Long a staple of both the garden and the kitchen cupboard, Rosemary is as popular for its attractive shape as its distinctive flavour. So far, so familiar, but there is a lot more to this woody, perennial shrub than meets the eye. In the second part of this exclusive series for The Greatest Minds, former research scientist M.N Jones investigates the biology and the health benefits of this unassuming garden favourite.
Many gardeners grow Rosemary because of its shapely, evergreen foliage and because it is useful in the kitchen: the fact that it is easy to grow is an added bonus. However, for some time now, scientists have been taking a closer look at the plant’s rumoured health benefits. It is fairly common for plants with some medicinal properties to have been tried and to be recommended for dozens of unrelated conditions and rosemary is no exception. Historically, Rosmarinus officinalis has been used to treat ailments ranging from colic and lung problems to eczema and joint pains: it was also traditionally used to repel evil and witches. Modern science may not have a solution for the (admittedly tiresome) problem of evil witches visiting, but it does offer some insights into rosemary’s supposed health benefits.
To date, there have been over seventy scientific studies on rosemary’s effects on the human body. Many of these were reviewed in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology back in 1999, in a study that considered several potential medical applications for rosemary extracts. These applications ranged from the treatment of stomach ulcers and inflammatory conditions, to helping with ailments from hardened arteries and heart disease to cancer and even certain kinds of male infertility.
Of course, one of the complexities of plant chemistry is that the concentrations of medically beneficial compounds in plants are greatly variable; they are also invariably mixed with a vast array of other natural chemicals - some beneficial, others frequently potentially harmful. In the case of rosemary, one of the most promising substances amongst this jumble of chemicals is a substance called caffeic acid; another is rosmarinic acid, which is made naturally from caffeic acid within the plant. Both of these acids are antioxidants and thought to offer some protection against cancer and ageing-related illnesses.
Another of Rosemary’s proven benefits is in treating infections caused by the common yeast Candida albicans. This yeast is generally fairly harmless to most people, most of the time, but it can cause real problems for cancer- and AIDS-patients. Growing numbers of Candida albicans infections are resistant to the standard drug treatments, so the fact that rosemary oil is a potent toxin to Candida albicans is an exciting find and scientists are hopeful that a medicine can and will be developed from rosemary extract for these patients.
Analysing the health effects of plant oils can be a long and difficult job, often far more so than growing the plants themselves; in the case of Rosemary, at least, these efforts may well pay dividends.
“The Greatest Minds’” Top Tips:
•Rosemary is a fairly hardy herb, but still prefers warmer and more sheltered conditions, whether kept in a pot or planted in the ground,
•Rosemary likes well drained and lime soil and is better grown from cuttings, rather than seeds.
•Trim bushes in the summer, after the first set of flowers have died.
More on Rosemary:
1) “Alan Titchmarsh- How to Garden- Vegetables and Herbs”, Pub: BBC Books, London, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84-6073960, page 129,
2) “The Herb Garden Specialist: the essential guide to growing herbs and designing, planting, improving and caring for herb gardens”, David Squire, Pub: New Holland, London, 2006, ISBN 978-1845371074, page 56,
3) “The Tree and Shrub Expert”, D. G. Hessayon, Pub: Expert Books, London, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-9035051-7-8, page 49 (one paragraph only).
Less Potted, More Science:
“Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and its therapeutic potentials”, M. R. Al-Sereitia, K.M. Abu-Amerb and P. Sena, Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 37, Feb 1999, pages 124-131
(Full text available free online at -http://www.bioline.org.br/request?ie99026 )
Information in this column is provided for interest only.
Plant-based remedies can be harmful as well as/instead of beneficial- contact a qualified medical doctor or pharmacist for professional advice before taking any such remedies. Consumption of high levels of rosemary oil have been linked to significant health problems, including seizures and serious lung ailments.
The author, editor and publisher take no responsibility for any problems caused by consumption of the plants discussed.
Published on The GreatestMinds.Org, © Linden-Lime Publishing, Truro, 2017.
The moral right of M. N. Jones to be acknowledged as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. International copyright laws are applicable.
Suggested citation: ““Potted Science-Number2- Rosemary”, by M. N. Jones, Pub: The Greatest Minds.Org,
1st June 2017, (© Linden-Lime Publishing, July 2017). … or similar