Monday, October 28, 2013

Go get me a sprig of rosemary!


Go get me a sprig of rosemary!
by Christophe Bernard

 Every kid of my generation who grew up in Provence heard that shout from the kitchen window. There was always a mother who needed rosemary to prepare the lamb chops. Or a grandpa who had a sluggish digestion. We did not have to go very far of course, the plant is ubiquitous in this low-to-the-ground vegetation we call “garrigue”.

What makes wild rosemary so special is that it thrives in very harsh conditions. It has a knack for growing in the most imperceptible crack of a rock. If there is a pinch of soil jammed between two layers of limestone, you can be sure that a seed will find its way.

Just like grapevines, the quality of the constituents of aromatic plants is dictated by how much struggle they have to go through to survive. As some of you will find out during our retreat next year, Provence does provide a pretty challenging environment in some areas.

I wanted to write about rosemary for the simple reason that nobody talks about it anymore. It is not “sexy” like ashwagandha or dang shen or other exotic-sounding plants. And it has been widely exploited by the food industry (think McCormick and co) – so much so that people are forgetting it is a complex remedy.

It also addresses the needs of an aging population as we will see further down, which makes it a great plant for modern clinical practice.

A liver plant

In France, rosemary is known as a liver plant, which may sound a bit surprising to you. Our doctors of the 19th century classified it as an aromatic bitter. Chew on a leaf, go past the aromatic taste, and try to get a feel for its bitterness. Sure, it is no gentian. But it is a bitter nonetheless.

And as we know bitters act as orchestrators of the whole digestive process, but more particularly on the liver (more bile being produced) and on the gallbladder (stronger contractions).

Some studies show that it is also hepatoprotective. It helps regulate glycemia, the liver being at the center of glycemic control. It also helps regulate lipidemia, again the liver being at the center of fat metabolism, especially triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL or LDL.

So as we study the other indications for the plant, let’s keep in mind that underlying all indications, there is a depuration and cleansing process taking place (and we all need depuration on a regular basis – no matter what we eat or how much toxins we ingest).

Brain Fog

I recently read the following statement on a respected medical website regarding atherosclerosis : you cannot avoid it, it is the disease of an aging population.

I do believe it can be avoided. But the reality is this : most aging folks today have clogged arteries. Atherosclerosis significantly prevents blood flow to the extremities. Head included.

Rosemary is a circulatory stimulant. It acts on the contraction of smooth muscles (arteries contract and expand via smooth muscle activity). It also “thins” the blood by lowering lipidemia and preventing platelet aggregation. The blood is more fluid, the arteries a bit more relaxed, bringing more blood to areas formerly hard to reach.

When the aging person suffers from brain fog, forgetfulness and inability to concentrate due to atherosclerosis, rosemary will help.

In my experience, it needs to be taken daily for a period of several weeks before it starts to fully kick-in. Although I see once in a while a person who reacts to rosemary immediately and strongly – in which case ask yourself if you should lower the dosage, or whether rosemary is a good match for that person.

This application is confirmed by science. Research shows that rosemary brings long-term memory improvements. We are also discovering novel ways in which rosemary works : it can, for instance, inhibit the action of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in the brain (AChE is the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter – less of it means more neurotransmitter activity).

Rosemary is therefore a very promising plant when it comes to brain aging, be it due to neurovascular issues (atherosclerosis, stroke) or other degenerative processes (the dreaded Alzheimer’s Disease for instance).

In those cases, rosemary needs to be taken daily, as a tea, without interruption.

Too stimulating?

French practitioners will tell you this : rosemary can be too exciting, it will prevent a good night of sleep, it will give you palpitations, etc.

This needs to be nuanced. It is true if misused. For the young and healthy, people with good circulation, with a good heart and good lungs (i.e. good oxygenation), it can be a bit exciting.

But if you have a deficient circulation, then at the opposite, it will help you deal with the stress of cloudy thinking. Think of old people on the decline : some are not able to remember what they did yesterday, they cannot do crossword puzzles anymore - that stresses them out, a lot.

Give them rosemary, day-in day-out, and they will think clearer, and lose a bit of that stress and worry about "oh my god it could be alzheimer". Although it could be alzheimer too, you never know. And if it is, rosemary again could be of value.

The decision-making plant

I often recommend an infusion of rosemary and lavender flowers every morning in those periods of your life when you need to make important decisions, and you are a bit scattered-brain, may be because you are running on adrenaline and cortisol, maybe in expectations of big changes coming-up in your life.

A rosemary twig, along with a flower head of lavender, will help you get clarity of thoughts to be able to make those important decisione.

The anti-aging plant

The studies tell us that rosemary is one of the best antioxidant in the plant world. A lot of studies have focused on the ability of rosemary to protect against lipid peroxidation. It is, after all, added to a lot of packaged foods to prevent lipids from becoming rancid.

Guess what our cell membranes are mad of ? Lipids. And toxins, pollution, drugs, alcohol, sugars, and a host of other substances create oxidative stress in our body. Free radicals bounce around and damage those fragile lipids. Our cells age, slowly, with visible (wrinkles) and less-visible (degenerative diseases) consequences.

Rosemary, to me, is like an insurance for long term health. Both taken internally and applied externally. Applied locally, in the form of an infused oil or a salve, it can protect the skin and slow down tissue aging. The essential oil can work too, since the protective compounds are in the essential oil.

The studies have also proved that rosemary, added to meat or fish before roasting, makes them a lot healthier to eat because it slows down the formation of “advanced glycation end-products”. In other words, it prevents the destruction of proteins by sugars.

So where does this lead to?

I would like all of us to do two things.

The first one is planting rosemary in our garden, or on our balcony, because rosemary is one of those plants that should be consumed in small quantity, but regularly, in order to prevent the damage of industrialized life. And fresh rosemary is so much better than dried one.

The second one is meeting with wild rosemary, the one that grows in a crack of a rock. But this, dear reader, I will save for our upcoming retreat. 

We invite you to join us for an herbal intensive in France!