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The good news for Rosemary as a wonderful medicinal herb just keeps on coming! It was only a few weeks ago that we reported that Rosemary had been found to have a remarkable positive effect on memory. Now we have discovered that scientists have found further evidence of Rosemary‘s potential as an anti-cancer agent.
Synthetic drugs are often considered to be the only option for cancer chemotherapy. However, the trouble with some of these substances is their lack of selectivity. Cancer drugs are often a “medicinal blunderbuss” with highly toxic side effects and the general objective being to kill the cancer and hopefully not kill the patient at the same time! Medicinal plants represent a fertile ground for the development of novel anticancer agents as some of them have been found by lab studies to act selectively against the cancer cells without attacking the healthy cells.
Several studies in the past few years have indicated that rosemary may play a valuable role in cancer risk reduction. A 2011 review  (published in the respected peer-reviewed Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition) of all the studies performed up to that point, concluded that components in Rosemary suppressed the development of tumors in several organs including the colon, breast, liver, stomach, as well as melanoma and leukemia cells. Rosemary extract, as well as the molecular components carnosol, carnosic acid, ursolic acid, and rosmarinic acid were found to have anticancer potential.
A brand new study (Jan 27th 2014) in the International Journal of Oncology has reported that Carnosol, an active constituent of rosemary, significantly reduced the viability of human colon cancer (HCT116) cells in a concentration-dependent and time-dependent manner. 
A 2012 study indicated that Rosemary essential oil at a concentration of 1% showed very strong anticancer activity (>90%) on two ovarian and one liver cancer cell lines. This effect was greater than that of three of its main components 1,8-cineole (27.23%), α-pinene (19.43%) and β-pinene (6.71%).  Note that essential oils should not be taken internally – essential oils are way too concentrated and this can be very dangerous: Just eating the fresh or dried culinary herb in the usual manner will deliver a small, diluted amount of the essential oil to the body “in a manner in which we are evolutionarily designed to metabolize”.
Essential oils can often contain over 100 different molecular components. It is difficult to isolate the active principles – and although the medicinal industry is seeking a patentable product, this may not be the best path to follow. Once again we find modern science starting to come around to the idea that whole plant extracts work synergistically in the body: The 2012 study  states:
“It is very difficult to attribute the biological activities of a total essential oil to one or a few active principles, because an essential oil always contains a mixture of different chemical compounds. In addition to the major compounds, also minor compounds may make a significant contribution to the oil’s activity. From the results above we could infer that the… anticancer activities of Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil [are] the cooperative results of their components.”
The best way to consume culinary herbs is fresh from the garden. A small sprig or a few ‘needles’ added 10 minutes from the end of cooking of soups or stews will impart a wonderful flavor. Rosemary is also easy to dry if you are fortunate enough to have a Rosemary bush (it is easy to grow too!) Pick a few sprigs and leave them in a warm dry place on a piece of paper. A sunny windowsill will work. Then after a few days, simply break the needles off the stems with a sweep of the hand and put them in a jar for future use. The scientific research has indicated that including a small amount of rosemary in your diet may have the potential to reduce cancer risks. We cannot of course consider this proven yet but it is further support for the idea that culinary herbs are a tremendous health benefit overall.
Big thanks once again to The Eden Prescription for bringing this new discovery to our attention.
 http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/17/3/2704 (full text)
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