A familiar staple of spice racks and kitchen cabinets, rosemary is prized by cooks for the piquant flavor it lends to recipes. However, recent research shows that this common culinary herb provides some uncommon benefits when it comes to cognitive function and recall. In a British study, researchers found that sniffing the essential oil of rosemary improved memory by a remarkable 75 percent – making it a possible treatment for memory problems.
How did researchers arrive at these results about Rosemary?
The study, conducted by psychologists at Northumbria University in Newcastle, involved 66 people. Some were exposed to a rosemary-scented room, in which four drops of essential oil had been placed on an aroma stream diffuser and switched on for five minutes before the participants entered the room. Another group worked in an unscented room. The psychologists found that the participants in the rosemary-scented room performed between 60 and 75 percent better on assorted memory tasks and on performing simple arithmetic when compared to the control group – an impressive result.
As part of the study, researchers took blood samples to detect levels of 1,8-cineole – the constituent in rosemary linked with improving memory function. Participants in the rosemary room had higher levels of cineole – demonstrating that the compound can enter the bloodstream by way of inhalation.
In their findings, which were presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychology Society in Harrogate, the team concluded that rosemary could have implications for treating memory impairments, especially in older adults who are experiencing some decline. Rosemary seems to be particularly helpful in promoting “prospective memory” – helping people to remember future events such as appointments or medication schedules. So powerful was rosemary that lead researcher Dr. Mark Moss, head of psychology at Northumbria University, likened its effect to that of a drug.
New study builds on earlier research
In an earlier study, published in 2003 in International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers examined the effects of rosemary and lavender and found that rosemary produced significant enhancements in performance for overall quality of memory. Interestingly, lavender oil was actually a deterrent to memory – probably because of its mildly sedating effects. While lavender helped people to feel more “content,” when compared to placebo, rosemary helped people feel simultaneously more content and more alert.
In a study of aromatherapy published in Psychogeriatrics, researchers examined the effects of rosemary and lemon administered in the morning – and lavender and orange in the evening – on patients with dementia. The team found that patients experienced significant improvement in personal orientation – with no side effects. Other studies have supported the ability of rosemary to both promote concentration and enhance memory of past events.
Research corroborates ancient wisdom
Scientifically known as Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary has long been used by natural healers to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, fight pathogens and promote healthy digestion. Although the modern research is exciting, the ability of rosemary to improve memory and facilitate learning has actually been known since antiquity. The ancient Greeks treasured the herb for its memory-enhancing properties, and it was customary for scholars to deck themselves out with strands of rosemary in their hair when taking exams. The useful effects of the herb were no secret in Elizabethan England either, with Shakespeare alluding in several plays to “rosemary for remembrance.”
Rosemary’s benefits include antioxidant and cancer-fighting effects
The antioxidant value, or ORAC score, of rosemary, is a massive 3,300, giving it the same potent free radical-fighting power of goji berries. Rosemary is rich in carnosic acid, an antioxidant that fights oxidative stress in the brain. Another rosemary constituent, carnosol, is strongly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory as well. Researchers have found that carnosol selectively targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed, and studies into rosemary’s cancer-fighting effects are ongoing. In terms of usage: some natural health experts advise mixing 3 drops of rosemary essential oil with half a teaspoon of coconut oil, and diffusing it for an hour a day. You can also massage a small quantity on your upper neck. Naturally, we suggest you check with a trusted healthcare provider before trying rosemary to enhance memory. This is especially important if you are dealing with any kind of brain health issue.
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