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Salvia rosmarinus – Rosemary’s new binomial name!

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Brief History of Rosemary’s Binomial Name

“In the 1700s, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) invented binomial nomenclature, which gives every plant a unique two-part name based on genus and species. In his 1753 book Species Plantarum, Linnaeus published the name Rosmarinus officinalis. He based the species portion of the name on the herb being a standard item in ancient apothecaries called "oficinas.” 1

Until 2017, Rosemary was known by the binomial name Rosmarinus officinalis, it is now a synonym. The new scientific title it has been given is Salvia rosmarinus. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is one of the first to adopt this change in the scientific name for rosemary after research has shown that it is, in fact, salvia, or a sage.

“John David, Head of Horticultural Taxonomy at the RHS, said: “Not everyone will approve of this change in the scientific name of a much-loved garden plant, but our naming system must reflect the latest science otherwise it stands to lose its meaning.” 2

What is the difference between a species and a chemotype?

Every plant has a genus and species, but several species also have additional chemotypes. A “chemotype” is a chemically distinct plant variety. An essential oil chemical constituents may differ (e.g. they may have different secondary metabolites) due to minor genetic or epigenetic changes.

Plants of the same genus could appear externally identical while exhibiting a significant variation in the chemical constituents of their essential oils, which can be due to climatic, altitude, or soil conditions. The resulting chemical composition will show one or more chemicals being dominant.

When it comes to essential oil, the scent, therapeutic properties, and safety precautions can be affected by the chemotype. On a bottle of essential oil, the chemotype is distinguished by the letters “CT" after the botanical name. Rosemary is grown all around the world, with significant chemo-varieties.

Here is an example of a chemotype name that you might see on a bottle label: Rosemary CT 1,8-cineole or Salvia rosmarinus CT 1,8-cineole.

What are the therapeutic uses and precautions for the different rosemary chemotypes?

Salvia rosmarinus has shown the following potential therapeutic activities in scientific studies: anti-asthmatic, cardiac protective, digestive aid, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, improved cognitive function, neuroprotective, and anti-depressive.3 This research spans across a variety of rosemary chemotypes, extraction techniques, and delivery methods. Unfortunately, many scientific studies on rosemary do not specify the chemotype evaluated.4

Rosemary's most common chemotypes (CT) include camphor, cineole, and verbenone. The cineole chemotype often comes from Morocco or Tunisia, the verbenone type is typically Egyptian, and several European countries offer additional varieties as well.4

There are also additional chemotypes of rosemary that exist.4

  • Borneol and bornyl acetate types are both high in cineole, borneol, camphor, verbenone, alpha-pinene, and bornyl acetate.

  • A gentle beta-myrcene type is high in beta-myrcene, alpha-pinene, and limonene, and low in cineole and camphor.

  • An alpha-pinene type is high in alpha-pinene, cineole, and camphor.

Note that alpha-pinene may contribute to an antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, calming, mucus clearing, and expectorant effect.7 Essential oils high in monoterpenes like alpha-pinene can oxidize more quickly. Oxidized oils are more likely to cause skin irritations, so store properly.

How do rosemary essential oils differ from sage essential oils?

There are three types of sage most commonly used to make essential oil: Salvia officinalis, Salvia lavandulifolia, and Salvia sclarea.

  • Dalmatian Sage (Salvia officinalis) contains significant levels of cineole, thujone, and camphor.8 Many aromatherapy experts do not advise its use related to its high thujone and camphor content. These constituents can be toxic and irritating at small exposure levels. Precautions: Avoid during pregnancy and nursing. Neurotoxicity.

  • Spanish Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia), is high in cineole, camphor, and pinene. These are also the key constituents found in the cineole chemotype of rosemary. Note that these two species have similarities in their chemical profiles. 8,4 Precautions: Avoid during pregnancy and nursing.

  • Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) is composed primarily of linalyl acetate and linalool. The sclareol sesquiterpene shows up in higher amounts in the absolute extraction.4 Precaution: Avoid during pregnancy due to a possible estrogenic effect of the sclareol constituent. Possible skin irritant, recommend a dermal maximum of 0.25%.

In summary, rosemary has moved over to the sage genus. This beautiful plant is grown all around the world and has an impressive variety of chemotypes. When we look at the surprising similarity between rosemary’s cineole chemotype and Spanish sage, it can begin to make sense to have the two species in the same family. This new scientific name may take some years to reflect in the herbal and aromatherapy industries; however, it will make the change one bottle at a time!

Written by Co-authors: Shanti Dechen, CCAP, CAI, LMT & Kathy Sadowski, MS, RA, LMT


  1. Meet Salvia rosmarinus: A New Addition to the Sage Genus;; Retrieved November 26, 2019.

  2. Rosemary is not a rosemary, rules RHS - it's a sage, as they tell gardeners to change plant labels;; Retrieved November 24, 2019.

  3. De Oliveira, J. R., Camargo, S. E. A., & de Oliveira, L. D.; (2019); Rosmarinus officinalis L.(rosemary) as a therapeutic and prophylactic agent; Journal of Biomedical Science; 26, 5.

  4. Tisserand, R. & Young, R.; (2014); Essential Oil Safety, Second Edition; Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; p. 202-208, 255, 253-254, 407– 409, 413-416, 449– 453, 597, 621.

  5. Laude, E. A., Morice, A. H., & Grattan, T. J.; (1994); The antitussive effects of menthol, camphor, and cineole in conscious guinea-pigs; Pulmonary pharmacology; 7(5), 179-184.

  6. Cohen, M., Wolfe, R., Mai, T., & Lewis, D.; (2003); A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of a topical cream containing glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and camphor for osteoarthritis of the knee; The Journal of Rheumatology; 30; p.523-528.

  7. Sadowski, K. (2019); 1,8-Cineole / Cineole / Eucalyptol / Cajeputol;; and; Retrieved November 22, 2019.

  8. Lis-Balchin, M.; (2006); Aromatherapy Science; A Guide for Healthcare Professionals; Pharmaceutical Press; p.304

  9. Rosemary Photo; Pixabay; Free for commercial use;; Retrieved September 22, 2018.

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