Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has had a reputation for its beneficial effects on memory since the beginning of written records. The ancient Egyptians used the herb in wedding and funeral rituals. Banke’s herbal, written in 1525, states, “smell of it oft, and it shall keep thee youngly”. Perhaps the most famous literary reference is in Hamlet, when Ophelia declares: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray, love, remember.”
Turns out – science proved Shakespeare right.
Scientific Studies that Show Rosemary Can Improve Memory
Scientists in the United Kingdom demonstrated that smelling rosemary can improve the memory of healthy adults and children in two separate studies.
Rosemary Can Improve Memory in Adults
In 2013, psychologists at Northumbria University conducted a scientific study on the effects of rosemary essential oil on memory. A group of 150 healthy adults (aged 65 and over) were placed in rooms which had either been scented with rosemary essential oil, or a control room which had no scent. They were asked to take tests that assessed their prospective memory (the ability to remember to do something at a given time, such as taking medication). They were also assessed on completing tasks after receiving a prompt, such as mailing a letter after seeing a mailbox. In addition, the subjects also completed a mood assessment test.
The results of this study showed that those who had been in the rosemary-scented room showed had test scores 15% higher than those who had been in the room with no aroma. They were also more alert. These results were presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society – which caused a surge in rosemary essential oil sales.
Rosemary Can Improve Memory in Children
In 2017, the same group performed a similar study on the effects of rosemary essential oil on children’s memory in classroom settings. Elementary school-aged children (ages 10-11) were asked to perform different mental tasks in a room diffused with rosemary essential oil or a control room with no scent. The results showed that students exposed to rosemary performed significantly better than those who performed the same tasks in a room with no scent.
It is not known why or how rosemary has a postive effect on memory. However, the results from this study offer a possible way to improve academic performance in children.
Other Rosemary Essential Oil Studies
The results of these studies provide the framework for more large-scale trials of aromatherapy techniques. To date, there has not been a great deal of scientific research on the effects of essential oils. The benefits of aromatherapy have mostly been left to alternative practitioners. However, several other important studies are worth mentioning.
An earlier investigation reported that rosemary improved cognition and positively impacted mood. The use of rosemary has also been studied for dementia, Alzheimers Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease patients. In addition, a few research papers have focused on the effects of rosemary for other age-related health issues.
The results of the studies are clear. For individuals interested in making positive lifestyle choices, aromatherapy offers the potential to improve health, well-being and cognition.