According to folklore, Rosemary is the herb for remembrance or that which improves memory power and cognition.
A historical evidence, written by Dioscorides, describes all the health benefits of rosemary in one sentence: “the eating of its flower in a preserve comforts the brain, the heart and the stomach; sharpens understanding, restores lost memory, awakens the mind, and in sum is a healthy remedy for various cold ailments of the head and the stomach.”
And even modern research affirms the herb’s potential benefits. But before we get to that, let’s get to know this herb better.
What is Rosemary?
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a herb that is used primarily in European cuisines.
It is an evergreen shrub which has its origins in the Mediterranean region and is now cultivated in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
It has white, blue flowers with small dark green leaves that produce fragrant rosemary oil.
R.officinalis is used as a culinary spice for seasoning meats, flavouring for soups, pasta, salads, bread and also used to prepare tea.
The volatile oil of Rosmarinus officinalis contains active components like rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, carnosic acid, rosmanol, carnosol, different diterpenes and natural antioxidants.
The major components of rosemary essential oil are 1,8-cineole, camphor, alpha-pinene, and borneol.
Traditionally rosemary essential oil has been used as an analgesic, anti-rheumatic, carminative, cholagogues, diuretic, expectorant, anti-epileptic, anti-spasmodic, for dysmenorrhoea and to relieve respiratory disorders.
It also provides other health benefits: improvement in metabolic health and reduction of cholesterol, reduction of pain and inflammation in arthritis, has anti-cancer activity.
How Does Rosemary Improve Memory?
According to research, the possible ways by which rosemary (herb and oil) boosts memory are:
- Inhaling rosemary essential oil alters brain waves and increases alertness.
- Rosemary leaf powder consumption improves the speed of memory recall.
- It contains natural antioxidants that protect from age-related memory loss.
- Its extracts have an antidepressant action and protect from stress-induced memory loss.
- The leaf extracts have natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that protect from dementia.
Rosemary for Memory: Research & Benefits
Let’s go over the research that highlights the benefits of rosemary for memory and cognition.
1.Inhalation of Rosemary essential oil improves memory
Sniffing rosemary essential oil is found to improve alertness and as a result increase memory quality and speed of performing mental tasks.
A study published in The International Journal of Neuroscience, 1988 showed that rosemary aromatherapy, in comparison to lavender essential oil, increases alertness, lowers anxiety and increases the speed of completing math calculations.
The aromatherapy was provided for 3 minutes. Sniffing rosemary aroma increased alpha and beta brain waves which improved alertness.
In 2003, researchers from the University of Northumbria again studied the effects of rosemary and lavender essential oil on mood and cognitive performance. Participants were asked to enter cubicles that contained either aroma of lavender oil or rosemary oil or none where they performed memory tests. It was observed that rosemary aroma enhanced mental alertness and improved memory quality.
On the other hand, lavender aroma relaxed individuals and reduced working memory.
In 2012, Moss and Oliver found that a compound 1,8-cineole present in rosemary aroma helps improve memory. The researchers observed that inhaling higher concentrations of rosemary aroma improved speed and accuracy of completing mental tasks.
Increased exposure to the aroma of R. officinalis was associated with increased absorption of 1,8-cineole in the blood. The aroma also improved mood.
Not only in adults but sniffing rosemary essential oil even improves memory in children. Children, aged 13 to 17 years, found it easier to memorize numbers and images when exposed to a room sprayed with rosemary essential oil in comparison to lavender oil.(Alexandria Journal of Medicine, 2018)
Now if you are wondering how sniffing or inhaling the aroma of rosemary oil boosts memory, then here is the answer.
Scientists have conducted experiments that evaluate our brain wave activity after we inhale Rosmarinus officinalis aroma.
According to a study, inhalation of the aroma affects brain waves so as to increase mental alertness and makes individuals feel more active and refreshed.
Sanders et al. have examined how rosemary essential oil aroma affects brain waves and mood in adults and infants. They saw that the fragrance of rosemary essential oil activated the left frontal area of the brain (indicative of composed mood) especially in those who had right frontal activation at baseline (indicative of increased depression and anxiety).
Quick Gist: Inhalation of rosemary essential oil or aromatherapy is found to increase alertness and boosts working memory.
The aroma can affect brain waves and shift individuals to a more composed state and increase mental alertness.
2.Consumption of rosemary water boosts memory on short-term
As we age, the brain becomes more susceptible to oxidative damage. This, in turn, lowers our memory power.
Researchers suggest that the memory-boosting effect of rosemary could be due to its antioxidant activity.
In an animal study, R.officinalus extract, containing 40% carnosic acid, is found to prevent memory loss. It increases the levels of antioxidant enzymes in the hippocampus- the memory centre of the brain.
