Most people are familiar with rosemary as it is a spice that has found its home in many of our kitchens and recipes. What some people don’t know is that rosemary in its essential oil form can pack a punch when it comes to supporting overall health. With the ability to prevent hair loss, stimulate hair growth and improve cognitive function, this essential oil is powerful when used in aromatherapy and applied topically.
What Is Rosemary Essential Oil?
Rosemary essential oil is extracted from the rosemary plant, scientifically known as Rosmarinus officinalis. The two types of rosemary oils are extracted through a steam distillation process using the leaves and flowers of the buds. Rosemary oil is clear in color and offers a thin consistency that blends well with other oils when making skin tinctures and perfumes.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia where it was used among ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews and Romans. They believed rosemary was a sacred plant and used it frequently during religious ceremonies. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was used as a hair piece for the bride and adorned the outfits of guests and grooms during wedding ceremonies.
Rosemary became increasingly popular in the 16th century after the famous Swiss-German doctor, Paracelsus, began conducting experiments demonstrating its powerful effects in medicinal use. He believed regular use of rosemary oil had the potential to support overall health while finding particularly beneficial uses when it came to liver, heart and brain health.
Rosemary is widely used in modern times in perfume, hair care products, cleaning agents and as incense in aromatherapy. In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are used to signify remembrance and are often worn during Anzac Day when the country celebrates and remembers citizens who have fought in wars.
Deriving its name from the Latin term meaning “dew of the sea,” rosemary exudes an herbaceous or camphorous smell, which is sharp, cooling and pungent. This camphorous smell is chemically similar to pinene, which is what gives pine trees their sappy, velvety aroma. The scent of rosemary is often compared to that of clary sage in terms of astringent notes and perfumed fragrance. The scent of rosemary can be described as moderate to strong with middle perfumery notes and a fresh, slightly medicinal, sweet smell.
Rosemary essential oils can be classified into two varieties: rosemary verbenone oil and rosemary cineole oil. The verbenone variety typically contains less camphor resulting in a more herbaceous scent that is less overpowering than its counterpart.
The cineole variety is preferred in some cultures when used for respiratory infections. Overall, both varieties are comparable in terms of the health benefits they provide. Whichever type you prefer, support overall health with this essential oil that is refreshing, invigorating and stimulating.
Health Benefits of Rosemary Essential Oil
1. Accelerates Hair Growth
Head over to the hair care aisle in your local grocery or health food store and you’ll have no trouble finding products containing rosemary oil or extract. That’s because studies have shown rosemary has powerful properties that can lead to accelerated and fuller hair growth.
Rosemary is frequently used in combination with olive oil, coconut oil or castor oil to make hot oil hair treatments that condition and strengthen strands. Alternatively, you can create a hair conditioner by blending with any carrier oil including almond oil. It is also combined with tea tree oil to treat itchy scalp that can lead to dandruff.
Rosemary contains a chemical compound known as rosmarinic acid, which has antioxidant properties. This acid is readily absorbed by the scalp, lending to the wide array of health benefits of this essential oil. A study published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology found that regular use of rosemary essential oil can stimulate hair follicles thus producing increased growth.
Other studies have shown that regular and prolonged use of rosemary oil can help treat hair loss diseases including androgenetic alopecia, more commonly known as male-pattern baldness. A 2015 study compared the effects of rosemary oil and minodoxil, the most commonly prescribed hair growth medication known by the moniker Rogaine.
Both rosemary oil and minodoxil showed no effect after three months; however, both showed significant increase in hair growth after six months. Scalp itching also increased significantly for users of minodoxil after six months, demonstrating the potential use of rosemary oil as an effective, yet less irritating alternative.
2. Tones and Cleanses Skin
While widely used in hair care products, rosemary is less common in skin care and cosmetic products although it does offer significant health benefits. Rosemary essential oil contains antimicrobial and antiseptic properties that help to cleanse skin and remove bacteria that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Topical application can also help to alleviate the dryness and itchiness associated with dermatitis and eczema. To reap these benefits, simply add 1 or 2 drops of rosemary essential oil to your cleanser or face wash.
3. Boosts Brain Power
Rosemary oil has long been used to increase mental clarity and alertness. Recent research has focused on the potential of rosemary oil as a study or exam-taking support agent. Researchers at Northumbria University found that students who received aromatherapy with rosemary essential oil during memory-based test taking demonstrated 5 to 7 percent better results.
There is evidence that rosemary essential oil could potentially help in treating neurological diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One study published by the Japanese Psychogeriatric Society examined the effect of rosemary on 28 elderly individuals; of those, 17 had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The study began with a 28-day control period, followed by 28 days of aromatherapy — using rosemary essential oil, lavender oil, lemon oil orange oil — and concluded with a 28-day wash out period.
The results showed a significant improvement on participants’ scores when it came to personal orientation and situational awareness. The patients with Alzheimer’s disease also demonstrated improvement in overall cognitive function. Researchers believe these results are due to the free radical scavenging activity of rosemary and other essential oils.
4. Supports Oral Health
Research shows that rosemary oil has the potential to combat bad oral odors and improve oral health thanks to antibacterial properties. One study published in the Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology found that varying concentrations of rosemary oil had the ability to inhibit the development of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria largely responsible for tooth decay. The researchers believe that rosemary essential oil contains antibacterial properties that help to prevent the growth of bacteria, which can damage teeth and gums and lead to gingivitis, cavities and plaque build-up.
