Sniffing rosemary can increase memory by 75%: A study
- Reported, April 11, 2013
Shakespeare was right in saying rosemary can improve your memory.
Researchers have found for the first time that essential oil from the herb when
sniffed in advance enables people to remember to do things.
It could help patients take their medication on time, it is claimed, or even
help the forgetful to post a birthday card.
In a series of tests rosemary essential oil from the herb increased the chances
of remembering to do things in the future, by 60-75 per cent compared with
people who had not
been exposed to the oil.
Other studies have shown the oil increases alertness and enhances long-term
memory. Rosemary has been long been linked to memory, with the most famous
found in Hamlet when Ophelia declares: ‘There’s rosemary, that’s for
remembrance: pray, love, remember.’ It is used in modern-day herbal medicine as
a mild painkiller and for migraines and digestive problems. A team of
psychologists at Northumbria University, Newcastle, tested the effects of
essential oils from rosemary.
Dr Mark Moss, who will present the findings today at the British Psychology
Society conference in Harrogate, said the benefit of aromas was becoming clear
through scientific investigation. He said ‘We wanted to build on our previous
research that indicated rosemary aroma improved long-term memory and mental
‘In this 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.’ Rosemary essential oil was diffused in to a testing room by
placing four drops on an aroma stream fan diffuser and switching this on five
minutes before people entered the room.
Altogether 66 people took part in the study and were randomly allocated to
either the rosemary-scented room or another room with no scent. In each room
participants completed a test designed to assess their prospective memory
This included tasks such as hiding objects and asking participants to find them
at the end of the test and instructing them to pass a specified object to the
researcher at a particular time.All the tasks had to be done with no prompting
but if the task was not performed then different degrees of prompting were used.
The more prompting that was used the lower the score. The volunteers, all
healthy adults, also completed questionnaires assessing their mood.
Blood was taken from volunteers and analysed to see if performance levels and
changes in mood following exposure to the rosemary aroma were related to
concentrations of a compound known as 1,8-cineole present in the blood.
The compound is also found in the essential oil of rosemary and has previously
been shown to act on the biochemical systems that underpin memory.
The results showed that participants in the rosemary-scented room performed
better on the prospective memory tasks than the participants in the room with no
This was the case for remembering events, remembering to complete tasks at
particular times, and the speed of recall.
The results from the blood analysis found that significantly greater amounts of
1,8-cineole were present in the plasma of those in the rosemary scented room,
sniffing the aroma led to higher concentrations.
Previous research suggests volatile molecules from essential oils can be
absorbed into the bloodstream through the nose. The chemicals also stimulate the
olfactory nerve in the
nose directly, which could have effects on brain functioning. Researcher Jemma
McCready said ‘The difference between the two groups was 60-75 per cent, for
example one group
would remember to do seven things compared with four tasks completed by those
who did not smell the oil, and they were quicker.' We deliberately set them a lot
of tasks, so it’s
possible that people who multi-task could function better after sniffing
Miss McCready said ‘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.' These findings may have implications for treating individuals with
memory impairments.' It supports our previous research indicating that the aroma of
rosemary essential oil can enhance cognitive functioning in healthy adults, here
extending to the ability
to remember events and to complete tasks in the future. ‘Remembering when and
where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do, and we all suffer
that can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous. ‘Further research is needed to
investigate if this treatment is useful for older adults who have experienced
memory decline’ she added.