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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis [Latin]), also known as rosemarine, has a long tradition of culinary and medicinal use. Today, rosemary is still a popular herb for seasoning meats, and modern herbalists recommend it for treatment of depression, indigestion, headache, muscle aches, and bad breath.

Rosemary contains powerful antioxidants, which some studies have shown to be as effective as synthetic preservatives BHA and BHT. In the days before refrigeration, meat was sometimes wrapped in rosemary leaves for flavoring as well as to keep it from going rancid. The antioxidants in rosemary may also offer some level of cancer protection. In one laboratory study, animals that were exposed to toxic chemicals but consumed rosemary developed cancer less frequently than those that did not.

Rosemary has been shown to help kill bacteria that cause infection, which supports its traditional use as an antiseptic treatment for wounds. In France during World War II nurses burned rosemary leaves together with juniper berries to keep the hospital germ-free, which is why the French sometimes refer to it as incensier. The scent of rosemary is also thought to help relieve congestion caused by allergies and respiratory infections.

Like two other culinary herbs, sage and thyme, rosemary contains phytochemicals that help guard against the depletion of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is crucial to proper brain function. Rosemary also protects the brain from oxidation and increases blood flow, two actions that may help prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer's. Better yet, the phytochemicals and antioxidants in rosemary can be absorbed topically through the skin as well-massaging with rosemary oil is beneficial to both physical and mental well-being.

Rosemary has a long history of use as a treatment for gastrointestinal disorders. It helps relax muscle spasms in the digestive tract, and is approved by Commission E for treatment of indigestion. However, studies performed in Italy have shown that rosemary can actually cause cramping in the uterus, and may help stimulate menstruation-pregnant women should avoid anything but culinary use of this herb. Massaging with rosemary oil has also been shown to ease muscle spasms and improve circulation-rosemary may be as effective as horse chestnut for treating circulatory disorders such as venous insufficiency. In fact, rosemary's prowess as a muscle and circulatory rejuvenator is literally legend-an 11th century hermit was said to have cured the Queen of Hungary from paralysis by rubbing her limbs with a strong rosemary wine.

Rosemary is available in commercial teas, extracts, and essential oils. You can also use dried rosemary needles to make a homebrewed rosemary tea; just add 1 teaspoon of dried leaves to a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Use this infusion as a gargle for bad breath, or drink up to 3 cups a day to help improve digestion or clear congestion. Do not consume rosemary oil; it can cause stomach irritation and even poisoning. Rosemary may stimulate uterine contractions and menstruation, so pregnant women should not consume highly concentrated forms of this herb.

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