Types of rosemary plants

Rosmarinus officinalis (PROSEA)

Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

1, flowering branch; 2, flower

Rosmarinus officinalis L.

Protologue: Sp. pl.: 23 (1753). Family: Labiatae Chromosome number: 2n = 20, 24


  • Rosmarinus angustifolius Miller (1768),
  • R. latifolius Miller (1768),
  • Salvia rosmarinus Schleiden (1852).

Vernacular names

  • Rosemary, compass plant (En)
  • Rosmarin, romarin, incensier (Fr)
  • Philippines: dumero (Tagalog), romero (Tagalog, Bicol), rosmiro (Bontoc)

Origin and geographic distribution

Rosemary is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, from where it was introduced into all continents. It is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental in the mountainous areas of Java. In the Philippines it is currently grown on a small scale for the fresh-herb market.


The fresh or dried leaves are excellent flavouring agents in vegetables, meat (particularly lamb, veal and roasted chicken), sauces, stews, herbal butters, cream soups, fruit salads, jams, biscuits and bread.

Rosemary oil, distilled from the flowering tops and leaves, is used to season processed foods, but for the most part it is employed in perfumes, in scenting soaps, detergents, household sprays and other related technical products. It finds application in denaturing alcohol and is popular in aromatherapy. In the United States the regulatory status “generally recognized as safe” has been accorded to rosemary (GRAS 2991), rosemary oil (GRAS 2992) and rosemary oleoresin (GRAS 3001). The maximum permitted level of rosemary oil in food products is about 0.003%. Rosemary oleoresin is used in the food industry as a natural antioxidant, for instance in cooked meat products.

In traditional medicine rosemary is thought to fortify the brain and refresh the memory. Flowering tops and leaves are considered carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, aperient, emmenagogue, stimulant, stomachic and astringent. Rosemary also serves as a household remedy for headaches, bruises, colds, nervous tension, asthma, baldness and sore throat. In the Philippines, an infusion of the leaves is used as an eyewash for slight catarrhal conjunctivitis, as vapour baths for rheumatism, paralysis and incipient catarrhs, and to bathe women in puerperal state. Rosemary leaves are therapeutically allowed internally for dyspeptic complaints, and externally for rheumatic diseases and circulatory problems.

Rosemary is very popular as an ornamental plant used as a ground cover, hedge or shrub and is even transformed by hobbyists into bonsai or planted in hanging baskets. The leaves and flowers can be carefully dried and sold in elegant sachets and potpourris. For the last 1000 years in Europe, rosemary has been a symbol of happiness, fidelity and love, and a wedding and funeral flower.

Production and international trade

Data on world trade of dried rosemary are fragmentary and available only for selected markets. In the 1970s annual consumption of rosemary in the major markets of Europe, the United States and Japan was estimated at 490-710 t. In 1989-1990 import of rosemary in selected countries of Western Europe (France, Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands) totalled 970-1020 t. The bulk of this import came from Spain and the rest from Albania, Tunisia and Morocco.

Rosemary oil, which is used in large amounts in the food-processing industry, is produced mainly in Spain, Tunisia and Morocco. Annual world production of the oil is about 375-425 t and is consumed mostly in the United States and the European Union. The value of world production of rosemary oil is estimated at US$ 5 million. From 1992-1995 the biggest user of rosemary oil, the United States, imported annually about 60 t, valued at US$ 0.9 million.


The dried leaves contain 1-2% volatile oil. Verbenone is the character-impact compound in rosemary; the pungent, camphoraceous odour and burning taste is attributed to borneol; the cooling and minty note to camphor; the fresh aroma to cineole; and the warm, piny scent to α-pinene. The phenols thymol, carvacrol and eugenol also play an important role in the flavouring properties of the oil. A monograph on the physiological properties of rosemary oil has been published by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).

Rosemary possesses strong antioxidant properties. Carnosic acid, the major phenolic diterpene present in the leaves, has been found to be several times more effective than the commercial food preservatives butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) in controlling oxidation in soya-bean oil. Rosemary also possesses some antibacterial and antifungal properties. Extracts of the plant have been found to inhibit skin tumorigenesis in test animals. The volatile oil of rosemary has been reported to induce hyperglycemia and to inhibit insulin release in test rabbits.

