When I was a student in high school and I had to spend the better part of my afternoons translating ancient Greek texts into Italian, I was always hoping to work on something interesting such as Pliny, Heraclitus or Dioscorides as I enjoyed learning about their herbal remedies for ailments.
Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90 AD), a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist who practiced in Rome during the time of Nero, was particularly interesting to me. His most famous writing, the five-volume “De Materia Medica”, is one of the most influential herbal books in history.
An herb he particularly recommended for its “warming faculty” is rosemary.
I remember translating and hoping to never have to put into practice this recipe:“Soak rosemary sprigs together with nettle roots and galium aparine in alcohol and you will have a medicine with which to rub the hairy part of the head, in order to induce hair growth”. So far, I haven’t had to use his recipe, as I don’t have any signs of boldness yet.
Today, rosemary is recognized as possessing several medicinal properties. For one thing, the plant contains salicylic acid, the forerunner of aspirin. This may explain why massaging the oil of rosemary into joints effectively eases arthritic or rheumatic pain. I suggested this to my partner after cycling the Great Ocean Road (145 km) this Sunday. And he found great relief.
Rosemary also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial agents, and is used by modern herbalists to treat a variety of skin disorders, including dandruff.
Rosemary is also being studied for its potential anti-cancer effects since initial studies found that its compounds inhibit carcinogenic chemicals from binding themselves to cellular DNA.
SAGE published a writing in “The Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology” about the correlation between improved cognitive performance and a rosemary oil component.
Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
Rosemary is also very rich in carnosic acid. According to studies conducted by U.S. and Japanese medical researchers, carnosic acid has powerful antioxidant properties that protect the brain from free radical damage. To put things simply, free radicals are usually responsible for cell damage in the body, but at the same time, a small number of them in the organism is actually desirable as they kill invading microbes and other dangerous substances. As a result, consuming too many antioxidants may be detrimental, as it eliminates too many free radicals, and the body is left without a means to effectively destroy harmful microbes.However, when too many free radicals circulate in the body, a number of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions develop. Carnosic acid seems to assist in preventing damage from these conditions, reversing the damage and, with regards to the brain, even helping to boost its functioning by increasing blood circulation.This is because carnosic acid responds to a unique condition that researchers are calling a “pathological-activated therapeutic” drug. This means that carnosic acid only targets free radicals when they start to cause damage.From now on, let’s try to make an effort to incorporate this ideal defence against free radicals into our culinary routine.