Once again, in 2018, researchers from Northumbria University conducted a study showing that consumption of rosemary water boosts memory and cognition. 80 healthy adults who drank rosemary water performed better on cognitive tasks compared to those who drank mineral water.
The water contained herbal distillate or extract of Rosmarinus officinalis and the dosage used was 250 ml.
Consumption of Rosmarinus officinalis water increased brain blood flow and improved oxygen supply in the brain. This supported better performance on cognitive tasks.
Quick Gist: Apart from the oil, a single dose of rosemary infused water (250 ml) is found to improve memory and cognition acutely. It improves blood flow in the brain.
3. Consuming rosemary extracts may prevent memory loss in the elderly
Carnosic and rosmarinic acid are major antioxidants in the herb that contribute to its health benefits.
In an animal model of ageing, rosemary and spearmint extracts containing carnosic and rosmarinic acid are found to prevent age-related memory loss, improve learning and reduce oxidative damage in the brain. (Physiology and Behaviour, 2016)
Rosmarinic acid also has a cognition-enhancing effect.
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, 2012 demonstrated the acute effects of dried rosemary leaf powder consumption on memory in the elderly.
28 elderly individuals were enrolled in the study, and a dose of dried leaf powder between 750mg to 6000mg was provided. The lowest dose of 750mg was found to be beneficial in improving the speed of memory and alertness.
High doses were found to impair memory.
Researchers concluded that a dose of rosemary similar to the amount consumed in our diet could help enhance cognition. And further studies need to be conducted to confirm this.
Treatment with a combination of rosemary, sage and lemon balm alcohol extract for 2 weeks is proven to improve word recall and memory in healthy individuals under 63 years of age. (Phytomedicine, 2018)
Researchers suggest that the trio could be beneficial for reversing age-related memory loss and they may also help as an adjunctive treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Quick Gist: Rosmarinus officinalis extracts improve antioxidant defences in the brain and thus improve cognition.
750 mg or dietary amounts of dried rosemary leaf powder can help boost memory in the elderly. Interestingly, the study shows that high doses of the herb can impair memory.
Rosemary, sage and lemon balm tincture also prevents memory loss in the elderly.
4. It can prevent memory loss in Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative conditions
Acetylcholine is one of the important neurotransmitters that are involved in learning and memory.
Cholinesterase enzyme breaks down acetylcholine and in diseases conditions, this may cause memory loss. The two types of cholinesterase are acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase.
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are agents that inhibit the activity of cholinesterase enzyme and prevent acetylcholine from breaking down.
Rosmarinus officinalis leaf extracts have natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that may help improve long-term memory. This is particularly of importance with regards to memory loss in Alzheimer’s.
A study published in Neuroscience Letters 2015, reported that rosmarinic acid administration could reverse memory loss and prevent dementia and cognitive dysfunction. This is possible due to its antioxidant, neuroprotective and anticholinesterase activity.
Amyloid beta protein accumulation is one of the major pathological factors responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Preclinical studies indicate that carnosic acid in the herb prevents accumulation of amyloid beta.
Rosemary essential oil, used as a part of aromatherapy, may have modest benefits in Alzheimer’s related dementia.
Quick Gist: Rosemary contains active components that influence our brain chemistry particularly acetylcholine to boost memory.
They prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine by inhibiting enzyme acetylcholinesterase. This can aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
5.It protects mental health and prevents stress-induced memory issues
High levels of stress have a negative impact on our memory function. A stress-related hormone such as cortisol cause inflammation and affect brain function.
Inhalation of rosemary essential oil lowers cortisol levels.
A recent study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017 reveals that inhalation of rosemary essential oil has an anti-stress effect.
It lowers stress hormone levels and acts on the HPA axis. HPA axis or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is a network between the brain and hormone-secreting glands. It regulates our stress response.
The aroma also acts on our brain chemistry and influences neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine to reduce stress and improve alertness.
Alpha-pinene present in the essential oil lowers anxiety.
Researchers from Kerman University of Medical Sciences, Iran have found rosemary supplementation useful for enhancing memory and relieving stress in students. 500mg extract twice a day for a month is found to boost memory, reduce anxiety and depression and improve sleep in students.
Rosmarinus officinalis extract is found to have antidepressant activity comparable to fluoxetine, a conventional antidepressant.
Regular rosemary tea consumption reduces anxiety and depression, thereby protecting from stress-related memory loss. (Chemico-Biological interactions, 2015)
Researchers found that the tea contains compounds such as diterpenes, flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acids that reduce depressive symptoms.
Major components are rosmarinic acid, luteolin-7-O-glucuronide, a caffeic acid which helps inhibit the action of (a neurotransmitter that is involved in cognition and mood).
Quick Gist: Aroma of rosemary essential oil has anti-stress, antidepressant and anxiolytic action. It can help protect from stress-induced memory deficits.
