Shakespeare was right: rosemary improves your memory

A whiff of rosemary could improve your memory. Image: Shutterstock

Rosemary improves cognitive performance and enhances long-term memory in up to 15 per cent.

The scent from essential oils has been used since ancient times to influence the mood. The earliest record of man’s use of rosemary was found in Sumerian cuneiform tablets from the 5th century BC — even Shakespeare mentioned its medicinal properties in Hamlet (“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” says sweet Ophelia in Act 4). But how exactly does rosemary work?

Dr Mark Moss, Head of the Department of Psychology at Northumbria University (NU), and Lorraine Olivier, from the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre at UN, have been studying the benefits of different essential oils and recently published some of their findings it in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.

Moss and Olivier took blood samples of 20 subjects who were exposed to different amounts of the rosemary aroma. After the researchers analysed the subjects’ blood chemistry, they discovered that higher concentrations of 1,8-cineole resulted in improved cognitive performance.

“Only contentedness possessed a significant relationship with 1,8-cineoloe levels, and interestingly to some of the cognitive performance outcomes, leading to the intriguing proposal that positive mood can improve performance whereas aroused mood cannot,” said Moss in a statement.

The chemical compound — a terpene — enters the blood stream via the nasal or lung mucosa, and it affects cognitive performance through different neurochemical pathways. According to the researchers, rosemary components may prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in memory.

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