Psychologists at Northumbria University, Newcastle, conducted a study presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Harrogate, which showed that sniffing the essential oil from the herb rosemary enhances memory functions.
The researchers said their findings could have implications for treating people with memory impairment.
According to WebMD, the researchers presented evidence that sniffing the essential oil from the herb rosemary improved long-term memory and performance in mental arithmetic.
Discovery News reports researcher Dr. Mark Ross said it enabled people to "remember events that will occur in the future" by 60-75 percent and to "remember to complete tasks at particular times."
For instance, it helped patients remember to take their medication on time and even helped people who were forgetful to remember to post a birthday card, the Daily Mail reports.
A total of 66 people participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to two rooms, one scented with rosemary and the other not scented. The Daily Mail reports that rosemary essential oil was diffused into the scented room by placing four drops on an aroma stream fan diffuser and switching it on for five minutes before the volunteers entered.
After the volunteers entered the rooms, they were tested for memory functions by making them perform tasks such as finding objects that had been concealed earlier in their presence, and passing objects to researchers at particular times.
The volunteers were asked to perform the tasks without prompting but if the volunteer failed to perform the task then he could be prompted, WebMD reports. The participants were scored according to their ability to perform without prompting.
They were also asked to complete questionnaires assessing their mood.
Blood samples taken from the volunteers were tested for levels of a compound called 1,8-cineole, a component of the essential oil of the herb rosemary which previous research had shown was involved in biochemical processes linked to memory. The tests were carried out to determine whether the blood levels of the compound after exposure to rosemary aroma were linked to the performance of the volunteers in the tests.
The results indicated that volunteers in the room scented with the essential oil of rosemary performed better in the memory tasks than volunteers in the room that was not scented.
The blood analysis also showed that blood levels of 1,8-cineole were higher in individuals in the rosemary-scented room, suggesting that volatile components of the essential oil of rosemary herb were absorbed into the bloodstream when sniffed through the nose. It also showed that there was a link between blood levels of 1,8-cineole and performance in memory tasks.
According to the Daily Mail, Dr Mark Moss, who presented the findings at the British Psychology Society conference, said that evidence was accumulating to show the benefits of rosemary aroma. He said "We wanted to build on our previous research that indicated rosemary aroma improved long-term memory and mental arithmetic. 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."
Co-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 rosemary oil. 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 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."
Discovery News reports that previous work had suggested that the volatile compounds in rosemary aroma could enhance long term memory and mental arithmetic.
According to WebMD, there is evidence that the Greeks were aware of the memory enhancing properties of rosemary aroma.
The Daily Telegraph also points out that in Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” Ophelia said: "There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you, love, remember."
The herb is used in modern times as an ingredient in cooking and as a moth repellent. It is also used as ingredient in herbal remedies for cough and sore throats.
WebMD reports the findings of the study have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.