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Why is my rosemary water not red?

Rosemary is a popular herb used for culinary and medicinal purposes. When rosemary is steeped in hot water, it can produce a light yellow to amber colored “rosemary tea.” However, some people expect the resulting liquid to be a deep red color. If your rosemary water does not turn red, there are a few likely explanations.

The Rosemary Used

The most common type of rosemary used for cooking is Rosmarinus officinalis. This species has green needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It contains aromatic oils that give rosemary its signature fragrance, but the plant contains no pigments that would turn water red.

There are some ornamental varieties of rosemary that have reddish leaves or flowers, such as ‘Tuscan Blue’ and ‘Arp.’ However, these are rarely sold for culinary use. If you used a typical green-leaved rosemary variety, it will not change the color of water when steeped.

Steeping Method

The way you steep or infuse rosemary can impact the color of the resulting liquid. Here are some steeping methods and their effects on color:

Steeping Method Effect on Color
Fresh or dried rosemary steeped in hot water for 5-10 minutes Light yellow to light amber color
Boiled rosemary needles Dark yellow to brown color
Steeped very long time (>30 minutes) Medium amber color

As you can see, typical hot water steeping methods will not turn the liquid red. Boiling or long steeping times will make it progressively darker yellow or brown. If your goal is a bright red color, you’ll need to use a different technique.

Adding Acid or Alkali

Some acidic or alkaline substances can cause anthocyanins in rosemary to change color from yellow to red. Anthocyanins are pH-sensitive pigments naturally found in rosemary leaves.

Here are some examples of compounds that can turn rosemary water red when added:

Substance Amount to Add Effect
Lemon juice 1-2 tablespoons per cup of water Reddish pink color
Vinegar 1-2 tablespoons per cup of water Light red color
Baking soda 1/4 teaspoon per cup of water Dark burgundy red color

So if you want a natural red rosemary water, consider adding a small amount of lemon juice, vinegar, or baking soda to the steeping water before adding the herb.

Using Red Dye

For a vibrant crimson red color, you can cheat and use red food dye. A couple drops of red liquid food color per cup of water will turn it bright red before you add the rosemary.

Make sure to use a natural food dye rather than synthetic dye if you plan to drink the rosemary water. Some options include:

  • Beet powder or beet juice
  • Red cabbage water
  • Hibiscus powder or hibiscus tea
  • Raspberry, pomegranate, or cherry juice

A few drops of one of these red food dyes will color the water without imparting much flavor. Then steep your rosemary as normal for lightly flavored red rosemary water.

Should Rosemary Water Be Red?

While rosemary water is commonly yellow or amber-colored, many people expect or want it to be red. There are a few reasons someone may desire red rosemary water:

  • They want it to resemble red wine, fruit juice, or flavored water
  • They think it will have greater health benefits
  • They think the red color signifies freshness or potency
  • They find the color more visually appealing

However, the red color is simply an effect of anthocyanins or added dye rather than anything inherently beneficial. The health benefits and flavor come from steeping the rosemary itself, regardless of water color.

The compounds responsible for rosemary’s therapeutic effects, like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, will infuse into the water regardless of its color. So while adding acid or dye can turn the water red, it does not necessarily make it healthier.

Health Benefits of Rosemary Tea

Rosemary water and tea can provide the following evidence-based wellness benefits:

  • Rich in antioxidants to fight free radical damage
  • Anti-inflammatory effects to reduce swelling and joint pain
  • May boost brain function and improve memory
  • Contains antiseptic compounds that fight bacteria and viruses
  • May help reduce muscle and nerve pain when used topically

These benefits come from bioactive compounds like rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and camphor. Consuming rosemary water, especially on a regular basis, is an easy way to gain these beneficial plant compounds.

How to Use Rosemary Water

Some popular ways to use fresh rosemary water include:

  • Drink it as a hot or iced tea
  • Use it to cook grains like rice or quinoa
  • Add it to soups, stews, and broths
  • Deglaze pans with it after cooking meat
  • Use it to steam veggies like carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • Mix it with lemon juice and honey for a rosemary lemonade
  • Combine it with vinegar and oil for a rosemary salad dressing

Rosemary water can add its signature flavor and aroma to many dishes and beverages. It’s more versatile than using rosemary essential oil or dried herb. Store any unused rosemary water in the fridge for up to a week.

Some other ways to use extra rosemary water include:

  • Use it as a facial toner or cleansing rinse for skin
  • Add it to bath water for an aromatic bath experience
  • Put it in a spray bottle and use as an air freshener
  • Apply it to sore muscles and joints
  • Use it as a mouth rinse or gargle for oral hygiene


Typical rosemary water made by steeping the fresh or dried herb has a light yellow to amber color. To achieve a red color, you’ll need to acidify it with lemon juice or vinegar, alkalize it with baking soda, or use a natural red food dye.

While the red color may be more visually striking, it does not enhance the flavor or health benefits of rosemary water. The bioactive compounds infuse into the water regardless of its color.

Feel free to experiment with different additives and dyes to make red rosemary water. But rest assured that your light amber brew offers the same great taste and aromatherapy even without dyes or anthocyanin color changes. Drink up and enjoy the benefits of rosemary water regardless of its hue!