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The Smell of Rosemary May Help Boost Memory

Rosemary smell

As we wrap up the school year, students are preparing for their end of year exams. Researchers suggest that adding rosemary aroma to your study room may help enhance working memory.


Rosmarinus officinalis, is a perennial herb best known as a spice for food. It is native to the Mediterranean and has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years, including as a method for improving memory. It is said that Greek scholars would prepare for exams while wearing rosemary leaves.

New research suggests that today it could be used for enhancing the working memory of school-aged children.

Dr. Mark Moss and Victoria Earle of Northumbria University presented research at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference. They studied a total of 40 children aged 10 to 11 taking part in a class-based test on various mental tasks. Those children exposed to a room that had rosemary oil diffused in it for ten minutes scored significantly higher on tests of word recall.

The theory on how this works is that aromas could affect the electrical activity in the brain, states Dr. Moss. A previous study on aromatherapy found that rosemary aroma made participants more alert.

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Will it work for you? It can’t hurt! "We do know that poor working memory is related to poor academic performance and these findings offer a possible cost effective and simple intervention to improve academic performance in children,” says Dr. Moss.

Rosemary essential oil can be purchased (be sure to use a reputable provider so you know what you are getting). The essential oil of rosemary should only be used topically (externally) and should always be diluted with a carrier oil. Dr. Josh Axe, a wellness physician, suggests mixing 3 drops of rosemary oil with 1/2 tsp of coconut oil and rub on upper neck or diffuse for 1 hour a day to improve memory. Dr. Axe cautions though about using oils on children younger than 4.

Rosemary oil can be irritating to the skin. Also, be aware of any other sensitivities or allergies you may have before using. For example, Rosemary contains a chemical that is very similar to aspirin, known a as salicylate. Rosemary oil may cause a reaction in people who are allergic to aspirin.

Alternatively, you could grow your own rosemary plants – not just for the wonderful smell, but also to use as a spice to flavor your favorite dishes. Rosemary is easy to grow (low-maintenance), evergreen in many climates, and thrives in containers.

British Psychological Society. "Rosemary aroma can aid children's working memory: Exposure to the aroma of rosemary essential oil can significantly enhance working memory in children." ScienceDaily, 2 May 2017.
Dr. Axe – Rosemary Oil Uses and Benefits
The Kitchn – Everything you need to know about growing rosemary
WebMD – Rosemary
Botanical Online

Photo Credit: via Wikimedia Commons