Three types of rosemary oil are sometimes recognized: a camphor type (produced mainly in Spain), a 1,8-cineole type (produced mainly in Morocco) and a verbenone + bornyl acetate type that is a cottage-industry product from Corsica. In herbal medicine rosemary oil is used to treat acute middle ear infections and to stimulate liver and gall bladder. It is said to be very beneficial for dry skin in skin-care products. Verbenone is also an insect pheromone. Synthetic verbenone is used in programmes to control several bark beetle species in pine trees.

Rosemary is an excellent source of nectar for honeybees.


Rosemary oil (from Spain) (Source: Arnold et al., 1997.)

Rosemary oil (from Turkey) (Source: Perez-Alonso et al., 1995.)

Rosemary oil (from Spain) (Source: Analytical Methods Committee, 1993.)

Adulterations and substitutes


An evergreen, usually erect, bushy shrub up to 2 m tall and wide. Stem indistinctly quadrangular, finely grey pubescent.

  • Leaves opposite, tufted on the branches, sessile to short petiolate; blade linear, 1-5 cm × 1-2 mm, base attenuate, margin entire but revolute, apex obtuse, leathery, dark glossy sea-green and subglabrous above, white-felted tomentose beneath, aromatically fragrant when crushed.
  • Inflorescence racemose, axillary, 5-10-flowered, 0.5-2.5 cm long, terminating short lateral branches.
  • Pedicel 2-5 mm long; calyx campanulate, 2-lipped, 5-6 mm long, densely stellate tomentose, upper lip small and 3-dentate, lower lip 2-lobed; corolla tubular, 2-lipped, 10-13 mm long, pale blue or blue (seldom white), upper lip erect or recurved, 2-lobed, ovate, about 4 mm long, lower lip 3-lobed, about 7 mm long, with large concave middle lobe; 2 anterior stamens perfect, 7-8 mm long, ascending under the base of the upper lip, 2 posterior stamens reduced to hardly visible staminodes; pistil with deeply 4-partite ovary, style incurved, 1.5 cm long ending into 2 short, unequal branches with stigma.
  • Fruit composed of 4 subglobose to obovoid nutlets, about 2 mm long, glabrous and smooth.

Growth and development

Seeds of rosemary are slow to germinate taking about 3-4 weeks before emerging from the soil. To enhance germination the temperature should remain below 18°C. Seedlings are likewise slow to develop, becoming a dense shrub with a diameter of 60 cm and a height of 90 cm only by the end of the second growing season. Flowering is initiated when plants are 2 or more years old. Under favourable growing conditions and optimal cultural management, rosemary can remain productive for up to 30 years.

Other botanical information

Rosemary is very variable in habit (erect to creeping), size and colour of leaves and flowers and composition of the essential oil. This variability has led to recognition of 4 species by some; others distinguish 1 species with many varieties and forms. Most appropriate for cultivated plants is to distinguish cultivar groups and cultivars.

Some of the notable cultivars of rosemary are “Albus” (with white flowers), “Collingwood Ingram” (0.6-0.9 m tall, spreads to about 1.2 m or more, and can be used as a tall ground cover), “Tuscan Blue” (with dark blue-violet flowers), “Lockwood de Forest” and “Prostratus” (both are low-growing and make excellent ground covers, “Prostratus” is rich in verbenone).


The ecological amplitude of rosemary is from the temperate humid zone (mean annual temperature of 6-12°C; mean annual rainfall of 1000-2000 mm) to the subtropical semi-arid to humid zones (18-24°C; 500-2000 mm). Its pH tolerance ranges from 4.5-8.3, but preferably 6-7.5. In the Mediterranean region, rosemary thrives on calcareous soils, on dry sunny mountain slopes and near the coast where it is frequently exposed to fog and salt spray (Rosmarinus means “dew of the sea”). Rosemary can survive in areas with mild winters, but not in localities where the temperature frequently falls below -3°C. Once established rosemary roots deeply and is drought-resistant.

Propagation and planting

Rosemary is commonly propagated by cuttings, division or by air layering. Seeds are sometimes used, but they are produced only under very favourable growing conditions and often only 10-20% of the seeds germinate. Transplanting to the field is done at a spacing of 45 cm between plants in rows 1.2 m apart. It is also common to produce rosemary in containers in greenhouses.

In vitro production of active compounds

Experimental production of rosmarinic acid, a caffeoyl derivative with potent antioxidant properties, has been reported in suspension cultures of rosemary.


