Discover the therapeutic properties of this Southwest favorite.
by Kiva Rose
Rosemary is one of our partner Loba's very favorite plants at our Anima Sanctuary wilderness retreat and herbal school in Catron County; I think she could live, breathe and swim in it and be very happy. We have rosemary butter, rosemary-infused olive oil, rosemary salve, rosemary tea, rosemary tincture, rosemary lotion, rosemary smudge, rosemary-rubbed meat and all manner of other rosemary-flavored dishes and body products.
Thankfully, rosemary is a common ornamental and culinary garden plant in New Mexico and can be gathered in most villages and cities. This is good, because it's cold enough in the canyon that our rosemaries tend to struggle and grow very slowly. We do have one little plant gifted to us by a woman from Taos that is thriving in the shelter of our kitchen door. It's growing round and tall, and each summer presents us with gorgeous purple flowers for months at a time. Every time I walk from the den to the kitchen, I stop to rub my fingers against a resinous, leathery leaf and breathe in the magic of this warm, spicy herb. Even on the coldest days of winter, its gentle presence fills me with an inner glow of contentment and joy.
Rosemary has been a favorite ally of mine for quite some time, both for its beautiful and giving nature and because it's just so damn useful. It's a common ingredient in my digestive formulas, especially for those with a sluggish, overtired liver and a cold gut typified by lack of appetite, gas, constipation and bloating. I especially like it combined with Oregon grape root for liver issues, and it is additionally helpful in a pattern that often includes excessive, dilute urination from kidney deficiency and low blood pressure as well as inability to digest protein and fat efficiently.
Other specific indications include foggy thinking, general feeling of coldness, tiredness and intermittent depression with or without thyroid involvement, usually with nervousness or anxiety underneath. There are also sometimes signs of heart weakness accompanying the poor circulation.
Rosemary tincture made from fresh plants in high proof alcohol is very powerful, so my proportions tend to be something like five parts Oregon grape to one part rosemary. If it still seems a bit too stimulating or heating for the individual but is otherwise a good match, I'll adjust it to two parts Oregon grape, three parts burdock root and one-half part rosemary. The taste is lovely and really harmonizes with the other herbs very nicely. Some amount of lavender can also be added if there are significant signs of anxiety or insomnia, especially when accompanied by headache or confusion.
Rosemary is a very efficient and effective circulatory stimulant, and thus useful in a great many heart and circulatory formulas. Fresh whole rose hips, rosemary, ginger and yarrow is the basic makeup of one of my favorite winter heart remedies for those who tend to get cold, quiet and lethargic in the winter. This is also great for headaches of a vascular nature, along with virgin's bower or pulsatilla.
As a nervine, rosemary has both relaxing and stimulating qualities, making it ideal for cold-bodied people with a tendency to both depression and nervousness. It promotes clarity of thinking, calm awareness and a sense of groundedness and can be very useful for flighty people constantly floating out or sinking down out of their bodies. Cold, sad people with digestive weakness who have a hard time being in the present and tend to drift into dreamy or spacey thinking will often benefit a great deal from the ongoing use of this herb.
The tea of dried leaves tends to be milder and more easily handled by a variety of constitutional types. It works very well in many tea blends, or as a pinch added to a nourishing infusion to warm things up a bit. A foment, oil or vinegar of the leaves is very nice for old muscle or joint injuries with a tendency to flare up in cold or damp weather. The oil or fresh leaf-infused lard makes an excellent salve for old wounds that don't want to heal, chronic pain of various sorts and cracked dry feet or hands. (Comfrey or plantain is a nice addition to this.) The salve and tea are also highly antimicrobial and helpful for any wound or infection that could use a boost in circulation and warmth.
Partially due to its intense volatile oil content, rosemary works very well infused in a warm foot bath. Great at the end of the day for sore, tired feet, it is quickly absorbed through the feet into the bloodstream, allowing the body to take advantage of its many healing qualities. Headaches, coldness, exhaustion and sadness (among other things) can all be addressed quite well through this simple method.
To make a foot bath, just throw a handful or two of dried leaves into a big pot (big enough for both your feet to comfortably fit in) half-filled with water (depending on depth) and heat to just below simmering; turn heat off and let steep for 10 minutes. You can then either let the water cool down to an enjoyable temperature or add some cold water before soaking your feet for as long as you like. You can also make a quart of strong infusion of the herb and pour the strained liquid into your regular bath.
You can also create temptingly aromatic blends to revive your feet at the end of the day, something like one part rosemary, one part lavender flowers and one part rose petals. This also makes a wonderful face or body wash; it's stimulating, calming and very cheering.
Preparations and dosages: Fresh plant tincture (1:2 95%) is strong and a great ingredient in many digestive, headache, and heart formulas, as well as in liniments. It's strong enough that it doesn't usually need to be used in large dosages. Taken by itself, I start with two drops at a time and move up from there. This makes a great infused vinegar, especially from the fresh plant, yummy for food or excellent as a medicine, especially for external issues. With its high volatile oil content, this is a prime herb for infusing into oil or lard for salves or food. Fresh plant is definitely superior for this purpose. Freshly dried rosemary makes a nice tea or as a pinch added to a nourishing infusion.
Cautions and contradictions: While almost everyone loves rosemary as a spice or condiment, some don't do so well with it as a medicine, often those of excess type constitution who are hot-natured, prone to high blood pressure and ruddy colored. Possible signs of incompatibility include roaring in the ears, feeling like your pulse is going to bust out of your head when you stand up (high blood pressure), rapid heartbeat, sharp headaches and excessive and uncomfortable flushing. If these symptoms occur, either greatly reduce the dosage or cease completely. If the symptoms are unclear, withdraw it and then retest if possible. Rosemary should not be used where there are indications of heat, whether from excess or deficiency.
Rosemary @ a Glance
Excerpted from The Plant Healer's Path: A Grassroots Guide For The HerbFolk Tribe, the first of two volumes by Jesse Wolf Hardin, cofounder of Plant Healer Magazine, with enchanting tales, medicinal plant profiles and favorite herbal recipes by Kiva Rose, and contributions by herbalist authors David Hoffman, Paul Bergner, Phyllis Light, Rebecca Altman and Roger Wicke (304 pages, over 100 photos and art illustrations). Limited-edition cloth-covered hardback, $39; ebook, $25. Order from the bookstore and gallery page at www.PlantHealer.org
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The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of Desert Exposure or its advertisers, and are not intended to offer specific or prescriptive medical advice. You should always consult your own health professional before adopting any treatment or beginning any new regimen.