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Can smelling rosemary improve memory?

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Can smelling essential oil from the herb rosemary improve memory?

Yes, according to research by the University of Northumbria.

In 2012, research published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology described a small study involving 20 people that suggested the scent of rosemary oil may improve speed and accuracy when performing certain mental tasks.

Then in 2013, Northumbria researchers told the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society how putting the smell of rosemary in the air helped people with memory tests.

To conduct the experiment, drops of rosemary essential oil were wafted around a room before the participants came in.
Sixty-six 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. 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.

They were also given questionnaires to assess their mood. There was no link between the participant's mood and memory test ability, which the researchers suggest means performance was not influenced by changes in alertness or arousal.

In 2017, University of Northumbria researchers found that primary school children who were asked to perform different mental tasks in a room sprayed with rosemary essential oil performed better than those in a room with no scent.

The research team believe that when you sit in a room that has this aroma of rosemary in it, you inhale certain compounds that are absorbed into the blood and then get transported to the brain where they potentially have this effect on memory.

Rosemary facts

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.

Reviewed on September 06, 2017

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