Rosemary will benefit from balanced fertilizer applications, with K being particularly critical for high essential-oil yield. In cold areas, the crop should be given heavy mulching to prevent winter injury. It should only be moderately watered to prevent root rot.

Growth of rosemary raised in containers strongly depends on the type of growing medium and the fertilizer regime used. The use of peat and perlite as growing medium results in taller plants yielding higher amounts of essential oil compared with those raised in a medium of peat, perlite and soil. Plant fresh weight, however, is not affected. Growth in both media is also satisfactory when plants are provided with an adequate supply of controlled-release or liquid fertilizers.

Diseases and pests

Rosemary has been reported to be attacked by Phytocoris rosmarini and Orthotylus ribesi in Spain and by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum in India. It has also been found susceptible to the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita.


Once established, but before rosemary becomes woody, the terminal shoots (25-30 cm from the tip) are harvested once or twice each season. The shoots are either dried or, if for sale in the fresh-herb market, bundled together in bunches of 8-12, tied with rubber bands. When the essential oil is to be extracted the plants are cut 2-3 years after planting at the onset of flowering, when the oil content is at its maximum.


Yields of fresh leaves of rosemary amount to 3 t/ha, and with a content of 0.1%, essential-oil yield is approximately 3 kg/ha.

Handling after harvest

Bunched fresh shoots of rosemary are put in styrofoam containers and delivered as soon as possible to fresh-market outlets. The whole fresh leaves can be frozen, preserving the flavour best. For the dried herb market, the shoots should be dried immediately on screen trays in a dark, sheltered area with good ventilation. The dried leaves are simply stripped by hand from the stems and subsequently stored in closed containers.

Genetic resources

Rosemary germplasm collections are available in most Mediterranean countries, e.g. at the Portuguese Germplasm Bank, Braga, Portugal (20 accessions) and at the gene bank of the Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben, Germany (4 accessions).


In North America it is being attemped to obtain frost-tolerant rosemary cultivars. In some places “Arp” and “Hill Hardy”, 2 cold-tolerant cultivars, survive severe winters (with protection of mulch) and in others they do not.


The supply of rosemary is adequate and it is one of the least expensive herbs in the spice trade. Thus, new producers may find it difficult to penetrate the current market.


  • Greenhalgh, P., 1980. Production, trade and markets for culinary herbs. Tropical Science 22(2): 159-188.
  • Halva, S. & Craker, L.E., 1996. Manual for northern herb growers. HSMP Press, Amherst, Massachusetts, United States. 101 pp.
  • Lawrence, B.M., 1997. Progress in essential oils. Perfumer and Flavorist 22(5): 71-83.
  • Prakash, V., 1990. Leafy spices. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, United States. pp. 69-73.
  • Small, E., 1997. Culinary herbs. National Research Council of Canada. NRC Research Press, Ottowa, Canada. pp. 517-524.

Sources of illustrations


  • C.C. de Guzman



Rosemary’s evergreen foliage is a staple in any herb garden. Known for their wonderful flavoring in poultry dishes and other recipes, rosemary can also be grown as an ornamental. In areas where these plants are not winter hardy, they can be grown as an annual. Because of their Mediterannean heritage, these plants love hot and dry weather. Grow rosemary plants near paths and walkways to release their signature scent as you brush past them.

genus name
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Sun
plant type
  • Herb,
  • Perennial,
  • Shrub
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • 2 to 4 feet
flower color
  • Blue,
  • Purple,
  • White,
  • Pink
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover,
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
  • 8,
  • 9,
  • 10
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Rosemary Care Must-Knows

Rosemary needs well-drained soil to survive. It will slowly suffer in heavy and moist clays, especially during winter.

Rosemary thrives in full sun. Part sun drastically increases the likelihood of problems such as powdery mildew, a foliar fungi that is generally harmless but unsightly, especially if you are using the rosemary in your recipes. Poor air flow and high humidity are also major contributors to powdery mildew and loss of flavor in the herb. Additionally, watch out for spider mites, mealy bugs, whitefly, and aphids.

If you are growing rosemary as an annual or a potted plant, try growing them indoors. However, this is generally no easy feat for rosemary, who likes it hot and dry with plenty of sun. So in the home, make sure plants are in full sun if possible—southern exposure is best. Often, plants may not grow much indoors and will simply survive until they’re back outside. Supplemental lighting can make a big difference in anything less than full sun.

