Some people go to great lengths to help themselves remember important tasks or information, whether it’s memory-training drills, memory-enhancing drugs or mountains of calendars and to-do lists. While technology has given us many tools to rely on, most of these don’t actually train your brain to remember better. Instead, it makes it easier to forget, knowing very well that these tools will store information without having to use our brains to do the work.
And yet, there is a better solution, and it starts within your pantry.
Rosemary For Remembrance
Rosemary has been used for millennia to increase alertness and enhance long-term memory. In fact, there are accounts of its use in the Universities of Ancient Greece. Even Shakespeare refers to its abilities in his play “Hamlet”.
Back in 2003, Researchers at Northumbria University, Newcastle showed that smelling rosemary is linked with “an enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors” (1).
Fast forward to 2012, the researchers are finally able to scientifically explain the cognitive-boosting abilities of the herb (2). This is what they discovered…
The new study followed twenty people as they performed subtraction exercises as well as visual information processing tasks and other tests. Their mood was also assessed before and after being exposed to the scent of rosemary in their work stations and blood samples were drawn.
Altogether, 66 people took part in the study and were randomly assigned to either the rosemary-scented room or another room with no scent.
The results showed that participants in the rosemary-scented room performed 60-75% better on remembering events to completing tasks at particular times as well as recalling things faster than the participants in the room with no scent. So it definitely demonstrates an increase memory for many people.
Traces of Rosemary Compound Found In Blood
Researchers also found that the blood of participants exposed to the rosemary-scented room had detectable levels of 1,8-cineole, an active compound found in rosemary. The more 1,8-cineole they absorbed in their bloodstream, the more positive their results were.
“This compound is present in rosemary but has not previously been demonstrated to be absorbed into blood plasma in humans,” study researcher Dr. Mark Moss told MSNBC (3). “It is our view that the aroma therefore acts like a therapeutic drug, rather than any effects being a result of the more sensory properties of the aroma.”
The chemicals are also believed to have directly stimulated the olfactory nerve in the nose, which could have effects on brain functioning.
“We deliberately set them a lot of tasks, so it’s possible that people who multi-task could function better after sniffing rosemary oil”, said researcher Jemma McCready. “There was no link between the participants’ mood and memory. This suggests performance is not influenced as a consequence of changes in alertness or arousal.”
The herb also helped improve brain health thanks to its carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid, which impairs the growth of cancer cells and prevent Alzheimer’s by fighting free radical damage and protecting against beta amyloid-induced neurodegeneration in the hippocampus (4,5).
The Future of Aromatherapy
Researcher Dr. Mark Moss is excited at the real-life implications of the study: “… [we] focused on prospective memory, which involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times. This is critical for everyday functioning, for example when someone needs to remember to post a birthday card or to take medication at a particular time.”
“Plants are very complex organisms and contain many different active compounds and these vary in concentration from plant to plant and even within the same plant over the course of a day,” he says. “The accumulation of knowledge regarding possible impacts of plant aromas and extracts could potentially lead to an identification of the best combination to promote specific effects.”
Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, who was not involved in the study, agrees: “[the study] opens up the doorway for us to explore other odors and how they affect people” (6).
How To Use Rosemary
To help boost your memory, fill your office with the scent of rosemary by diffusing a few drops of high-quality organic essential oil using a diffuser. You can also keep a rosemary plant by your desk.
For an on-the-go solution, mix a drop of rosemary oil in a teaspoon of coconut oil and carry it in a small cosmetic tin. Rub a bit of oil on your wrists as needed to keep your brain sharp!