Rosemary oil can also be used to eliminate bad odor, both orally and in the larger room around you. Used as an oil pull, rosemary oil can prevent bacteria that lead to stinky breath. As an aromatherapy, rosemary oil works to eliminate bad odors by infusing its own sweet, aromatic scent into the room. Thanks to its camphor content, this pungent smell can quickly overpower any bad odors.
5. Aids in Relaxation
Inhaling the fragrance of rosemary essential oil can help individuals relax and feel less stressed out. Not only is the process of aromatherapy relaxing in itself, rosemary essential oil contains chemicals that trigger neurological reactions that reduce stress and increase calm.
A study published in Psychiatry Research found that inhaling a blend of rosemary oil and lavender oil could reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is the human stress hormone, which is triggered ay time we start to feel nervous tension, anxiety and fatigue. Participants breathed in the aroma of rosemary for five minutes and showed decreased levels of cortisol in saliva immediately afterwards.
The same study found that rosemary encouraged free radical scavenging activity (FRSA), which helps to counteract oxidative stress in cells that can lead to cancer and a host of other diseases. The aromatherapy with rosemary oil showed an increased stimulation of FRSA immediately after use.
6. Promotes a Strong Immune System
As mentioned, rosemary essential oil contains an array of phenols and antioxidants that work to support overall health. These compounds fight free radicals that are caused by pollution, UV rays and other harmful factors in diet and environment that can lead to cell oxidation. When cells oxidize, they become susceptible to attacks from a variety of chemicals, viruses and bacteria leading to serious illness including cancer and heart disease.
With a powerful store of antioxidants, your body will be able to fight off the common cold and flu. Stress is another contributing factor to overall immune system health and with regular use of rosemary oil, you can unwind and keep your health on track.
7. Reduces Aches and Pains
Rosemary oil can be used both topically and as an aromatherapy to help alleviate pain. Aromatherapy enables to body to relax and release stress, which can minimize muscle contractions that can cause achy muscles where people carry their stress. Rosemary oil has also been used for centuries to treat pain associated with headaches and stomach cramps.
Topical application of rosemary oil has also shown potential to treat pain when combined with common medications such as codeine and paracetamol. One 2015 study found that latency times increased when mice were given a combination of rosemary oil and codeine and then subjected to heat-induced pain. The study results demonstrated the potential use of rosemary oil in the management of pain when used in conjunction with pain-relieving drugs.
A 2017 Iranian study found that both menthol and rosemary oil could be used to treat musculoskeletal pain in hemodialysis patients. The study examined 105 participants who were given menthol, rosemary or a placebo and instructed to apply topically to pain sites. Both the groups who received rosemary and menthol showed significant improvement in pain severity when compared with the placebo group. Recent research has shown the ability of rosemary oil to alleviate muscle pain, which may have the potential for use in sports medicine and massage.
8. Treats Respiratory Conditions
Rosemary essential oil has long been used to treat respiratory problems and research indicates the regular use of this oil in aromatherapy can be beneficial to sufferers of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
One study published in the European Respiratory Journal examined 40 asthmatic individuals who were randomly divided into four groups, two of which were control groups and one each which received either platanus or rosemary extract. Participants were given an asthma control test prior to the study and at the conclusion of the study. Results showed a significant improvement in cough, chest pain, sputum production and wheezing in the group that received rosemary extract.
Side Effects of Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary essential oil has been connected to a few side effects, most of which can be avoided by using as directed. This oil should not be consumed orally and you should always purchase high quality oils to avoid contamination and unwanted chemicals.
Due to the presence of camphor, rosemary oil has the potential to be toxic to your nervous system. The toxicity factor largely depends on the amount of camphor present in the essential oil and the danger of this side effect increases with excessive use. Recommended maximums for topical application are 16.5 percent for rosemary camphor and 6.5 percent for the verbenone type.
While there is little evidence connecting recommended levels of topical use to neurological problems, there are a few safeguards if you are concerned. Choose high quality oils that list the type of plant used in extraction as well as the concentration of the ingredients. Make sure to always use you essential oils in accordance with recommended doses and never use them in ways that are not prescribed.
As with many essential oils, rosemary essential oil should never be consumed orally. Large quantities of ingested rosemary oil can lead to serious problems including uterine bleeding, vomiting, kidney irritation and allergic reactions. If you want to ingest rosemary, stick to the classic sprigs and spices and avoid the essential oil. Only use rosemary oil topically or as part of an aromatherapy program to avoid these side effects.
Rosemary essential oil has a chemical known as salicylate that is similar in chemical structure to aspirin. If you have an allergy to aspirin, use rosemary oil with extreme caution as it has the potential to trigger a similar reaction for individuals with aspirin sensitivity.
Rosemary Promotes Overall Health
Rosemary essential oil has been used as an herbal medicine for centuries dating back to the ancient rule of Greeks and Romans. With rosemary oil uses ranging from promoting hair growth to preventing Alzheimer’s disease, this essential oil is a staple when it comes to protecting overall health. Breathe in the pungent aroma in an aromatherapy session to alleviate stress and treat respiratory diseases or apply topically to reap the benefits of healthy hair and skin.