How to Grow Rosemary

Harvest Tips

The best time to harvest your rosemary for its delicious leaves is in the morning, just after any dew has evaporated off. You can snip rosemary stems throughout the growing season to use fresh, or cut a bunch to dry in the fall. To use rosemary, strip needles from stems and chop before adding to dishes. Store fresh rosemary up to one week in the refrigerator by placing the stems in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel.

Grow a Pizza Garden!

To preserve rosemary for use later, air-dry stems by bundling and hanging upside down in a dark place with good air circulation. Once dried, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container. Dried, whole rosemary can retain its flavor for up to one year. You can also freeze whole stems in a plastic bag. To use, strip as many leaves as you need from frozen stems. Chop rosemary well before using.

Pulverize dry leaves before adding to dishes, herb blends, or sauces to release aromatic oils and to make them easier to chew, as the dried leaves can be quite tough. Rosemary’s texture and flavor varies throughout the season—leaves are tender in spring, with fewer aromatic oils. By late summer, foliage packs a more potent flavor. Toss late summer stems onto grilling coals to infuse meat with delicious flavor.

More Varieties for Rosemary

Arp rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’ forms a sturdy shrub 3-5 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. It thrives in average, well-drained soil. Zones 6-10

‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ is one of the best rosemary varieties for topiaries. It develops dense blue-green foliage that’s easily sheared to any shape. It’s highly fragrant and has many uses in the kitchen. It grows 4 feet tall. It grows as an annual except in Zones 8-10.

Trailing rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ has a trailing growth habit that looks great cascading over a retaining wall or trailing down a raised bed. It is also called creeping rosemary or prostrate rosemary, and it makes an effective groundcover. It grows 18-24 inches tall, spreads 4-8 feet wide, and bears light blue flowers. Zones 8-10

‘Roman Beauty’ rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roman Beauty’ is a compact, slow grower with a semitrailing form, growing just 12-16 inches tall and spreading 18-24 inches wide. It grows more upright than trailing rosemary but still creates a cascading effect in the landscape or in container gardens. It has violet-blue flowers and fragrant gray-green foliage. Zones 8-10

‘Gorizia’ rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Gorizia’ is noted for its exceptionally wide leaves, often twice as broad as common rosemary. It grows 4 feet tall and wide, and it bears clusters of light blue flowers from late winter through summer. Zones 8-10

Golden variegated rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Aureus’ has green needlelike leaves with gold flecks. This rosemary is an upright grower that reaches 2 feet tall and spreads equally wide. It has pale blue flowers in spring. Zones 8-10

‘Majorca Pink’ rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Majorca Pink’ has unusual pinkish-lavender blooms in spring with repeat blooms in summer. It is an upright plant growing 4 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide. Zones 7-10

‘Benenden Blue’ rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Aureus’ has green needlelike leaves with gold flecks. This rosemary is an upright grower that reaches 2 feet tall and spreads equally wide. It has pale blue flowers in spring. Zones 8-10

Barbecue rosemary

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Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Barbecue’ is a selection developed for its excellent flavor and aroma. It can grow 4 feet tall and will develop beautiful blue blooms. It grows as an annual except in Zones 8-10.

Garden Plans For Rosemary

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I am still mourning the recent loss of my beloved overgrown rosemary bush that greeted me at the front door with an energizing aroma. It provided an ongoing supply of my favorite cooking herb and made me feel like I was, for just a moment, in Italy. I can’t get myself to buy fresh cut rosemary at the market. It’s just not the same. In search of a replacement, I am considering five varieties:

Is there really a difference in the flavors? Let us know your rosemary experience in the comment section below.

Most nurseries carry a range of rosemary varieties. We’ve also listed online sources, but note that shipping is often restricted due to weather considerations). Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Above: My deceased plant was a Tuscan Blue Rosemary, which I am inclined to use again. Favored for it’s gentle flavor,and blue flowers, it can be grown outdoors in zones 8 to 10. In colder zones, it can be grown in pots and brought indoors over the winter. A 2.5-by-3.5 inch pot is available for $4.96 through Garden Harvest Supply.

Above: Rosemary Arp is a hardier plant for cold. It can survive down to 10 degrees Farenheit (zone 6). A full-flavor rosemary with a lemony scent, it has woody limbs that make it great to use as a flavorful cooking skewer; $15.99 for two plants at Amazon.

