Study: Sniffing Rosemary Improves Memory

Inhaling the scent of rosemary boosted memory test scores 15%, improving memory recall and the ability to remember to do things in the future

The smell of rosemary enhances our ability to recall past events and remember what to do in the future studies find.

For one recent study, researchers from Northumbria University placed 150 healthy senior citizens in rooms which had been infused with either rosemary essential oil, lavender essential oil, or no scent at all, and then tested them on their ability to remember to do something at a given time, such as taking medication or posting a letter after seeing a mail box.

Those who had been in the rosemary scented room demonstrated significantly improved prospective memory and alertness, with test scores 15% higher than those who had been in the room with no aroma.

Those who started in the lavender room displayed significantly increased calmness, with decreased ability to remember to do something at a given time.

Prospective memory “is critical for everyday functioning.”  Lauren Bussey of Northumbria University told the Daily Mail. “For example: when someone needs to remember to take medication at a particular time.”

The researchers attribute the memory boost to the chemical compound that gives rosemary its distinctive smell – 1,8-cineole.

The compound acts in the same way as drugs licensed to treat dementia, preventing the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, says the BBC’s “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” TV star Chris Van Tulleken.

“The same brain chemistry is targeted by Alzheimer’s medicines,” lead researcher and head of psychology at Northumbria University Dr, Mark Moss told the Daily Mail.

And its highly plausible inhalation is the best way of getting the compound into the brain, Tulleken added:

“When you eat a drug it may be broken down in the liver … but with inhalation small molecules can pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain.”

Dr. Moss recommends regularly diffusing or burning rosemary oil and inhaling.

Rosemary has a reputation for improving memory for centuries, Dr. Moss points out: “Even Shakespeare said ‘rosemary is for remembrance.’”

“We tested [this theory] and found that rosemary could do that.”

An even more recent study by Moss and his team shows rosemary helps not only the elderly, but children. In a similar experiment, children who sat in rosemary-infused rooms scored significantly higher on memory tests and word games.