Each November, as I begin to embrace the colder weather and longer nights, I am beckoned by comfort foods containing rosemary and oregano. I’ve attributed this “magnetism to herbs” to my Italian heritage and to a seasonal shift in my taste buds from sweet to savory. Recently, I have added rosemary to my routine in an unusual way, by dropping its essential oil onto my head.
As it turns out, rosemary has many associations with the head. The ceremonial crown of rosemary worn by a bride to symbolize fidelity and love, and the remembrance tradition of laying rosemary on gravestones, exemplifies rosemary’s connection to brain health. Revered as a memory-enhancer and stimulant for alertness, scholars have utilized rosemary for centuries. Therefore, rosemary has been effective in improving symptoms of brain-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s, depression and headaches. Rosemary oil even stimulates hair growth and alleviates dandruff.
Rosemary, along with oregano, parsley, sage, thyme and various other herbs and spices, possesses potent antioxidant properties, protecting cells from oxidative damage. Science has connected rosemary’s potent antioxidant effects to an element in its leaves called carnosic acid, which prevents free radical damage in the brain’s neurons. Rosmarinic acid, another antioxidant plant compound found in rosemary, is antimicrobial; hence, we see rosemary used in beauty products to help prevent effects of aging and in supplements as a preservative.
Rosemary also improves circulation, as carnosic acid dilates blood vessels, and rosmarinic acid reduces inflammation. Further, these flavonoids appear to strengthen capillaries. With increased blood flow, less swelling and stronger blood vessels, rosemary may reduce pain associated with arthritic joints, and even improve cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension.
As with many other herbs in the mint family, rosemary is a tonic nervine, meaning that it is therapeutic for the nerves. It is not as calming as lavender or as stimulating as caffeine, but somewhere in between, relaxing muscles while enhancing blood flow. Therefore, rosemary may help alleviate fatigue. According to one revered English herbalist, infusing rosemary in honey may be especially beneficial to the nervous system.
Herbs tend to be alkaline in nature. They help balance the acid load in the body, thereby relieving the kidneys of excess acid production, reducing inflammation, regulating blood sugar and pressure, and supporting the immune system.
Rosemary benefits the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system. As a culinary herb, rosemary is a digestive aid that slows the break down of food, stimulates gastric juices, and helps alleviate gassiness and bloating. Massaged onto wounds as a tincture or diluted essential oil, rosemary helps keep infections from spreading. Rosemary is anti-viral and stimulates perspiration; therefore, drinking rosemary tea at the onset of a cold or the flu may help the immune system effectively remove the illness from the body.
Rosemary is antibacterial, which is why it’s frequently rubbed onto meat to avoid spoilage. Modern research indicates that rosemary is anti-carcinogenic. In fact, marinating meat with rosemary prevents the formation of heterocyclic amines, a carcinogenic effect upon cooking meat at high temperatures.
So why are we drawn to rosemary now, in November? We are moving into winter, the season of pooling, quietude and movement. Rosemary diffuses damp, frigid and stagnant energy, improves circulation to the extremities, mobilizes digestion, and alleviates brain fog. Rosemary, which is drying, warming and stimulating, appears to balance the effects of winter, the season of water. It stimulates the flow of fluids in the body connected with blood circulation, perspiration, tears, the bladder and the kidneys.
In ancient medicine, balancing the humors – or vital fluids – was considered essential for optimal health. Perhaps a healthy dose of rosemary will help to balance the humors of impending winter.
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