted by rosemary on blood glucose and lipid levels.
The preparation of the herbal tea with rosemary leaves usually follows a very simple and quick recipe. Specifically, it is sufficient to bring the water to a boil and leave the rosemary to infuse for 5-10 minutes. Quantities may vary according to need: a single-dose herbal tea usually requires the use of two sprigs of rosemary for 150-200 mL of water.
In addition to the classic version obtained with water and rosemary, it is possible to obtain variants of the herbal tea by adding other botanical constituents. A possible variant of the herbal tea involves the addition of a handful of fennel seeds, which will remain in infusion together with the rosemary. Fennel seeds will give the herbal tea a carminative effect.
A further variant involves adding fresh ginger to the herbal tea, which must be peeled and chopped, and then boiled. The addition of ginger will enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of the herbal tea. In addition, the addition of chamomile and lemon balm can instead enhance the calming effectiveness of rosemary tea.
Contraindications of rosemary
As for the possible contraindications of rosemary, it can be said that, in general, the rather small quantities consumed in the culinary field are not associated with particular adverse effects.
Regarding the uses of rosemary in phytotherapy, it is necessary to introduce considerations, entering into the merits of some individual cases. In particular, it is necessary to pay particular attention in case of pregnancy in progress or when a pregnancy is being sought, due to potential hormonal alterations induced by rosemary and the embryotoxic effects attributed to it.
Similarly, rosemary seems to decrease iron absorption: for this reason, its phytotherapeutic use is contraindicated in individuals at risk of iron deficiency. In addition, rosemary is contraindicated when taken at the same time as certain pharmacological treatments, such as the administration of hypoglycemic, hypotensive and anticoagulant agents. It is also necessary to exclude rosemary in case of hypersensitivity to the plant or one of its phytochemical constituents, as well as to members of the Lamiaceae family, in general.
Finally, it is appropriate to add a consideration regarding the specific use of rosemary essential oils: without prejudice to the phytotherapeutic power attributed to them, it is always a good idea to submit their possible use to professional figures who are experts in aromatherapy, in order to avoid unpleasant adverse effects associated with excessive quantities, or with incorrect methods of use.