Smelling essential oil from the herb rosemary could improve memory, according to a small study by the University of Northumbria.
Researchers say their findings may have implications for treating people with memory problems in future.
Rosemary was already thought to improve memory by the ancient Greeks and, according to the Herb Society, has been seen as a symbol of love and loyalty and to ward off evil spirits.
These days it is used as an ingredient in cooking and as a moth repellent. It is also used as an ingredient in some traditional herbal remedies, including ones to help with coughs and sore throats and the discomfort of cystitis in women.
Rosemary smell study
To conduct the experiment, drops of rosemary essential oil were wafted around a room before the participants came in.
66 healthy adults took part and were randomly sent to the rosemary room, or a room with no scent.
Both groups were given memory tests, including finding objects they’d seen being hidden earlier. They were scored depending on how much help or prompting they needed to finish the tasks.
They were also given questionnaires to assess their mood. Blood tests were also given to see whether a compound linked to rosemary and memory had entered the bloodstream.
There was no link between the participant’s mood and memory, which the researchers suggest means performance was not influenced by changes in alertness or arousal.
Rosemary study results
The people who’d been in the rosemary scented room did better in the memory tests and tests to see if they remembered to carry out tasks on time. In a statement, one of the researchers, Dr Mark Moss, says this could prove useful in everyday life: “For example when someone needs to remember to post a birthday card or to take medication at a particular time.”
Another of the Northumbria researchers, Jemma McCready, says it is too soon to say whether rosemary might help people with impaired memory: “Remembering when and where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do, and we all suffer minor failings 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.”
The new results were presented to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Harrogate, rather than appearing in a peer reviewed journal.
However, the findings back up the team’s earlier research published last year in in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. A small study involving 20 people suggested that the scent of rosemary oil may improve speed and accuracy when performing certain mental tasks.
And, as the Daily Telegraph points out, the results suggest that Shakespeare knew this all along. In his play, “Hamlet,” Ophelia remarks, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you, love, remember.”
British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Harrogate news release
Moss, M. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, published online Feb. 24, 2012
Herb Society Herb Fact Sheet: Rosemary
MHRA THR 26411/0003