Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) related to the mint family of plants is a herb with needle like leaves with flowers of white, pink or lilac when in bloom. It is a perennial meaning that once planted it should regrow every year when the weather conditions are supportive.
Rosemary is commonly used in culinary dishes as a herb, but also as an essential oil for aromatherapy and in medicines.
Several theories have suggested that rosemary can improve memory, cognition and thinking more clearly. Research from Northumbria University found that the herbs have been proven to impact on mood and memory, with significant benefits displayed for older people (link).
It turns out that compounds in rosemary oil may be responsible for changes in memory performance. One of them is called 1,8-cineole – as well as the fragrance smelling lovely, it may act in the same way as the drugs licensed to treat dementia, causing an increase in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. These compounds do this by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by an enzyme.
The implications of this kind of research are huge, but it is important to remember that any drug has a measurable effect, even if inhaled. They do not mean you need to spend all day smelling the herb or sleeping all night with lavender. It is important to further research into some of the chemicals in essential oils may yield therapeutics and contribute to our understanding of memory and brain function.
Rosemary has been linked to memory for hundreds of years. Ophelia in Hamlet says to her brother “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” But that’s no kind of basis for a study. She had after all gone insane after the death of her father and was to kill herself shortly after this scene.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray / love, remember, and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.. There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue/ For you; and here’s some for me: we may call it / Herb-grace o”Sundays: O you must wear your rue with/ A difference.” (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5).
There are numerous interesting studies that have looked at how rosemary can improve memory and cognition.
Filiptsova, O., Gazzavi-Rogozina, L., Timoshyna, I., Naboka, O., Dyomina, Y. and Ochkur, A. (2017). The essential oil of rosemary and its effect on the human image and numerical short-term memory. Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 4(2), pp.107-111.
Moss, M. and Oliver, L. (2012). Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(3), pp.103-113.
Pengelly, A., Snow, J., Mills, S., Scholey, A., Wesnes, K. and Butler, L. (2012). Short-Term Study on the Effects of Rosemary on Cognitive Function in an Elderly Population. Journal of Medicinal Food, 15(1), pp.10-17
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You can find our next tutorial on incorporating rosemary into flower arrangement to reap the benefits of the fragrance into your homes, click here.