This Blog was written by Dr. Joie Power, PhD. for educational purposes regarding the cultivation and history of Rosemary Essential Oil and how to safely use this wonderful plant!
ROSEMARY ESSENTIAL OIL In-Depth – Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), also known as compass plant, is a bushy evergreen shrub with small blue flowers and rather stiff branches covered with highly aromatic, needle-like foliage. Native to the Mediterranean region, this versatile plant is familiar to cooks, gardeners and herbalists around the world. The genus Rosmarinus contains two to five species, depending on which botanists you ask. Fortunately, we don’t need to get into the debate about species since Rosmarinus officinalis is the only one typically used for essential oil production and cited in aromatherapy references.*
There are two varieties of Rosmarinus officinalis, one being an erect plant and the other a lovely prostrate type. Many herbalists I know use the two varieties interchangeably for making traditional herbal preparations. Within each type of rosemary, whether erect or prostrate, there are several cultivars, and these vary in terms of their cold hardiness. In general, however, rosemary is a somewhat tender plant that won’t survive once temperatures dip into the teens. Consider growing it in pots if you live in a cold area.
Rosemary Essential Oil Cultivation
Most of the Rosemary Essential Oil available in commercial markets comes from growers in France, Spain, Dalmatia, Tunisia and Corsica and the oils produced in each region have some notable differences, as you’ll see. It will help you in buying Rosemary Essential Oil to bear in mind that there are several “chemotypes” of Rosmarinus officinalis. This gets a little technical but it’s really useful so bear with me. When a plant has different chemotypes, it means that members of this genus and species can differ so significantly in their chemical composition, often depending on where they were grown, that they will have somewhat different properties. For example, the Rosemary Essential Oil that comes from Morocco and Tunisia is usually a cineole chemotype (Rosmarinus officinalis CT cineole). Companies that sell essential oils often don’t specific the chemotype of their product, when applicable, but the cineol chemotype (also known as the “1,8 cineole chemotype) is what’s most frequently being offered and when you buy “Rosemary Essential Oil” that’s what you’re usually going to get, especially if that oil comes from Morocco or Tunisia. Rosemary Essential Oil that comes from Spain or France is often of the Camphor chemotype, so-called because it has more of the constituent called camphor. Spain also produces a lot of alpha-pinene chemotype. I don’t prefer the camphor chemotype for general use because camphor is a constituent that is potentially neurotoxic.
The final type of Rosemary Essential Oil that I want to mention is the Verbenone chemotype; our selection comes from Corsica. This chemotype often contains less 1,8 cineole and sometimes less camphor than other chemotypes, leading some aromatherapists to describe it as gentler in in its actions than other types of Rosemary Essential Oil. According to Peter Holmes (A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics, 2016, pg. 314-315), Rosemary Verbenone essential oil is the least stimulating and warming of the major types of Rosemary essential oil. Rosemary Verbenone is more often used by professional aromatherapists than by non-professional users and this may simply be because professional users are more familiar with the concept of chemotypes. There are other chemotypes of Rosemary Essential Oil that I haven’t mentioned but these are the ones that I have seen most frequently in commercial markets.
Rosemary History of Use & Folklore
The name “rosemary” comes from the Latin “Rosmarinus” which means “rose of the sea”. It’s one of the first plants that we know to have been used for medicine and it’s one of the herbs that was highly regarded as a preventative and remedy for the plague – so much so that the price of it during that time went through the roof, with an armful costing about half to three quarters of an average day’s wage during the plague years of the Medieval Era. Rosemary was believed in past ages to attract good spirits and elves and to drive away bad spirits and demons. There’s a long-standing association between rosemary and memory, reflected in the old saying “Rosemary is for remembrance”. The Egyptians placed rosemary sprigs in the tombs of pharos to help them recall their former life when they arrived in the underworld after death. Rosemary was sacred to the Greeks and Romans who considered it to be symbolic of loyalty, remembrance, and learning. In modern times, inhaled Rosemary Essential Oil has reportedly been shown to improve students’ recall of studied material during tests. If you want to give this a try, remember that you still have to study though! Rosemary was also one of the main ingredients in Queen of Hungary Water, which was credited with transforming the extremely ill, gout-ridden Queen of Hungary into a healthy, vibrant woman. Originally, this “water” was said to be a folk tonic but eventually it became a perfume and its enduring popularity is reflected in the fact that numerous companies today manufacture versions of it.
Rosemary Essential Oil Extraction
Rosemary is generally hand-harvested for essential oil production while it’s in flower in mid-summer. The essential oil can then be distilled from either fresh or dried leaves and flowers. One hundred pounds of flowering tops yields about eight ounces of essential oil and this is the best oil. Cheaper, and less desirable, selections of Rosemary Essential Oil are produced from distillation of plant material that includes lower leaves and stems.
