Rosemary is a perennial herb that grows in temperate climates. It is a member of the mint family, and its leaves can be used fresh or dried. The most common use of rosemary is as an ingredient in cooking, but it is also used as a food flavoring, medicine and in cosmetics. Though used in folk medicine for centuries, scientists are only just beginning to realize the potential the herb has to ward off dementia and boost our brain health.
Rosemary Isn’t Just For Flavor
Most of us know the herb rosemary as a great seasoning for steak, potatoes, in soups and stews, and many other culinary pursuits. Not just for cooking, however, it has been used by people for centuries to help them stay healthy. The ancient Greeks used it to clean wounds and treat infections. They also drank tea made from rosemary to help them recover from fevers and other illnesses. Most recently, scientists have been discovering its potential brain-boosting benefits.
Rosemary for Brain Health
Rosemary contains many different types of antioxidants, which are chemicals that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants in general have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer and heart disease by reducing inflammation and blood pressure levels in your body. (1)
These benefits have also been linked with improved brain function in older adults who have memory problems like Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One study that involved 28 older adults found that a consumption of a low dose, but not a higher dose, of dried rosemary powder was associated with statistically significantly improved memory speed. (2)
Other research looked simply at the smell of rosemary and how it affects cognition. In one study, researchers exposed participants to the aroma of rosemary while performing visual processing tasks and serial subtraction tasks. The more aroma they smelled, the more improvement they saw with speed and accuracy of the tasks. (3)
Scientists did a separate study with 53 young teenaged students. The tasks for these students were memory tasks involving images and numbers. When they sprayed rosemary essential oil in the room, the students’ memories improved. A similar study was done on 40 school-aged children, which yielded a similar result. (4)
Rosemary Aroma For Future Memory
Scientists typically divide memory up into three different categories: Memories from the past, current memories (minute-by-minute), and then future memory. Future memory refers to things like remembering to call the doctor to book your appointment or remembering to take that medication at the same time each day. Improving this kind of memory has proved to be particularly challenging for scientists. (5)
A research team at Northumbria tested this using a specific kind of cognition test on 60 participants. They were either in a room scented with rosemary essential oil or an unscented room. The rosemary group scored better than those in the unscented room, not drastically so but still statistically better. The researchers say, though, that they still can’t definitively say that rosemary aroma improves future memory, this is the starting point for further research.
Another group of scientists tested whether or not drinking rosemary water could affect cognition. They gave 250ml of rosemary water or regular mineral water to 80 adults. When they tested their cognitive function, the participants who drank the rosemary water had some small improvements compared to those who drank just the regular mineral water. (6)
Are There Any Potential Side Effects?
Rosemary is generally safe when taken at small doses. Though rare, at high doses it can cause some bad reactions. These include vomiting, and even more rare, spasms, edema (swelling) in the lungs, and coma. Pregnant women should also avoid it as it can cause miscarriage. There are also potential drug interactions. These include (7):
- Anticoagulant drugs: Including blood-thinning medications, such as Warfarin, Aspirin, and Clopidogrel.
- ACE inhibitors: For treating high blood pressure, these include lisinopril (Zestril), fosinopril (Monopril), captopril (Capoten), and enalapril (Vasotec).
- Diuretics: For increasing the passing of urine and include hydrocholorothiazide and furosemide (Lasix).
- Lithium: This is used to treat the manic episodes of manic depression. Rosemary can act as a diuretic and cause lithium to reach toxic levels in the body.
The Bottom Line
Rosemary is a natural herb that, beyond just adding flavor to your meals, could benefit your brain. As always, talk to your health care practitioner before introducing any form of rosemary into your routine. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or already on other medications. As always, if you do start to notice any adverse reactions, stop taking it immediately and go speak with your healthcare provider.
- Pennstate Hershey
- “Short-Term Study on the Effects of Rosemary on Cognitive Function in an Elderly Population.” Liebert Pub. Andrew Pengelly, et al. January 4, 2012.
- “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma.” Sage Pub. Mark Moss, et al. February 24, 2012.
- “What does rosemary do to your brain?” BBC. July 2015.
- “New research shows drinking No 1 Rosemary Water improves memory by up to 15 percent.” Eurekalert. October 15, 2018.
- “Everything you need to know about rosemary.” Medical News Today. Joseph Nordqvist. December 13, 2017.