Above: Spice Island Rosemary has a pungent flavor reminiscent of nutmeg and clove, and densely packed leaves; $4.50 for a 2.5-inch pot at Pantry Garden Herbs. Image via Log House Plants.

Above: Gorizia Rosemary has exceptionally long and wide leaves and particularly upright stems, making it a favorite for use as a skewer, as well as for making pesto and harvesting for dried rosemary (because of the volume of the leaves). A mild gingery flavor is sometimes attributed to this variety. A 3.5-inch pot is available for $5.95 through the Grower’s Exchange.

Above: Rosemary Prostrate is a creeping variety, nice to grow at a wall’s edge or in a container. It is one of the most aromatic varieties of Rosemary; $5.95 for a 3.5-inch pot through Grower’s Exchange.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various shrubs and hedges with our Shrubs: A Field Guide.

N.B.: For more herbs, see DIY Video: How to Clone Herbs in Your Kitchen and An Instant Herb Garden.

How Hair Benefits From Rosemary

Conditions and Calms Frizz

Don’t you just hate it when you walk out the door with sleek, beautiful hair and minutes later it turns into one huge, frizzy mess? Each hair strand is covered with cuticle scales that overlap like roof shingles. When hair is dehydrated, these scales rise, allowing more moisture to escape. Unlike chemically based moisturizers that stay only on the surface of the hair, oils like Rosemary Oil penetrate and seals the hair shaft to retain moisture. Apart from that, Rosemary Oil is almost weightless in texture, so it doesn’t weigh the hair down.

Treats Dandruff

Dandruff can be caused by dry or oily scalp. When the scalp is dry, it becomes flaky and itchy due to loss of moisture. This means that you may be suffering from Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A aids in the production of sebum, replenishing it with enough moisture to keep the pH of the scalp balanced. Using shampoos and conditioners with Rosemary, like Oway Purifying Hair Bath for Dry Scalp, can alleviate the flakiness and itch through its vitamin and antibacterial properties.

Strengthens Hair

Blow-drying, curling, or flattening—even shampooing—daily can put the hair under so much stress, causing it to lose its natural oils and become brittle. This is why it’s important that we replenish the hair back to its healthy state with proteins and vitamins.

Rosemary is an excellent source of Vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant when used as a component in hair care products. It protects the hair from free radicals—including harsh chemicals–causing the damage. Vitamin C is also a building block for collagen2, a structural protein that keeps the hair strong and healthy. To reverse the damage, we recommend treating hair with a hair mask infused with Rosemary, like Smooth Rituals Healing Hair Mask.

Everything you need to know about rosemary

Share on PinterestRosemary has leaves shaped like needles and pink, white, blue, or purple flowers.

Rosemary has a range of possible health benefits.

Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds

Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which are thought to help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation.

Laboratory studies have shown rosemary to be rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in neutralizing harmful particles called free radicals.

Improving digestion

In Europe, rosemary is often used to help treat indigestion. In fact, Germany’s Commission E has approved rosemary for the treatment of indigestion. However, it should be noted that there is currently no meaningful scientific evidence to support this claim.

Enhancing memory and concentration

According to research outlined in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, the aroma from rosemary can improve a person’s concentration, performance, speed, and accuracy and, to a lesser extent, their mood.

Neurological protection

Scientists have found that rosemary may also be good for your brain. Rosemary contains an ingredient called carnosic acid, which can fight off damage by free radicals in the brain.

Some studies in rats have identified that rosemary might be useful for people who have experienced a stroke. Rosemary appears to be protective against brain damage and might improve recovery.

Prevent brain aging

Some studies have suggested that rosemary may significantly help prevent brain aging. The therapeutic ability of rosemary for prevention of Alzheimer’s shows promise, but more studies are needed.


Research published in Oncology Reports found that “crude ethanolic rosemary extract (RO)” slowed the spread of human leukemia and breast carcinoma cells.”

Another study, published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, concluded that rosemary might be useful as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor agent.

Also, a report published in the Journal of Food Science revealed that adding rosemary extract to ground beef reduces the formation of cancer-causing agents that can develop during cooking.

Protection against macular degeneration

A study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, led by Dr. Stuart A. Lipton, Ph.D. and colleagues at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, revealed that a carnosic acid, which is a major component of rosemary, can significantly promote eye health.

This could have clinical applications for diseases affecting the outer retina, such as age-related macular degeneration – the most common eye disease in the United States.

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