Photo: Getty Images / Jamie Grill
Essential oils have become…well, essential in health and wellness circles for providing stress relief and other mind-body benefits. While lavender may help you snooze and eucalyptus can soothe sore muscles, rosemary essential oil is another great option to have on your radar.
That’s right: While rosemary tastes great on roasted chicken with lemon zest and olive oil, you can actually enjoy the herb as an essential oil and use it as part of your wellness routine for its cognitive and stress reduction benefits. Here’s what to know about rosemary oil, as well as how best to use it, straight from trusted practitioners.
What is it, exactly?
Rosmarinus Officinalis, aka rosemary, is an evergreen perennial shrub and a member of the mint family. “Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area and [Western] Asia but has been cultivated around the world as it is both heat and drought tolerant,” says Amy Rothenberg, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Health Care.
The herb has been used as a culinary condiment, a food preservative, an ornamental shrub, an ingredient in perfume and skin-care products, as well as an essential oil all over the world thanks to its medicinal and healing properties. “Rosemary has natural antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory qualities, and it was considered a magical, spiritual herb, protecting against disease long before we knew what ‘germs’ were,” says Stacie Stephenson, DC, a functional medicine doctor.
What are the main rosemary essential oil benefits to know?
1. It may improve your memory
“Inhaled rosemary essential oil is associated with improved cognition and rosemary oil helps to decrease the metabolism of acetylcholine, one brain chemical essential for concentration and focus,” says Rothenberg.
2. It stimulates hair growth
Rosemary essential oil supports hair growth for those with male pattern baldness or with thinning hair. “In a study over the course of six months, rosemary was found to be as effective as Rogaine for growing scalp hair when applied topically,” says Rothenberg.
3. It can help reduce pain
“As a painkiller, rosemary essential oil by itself and when used in conjunction with other analgesics has been shown to decrease pain,” says Rothenberg. It’s also potentially helpful for specific kinds of pain, such as reducing neurologic pain in people with diabetes, reducing menstrual cramps and bleeding, and decreased osteoarthritis-related pain.
4. It can repel insects
Rosemary oil has also been shown to be an effective natural insect repellant. “As many of the best insect repellents contain DEET [which is toxic if ingested], seeking less toxic alternatives is essential,” says Rothenberg.
5. It can lower stress levels
“Stress, which impacts almost every system of the body, is high during these times of pandemic isolation, economic uncertainty, and social unrest,” says Rothenberg. While you can work on eating well, exercising, and finding time for self-care practices, like meditation, essential oils like rosemary can also help relieve stress. “In research on the topic, inhaling rosemary oil led to antioxidant activity and a lowering of cortisol levels, associated with increased stress,” explains Rothenberg.
6. It may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Rosemary oil may help to prevent or improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is needed to understand the connection. “A 2016 study looked at the phenolic diterpenes in rosemary oil and discovered that they prevent the death of neurons and may guard against Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Stephenson.
7. It may help lessen menopause symptoms
“Rosemary’s hormone-balancing effects really do seem to benefit symptoms of low estrogen [levels], such as hot flashes and sleep problems,” says Dr. Stephenson. One study showed that rosemary may increase the liver’s ability to metabolize estrogen, although more research is needed.
Are there any risks or downsides to rosemary essential oil?
Rosemary essential oil is generally safe when used topically or inhaled as aromatherapy. It is not recommended to take orally, says Rothenberg. “In large quantities, if taken by mouth it can cause upset stomach, uterine bleeding, irritation to the urinary system, an increased sensitivity to sunlight, and other allergic reactions,” she says. So even if a company’s product says it’s safe to ingest, do not do it.
Like with any product, individual allergy or sensitivity can occur. So, if you find an adverse reaction quit use immediately. “Rosemary oil is contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding and should not be used in babies and small children—not until the age of 4,” says Rothenberg. It may also interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, blood pressure medications, and diabetes medication—so talk to your doctor before using to ensure it’s safe for your use.
How to use rosemary essential oil for the benefits
With any new treatment, start slowly, use as directed and discontinue if side effects arise. “Dosing depends on what kind of issue you are working to address, but as always, use the least amount of product possible that offers the desired effect,” says Rothenberg. Plus, it’s individualized.
If you are using rosemary essential oil as a topical or inhaling it, use only a few drops at a time and dilute it, as it’s very concentrated “The small bottles in which it’s sold contain plastic droppers that make it easier to dispense single droplets,” says Rothenberg.
If inhaling, open the bottle and breathe in. Alternately, you can place a few drops on a cloth or tissue and hold it near your face. “Many people use aromatherapy diffusers, which distribute the essential oil into the surrounding air,” says Rothenberg, so that can help.
If you’re using topically, dilute it with a neutral carrier oil like jojoba oil to avoid irritation or burns. “Rosemary and other essential oils are readily absorbed into your bloodstream when you apply them to your skin,” says Rothenberg. For adults, use three to six drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil as a handy formula, she suggests. Rub it into areas that need relief but avoid any damaged skin, which can cause irritation.
“You can also make rosemary tea from the fresh herb, for a less concentrated dose of the oil,” adds Dr. Stephenson. (Again, don’t use rosemary essential oil itself for this purpose.)
How to shop for rosemary essential oil
“It is important to look for brands that are transparent about their sourcing, what part of the plant they used, how they were extracted, and exactly what plants the formulas include,” says Dr. Stephenson.
“Reputable, quality companies price each formula according to the plant or plants they use in their formulas, and don’t include synthetic ingredients like added perfumes,” she continues. For instance, don’t use oils made to add aroma to potpourri. They should be made with therapeutic-grade essential oils only, and most reputable companies will also include the Latin names of the plants they use as well.
NOW Foods has a pure rosemary essential oil, as well as doTERRA. Yet you can also ask for recommendations from someone at your local health store or from your physician.