Does Rosemary Actually Improve Your Memory and Cognition?
The Research Behind the Idea of Rosemary as a Cognitive Enhancer
By Esther Heerema, MSW Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Updated on May 19, 2020
There are many theories that suggest different ways of improving memory or thinking more clearly. One of those is the idea that adding rosemary to your food or water, or even breathing in its scent, can give your brain a boost. But, is this concept supported by research?
What Is Rosemary?
First, it’s important to understand what rosemary is. Rosemary (scientific name: rosmarinus officinalis) is an herb with needle-like leaves. It’s a perennial, meaning that once you plant it, it should re-grow every year when the whether is warm enough for it to do so.
It’s native to Asia and the Mediterranean, but it is grown in the United States, as well.1 Rosemary is related to the mint family of plants. When it blooms, its flower are white, purple, pink or deep blue.
Rosemary is often used as a spice in food, including soups, stew, meat, chicken, fish and other Mediterranean food, and it has a somewhat bitter flavor. Some people also enjoy tea flavored with rosemary. Rosemary is also used as a perfume and added to shampoo, conditioner and soap.
Rosemary as a Cognitive Enhancer?
Here’s what research has found about rosemary and its effects on cognitive function.
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
Some research looked at how the smell of rosemary affects cognition. Participants were exposed to the aroma of rosemary while performing visual processing tasks and serial subtraction tasks. With higher amounts of the rosemary aroma, both speed and accuracy in the tasks increased.3
Research that was presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society also highlighted the benefits of the aroma of rosemary. Research included 40 school-age children who were placed either in a room that contained the rosemary aroma or another room without an aroma.
The results, which have not yet been published by a peer-reviewed journal, found that those in the rosemary aroma room demonstrated higher memory scores than those in the room without the rosemary scent.4
Rosemary Essential Oil
Another study was performed with 53 students who were between 13 and 15 years old. Researchers found that their memory of images and numbers improved when the essential oil of rosemary was sprayed in the room.5
One study involved 80 adults who drank 250 milliliters of rosemary water or mineral water. Those who drank the rosemary water demonstrated a small improvement in cognitive functioning as compared to those who drank the mineral water.6
Studies in Mice and Rats
Several other studies have been published in peer reviewed journals about the effect of rosemary consumption, with results that fairly consistently show benefits in memory associated with rosemary. However, those studies were performed with rats and mice, and it is unknown if those benefits would hold true to humans. Thus, they’re not included in this summary of research.
Why Might Rosemary Benefit the Brain?
It’s unknown for sure why there may be a benefit from rosemary, but one theory is that rosemary appears to have some antioxidant properties which may offer some healing for the damage in our bodies due to free radicals.
Another idea cited by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is that rosemary appears to lower anxiety, which in turn, may increase the ability to concentrate.1
A Word From Verywell
While rosemary shows some promise for boosting our brain power, it’s important to check with your doctor before you begin supplementing your diet with it. It does have the potential to interact with other medicines including blood thinners, ACE inhibitors (for treating high blood pressure), lithium, diuretics (such as Lasix) and diabetes medications. Additionally, the case for rosemary needs to be strengthened by additional research in humans that demonstrates consistent cognitive benefits.