6. It protects metabolic health and prevents memory deficits
Our diet and metabolic health have a significant impact on our memory power. Metabolic health means a group of factors such as body weight, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, insulin activity etc.
An obesogenic diet can cause memory loss and metabolic syndrome and pave the way for neurodegenerative diseases in future. (Synapse, 2015)
Rosemary is one of the herbs that can aid in the prevention and prove to be beneficial for treating metabolic syndrome.
It has antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, blood pressure lowering and liver protective action.
It is also an anti-hyperglycaemic agent– lowers blood sugar levels. Optimal blood sugar levels and insulin activity is an important factor for better memory function.
Cooking with rosemary can help reduce cholesterol oxidation products and improve the storage of food items. (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2016)
A study involving 20 healthy individuals demonstrated that consuming a meal containing culinary spices (one of which was rosemary) lowered post-meal serum triglyceride concentration (blood fat levels) by 31%.
Quick Gist: Disturbances in metabolic health such as reduced insulin activity or elevated blood triglyceride levels indirectly affect our memory function by causing oxidative stress, inflammation and disrupting brain metabolism.
Cooking with rosemary or including it in your diet can be a small step towards better memory and metabolic health.
7. It protects brain health
A recent study published in Molecular Neurobiology, 2016 reports that carnosol and carnosic acid contribute to 90% of the antioxidant activity of the herb.
These bioactive reduce neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain), improve antioxidant defences of the brain and protect neurons better than resveratrol, the grape antioxidant.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of Rosmarinus officinalis can help attenuate cognitive and memory deficits in traumatic brain injury patients. (Neuroscience Letters, 2016)
The combination of rosemary and Bacopa monnieri is found to be better than individual herbs as a neuroprotective agent. (Journal of Evidence-Based And Complementary Alternative Medicine, 2014)
Quick Gist: Rosemary has active therapeutic components that help protect neurons from any neurodegenerative or other brain disorders that could cause memory loss.
Uses & Dosage of Rosemary Essential Oil and Herb For Memory
There are several ways to use rosemary to improve memory:
- Aromatherapy or inhaling the aroma of rosemary essential oil
- Consuming dry leaf powder
- Consuming rosemary tea
- Cooking with the herb
Aromatherapy with rosemary essential oil can help improve memory in adults. Put four drops of rosemary essential oil on a pad and place it in a diffuser. The duration of the exposure can range from 3 minutes to 20 minutes.
You can apply rosemary essential oil to a cotton ball and place it on your pillow before sleeping.
Excess exposure is found to worsen memory and induce a state of anxiety.
Though not a permanent solution, inhaling rosemary essential oil before tasks that require heightened alertness and memory can give you that extra boost of mental energy.
Coming to the spice, consumption of 750 mg of dried rosemary leaf powder is found to boost memory. But more research is required to confirm this.
Avoid consuming the tea, supplements or large doses of the leaf powder close to the time of taking any medicine.
Rosemary in the diet is safe. At high doses, it can cause serious side effects such as vomiting, spasms, coma and pulmonary oedema.
Individuals with high blood pressure, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disease should avoid consuming high doses of the herb.
Pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking rosemary supplements.
Rosmarinus officinalis extracts may interact with blood thinners, ACE inhibitors, diuretics, diabetes medication and lithium.
Consumption of rosemary essential oil can be toxic; it should be used only for aromatherapy. It may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Note: It is advisable to consult a herbalist or other health practitioner before using rosemary supplements.
Suggested Rosemary Essential Oil For Memory & Cognition
Edens Garden offer affordable, pure essential oils and the purity of their product is evidenced by certificate of analysis (available on request).
They provide two types of rosemary essential oil: Spanish and Moroccan. The Moroccan one is high in 1,8-cineole which is said to improve mood and memory. And the Spanish one has a higher camphor content.
Hence I have listed the Moroccan Rosemary essential oil. Dilute the rosemary essential oil before using it.
|Edens Garden Rosemary Essential Oil|
Image Credit: Edens Garden
|Contains Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil with higher 1,8-cineole content.|
Inhalation of rosemary essential oil is found to improve alertness and memory on acute exposure. Studies reveal that the aroma can affect brain waves and induce a composed state with increased alertness.
Sniffing rosemary essential oil will improve memory and cognition on the short term. It is not a permanent solution or a replacement for better diet and cognitive exercise.
Rosmarinus officinalis contains natural antioxidants that serve as neuroprotective agents. Consumption of rosemary water or leaf powder is associated with improved memory and cognition.
Including the herb in diet can help protect brain health and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. This, in turn, may cut down the risk of dementia and neurodegenerative conditions.
Have you tried using rosemary essential oil aromatherapy? Do share your experience in the comments section below.