In these pages we’ve let you know that sage, cinnamon, turmeric, and saffron are all powerful brain boosters. Sage is so potent, it’s an ingredient in a brain supplement from our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions.
We’ve also written up rosemary, another herb I recommend for brain health. It’s good for way more than seasoning chicken. And now there are some new findings you should know about. . .
The link between rosemary and memory predates modern science. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says to her brother, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
Still, poor Ophelia may not be the best advertisement for rosemary’s cognitive powers. As you may recall, she lost her mind after the death of her father and killed herself shortly after.
But folk medicine suggested rosemary for more besides memory. The herb was used to help alleviate muscle pain, bolster the immune and circulatory systems, and even promote hair growth.
Modern Day “It” Herb? Could be. . .
What about modern times? Well, you could say rosemary, a member of the mint family, is now the “it” herbal ingredient in various teas, perfumes, essential oils, shampoo, soap, and more.
For sure we know that rosemary is a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin B6, as well as a host of antioxidants.
In alternative health circles there are plenty of theories about how and why rosemary improves memory and cognition. Some suggest that adding rosemary to food or water, or even breathing in its scent, can offer your brain a healthy boost.
But before you rush out and purchase an industrial-sized container of rosemary at your local warehouse store, first take a look at the scientific findings on its brain-boosting powers…
Lower Doses May be Best
In one short-term study1 researchers looked at the effects of rosemary on the cognitive function of 28 older adults (average age 75 years). In this placebo-controlled, double-blinded study, scientists discovered that the lowest dose of dried rosemary leaf powder (750 mg) had a significant benefit for memory speed and cognitive performance.
Interestingly, the highest dose (6,000 mg – six grams) actually impaired cognition. But six grams is an enormous amount. I find it hard to picture anyone consuming that much, for any purpose.
“The positive effect of the dose nearest normal culinary consumption [i.e. what you’d use to season your food] points to the value of further work on the effects of low doses over the longer term,” the study’s author writes.
I just baked a chicken last night using a teaspoon or so of rosemary, so I guess I’m on the right track. Although, to be sure I’m not going to use that much rosemary every day.
Better Focus and Mood Just a Sniff Away…
Various studies suggest that merely smelling rosemary affects your thinking ability. In one study, researchers first exposed 20 participants to rosemary aroma. Then they asked them to perform visual processing and serial subtraction tasks.
Researchers discovered that with higher concentrations of the rosemary aroma, both speed and accuracy in the tasks increased. What’s more, mood also improved thanks to the scent of rosemary.
The study’s authors say these findings suggest that compounds absorbed from rosemary aroma affect cognition and work independently through different neurochemical pathways.
In another study,2 researchers found that rosemary aroma led to an improvement in long-term memory compared with controls.
It wouldn’t be a crazy idea (notwithstanding poor Ophelia) to carry around a vile of rosemary herb or essential oil and sniff it once in a while.
These and other studies indicate that the olfactory properties of this essential oil can produce significant effects on cognitive performance and subjective effects on mood. “Subjective mood” here means feelings of happiness, optimism, or whatever – things that are hard to measure, so the researchers rely on what participants tell them.
Another idea is to add an essential oil diffuser to your home or work place to give yourself an added advantage. Many times, rosemary is blended with other pleasant-smelling essential oils. And please make sure your coworkers are on board with the idea. Many people don’t like scented air.
Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s and Brain Aging?
Whether rosemary can help prevent Alzheimer’s and brain aging is an area of special interest to researchers.
Dr. James Duke is a former Chief of Medicinal Plant Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He believes rosemary may treat Alzheimer’s as effectively as mainstream medicine’s favorite dementia medication, Aricept®. He thinks rosemary may operate by the same mechanism: inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine (ACh).3
“Rosemary contains more than a dozen antioxidants and compounds reported to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine,” Dr. Duke says.
There is also emerging research to suggest that rosemary’s brain benefits are due to a compound it contains called carnosic acid, which fights off damage by free radicals in the brain.
In one study,5 researchers combined the brahmi, a plant used in traditional medicine, with rosemary. Both plants are known to possess antioxidant and neuroprotective properties.
Consumed together, the two had a synergistic effect that may potentially decrease the tendencies of Alzheimer’s disease.
Rosemary shows much promise in the brain health arena. However, in large doses rosemary has the potential to interact with other medicines, including blood thinners and blood pressure drugs. As always, it would be good to see more human studies.
In the meantime, adding rosemary to food or inhaling its scent are harmless ways to harness its brain-boosting power.
- J Med Food. 2012 Jan;15(1):10-7. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2011.0005. Epub 2011 Aug 30.
- Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett PInt J Neurosci. 2003 Jan; 113(1):15-38.
- Ramachandran C, Quirin KW, Escalon E, Melnick SJ. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2014 Apr;19(2):119-27. doi: 10.1177/2156587214524577.