Physical and Aromatic Properties: Rosemary Essential Oil is a colorless to pale yellow, fairly thin liquid with a warm, herbaceous scent graced with woody and balsamic undertones. Selections high in camphor will have a distinctive, penetrating camphorous scent.
What Aromatherapists Have Said About Rosemary Essential Oil:
Aromatherapists have made a number of claims for the healing properties of Rosemary Essential Oil and it has been described in aromatherapy literature as:
• easing pain
• stimulating the central nervous system
• enhancing physical performance
• decreasing muscle spasm
• stimulating circulation
• decreasing inflammation
• improving memory and enhance learning.
According to the reports of some aromatherapists, Rosemary Essential Oil has been observed to increase blood pressure when used in higher amounts (3 drops or more) and to lower blood pressure when used in low amounts. Personally, I have not seen it decrease blood pressure but I have seen rises in blood pressure following application or inhalation of Rosemary Essential Oil and I believe that it is best avoided by persons for whom hypertension is an issue.
Based on its claimed actions, as noted above, aromatherapists have used Rosemary Essential Oil in cases of:
• routine muscular aches and pains
• painful joints
• respiratory complaints
It has also been widely used as a study aid and has been recommended by some aromatherapists as being helpful for people with early stages of cognitive loss.
Subtle Effects: Subtle effects refer to the claimed effects that essential oils exert on the human energy fields, subtle bodies, and spirit. Not everyone accepts the idea that there is such a thing as “subtle effects” but those who do consider this aspect of aromatherapy very important. My main source for information on the reported subtle effects of essential oils is classical Chinese Medicine and I especially look at the work of those modern practitioners who have combined classical Chinese Medicine and aromatherapy, such as Gabriel Mojay and others. Gabriel Mojay describes Rosemary Essential Oil as “one of the most valuable and invigorating of essences” and describes it as an excellent tonic for the body’s yang energy and therefore good for mental and physical debility/malaise.
From the Chinese Medicine perspective, symptoms like agitation, restlessness, insomnia, heart palpitations, tachycardia, hypertension and sweats are signs of too much yang energy and so you would not want to use Rosemary Essential Oil with persons experiencing those symptoms. Although some aromatherapists believe that Rosemary Essential Oil is helpful for memory loss in elders it may not be a good choice for those whose memory decline is accompanied by agitation and restlessness. The same may be said of using Rosemary Essential Oil with over-active and distractible adults and children. I’m aware that a lot of people have tried to use Rosemary Essential Oil to help those who have learning problems due to distractibility. However, I’m also aware of cases in which this approach seems to have made things worse and I suspect that this is because Rosemary Essential oil may aggravate hyperactivity, which is a feature that often co-occurs with distractibility.
As a Fire element plant, rosemary herb and essential oil have been said to act on the spirit of the heart which is referred to as the Shen in Chinese Medicine. The Shen is said to provide the yang energy that enlivens the psyche and brings warmth to our personality, clarity to our mental processes and joy to our life. The Shen is very sensitive and trauma of a physical or psychic nature can cause it to flee from its place in the heart, taking these qualities with it. When you see someone, who lacks luminosity and seems to have a lack of warmth and is distracted or fuzzy in their thinking, exhausted, mildly restless but not agitated – then you might think of adding small amounts of a very good Rosemary Essential Oil to the blend you make for them. Looking at Rosemary Essential Oil from the perspective of its subtle effects highlights the importance of using it in the proper amount and in the right situations. If you use it on someone who is already nervous, hyper, and has other heat signs (sweating, palpitations, etc.), then this perspective suggests that they will not be helped by it and may even react badly to it. In anyone, even good Rosemary Essential Oil can reportedly be too stimulating if used in excess and when I’m using Rosemary Essential Oil I’ve gotten the best results with small amounts.
*Note: All information on this page is provided for educational interest only. Nothing here is intended to make claims for any product sold by Nature's Soul. Your experiences with an essential oil may differ from anyone else’s experiences. No information provided here is intended to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any physical or mental illness. Please pay attention to the safety information provided below in order to ensure that your experiences with essential oils are good ones. Using essential oils with children is a specialized procedure that requires knowledge of specific safety guidelines and for that reason these reports pertain to use of essential oils with adults only.
SAFETY DATA: Rosemary Essential Oil has been described as non-irritating and non-sensitizing when used in proper dilutions. It is generally not recommended for pregnant women, asthmatics, epileptics or in cases of hypertension (high blood pressure). Don’t use it in the vicinity of babies and children under 5. Some aromatherapists have said that you should not use it when taking homeopathic remedies, as it may negate the effects of those remedies. Use in small amounts since it can be stimulating. Buy the best quality you possibly can.
by Dr. Joie Power, PhD.