Rosemary and Its Use in Mental Clarity

By Catherine Kakenya

There are many ways people have found to improve their mental clarity. One of those ways is by using rosemary, either by inhaling its scent or adding it to food.

What is Rosemary?

Scientifically known as Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary is an herb with needle-like leaves. It is an herb that grows year-round.

Rosemary is one of the most economically essential spices in its scientific family. The plant is native to the Mediterranean region. It is widely used for culinary, commercial, and medicinal purposes.

Rosemary is primarily used either fresh or dried in cooking food and making tea. Companies also use it to make rosemary-based scents and essential oils.

History of Rosemary

Rosemary’s function in memory improvement originated in ancient Greece and Rome. In those times, it was a tool used to strengthen memory. Studies have backed up this claim.

Poets and physicians have praised rosemary throughout history. They have associated it with youth, memory, romance, and fertility. In Christian mythology, the belief is that the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak over white flowered rosemary while she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. From then forward, the plant came to be known as the “Rose of Mary.”

In ancient Egypt, rosemary twigs are spread across coffins or tombstones to honour those who’ve passed on. This tradition is still celebrated today in Australia on Anzac Day when they celebrate the dead.

In ancient Greece, scholars wore rosemary on their brows when taking exams to boost their memory.

In the past, people placed rosemary in bouquets or on wedding dresses in traditional weddings. Wedding guests also wore the herb so they could remember the occasion. They also put the spice in the bride and groom’s wines to help them remember their vows to each other.

People placed rosemary under their pillows in the Middle Ages, believing it would dispel evil spirits and nightmares. Burning the herb was thought to keep the black plague away.

Medicinally, physicians used rosemary to cure muscle aches, poor digestion, migraines, and joint disorders. Queen Elizabeth of Hungary used a concoction of rosemary to cure her semi-paralysis. Therefore, the concoction took on the name “Hungary water.”

Photo: jcomp

Rosemary Can Improve Memory

Ingestion: 28 people with a mean age of 75 years took powdered rosemary leaves to see its cognitive performance effect. The study showed an improvement in the speed of their memory which is significant because of their ages (Pengelly, 2012). A higher dose of rosemary powder showed better results.

Aroma: Another study looked into the effect of essential oils on cognitive performance (Moss M. & Oliver, L., 2012). Twenty participants stayed in a cubicle diffused with a rosemary aroma. They were performing serial subtraction and visual information processing tasks.

There was improved performance in their memory speed and accuracy. In higher concentrations/durations in the room, performance improved.

In another study, 40 children between the ages of 10 and 11 were assigned to different rooms, some infused with rosemary, others not. The test was on various mental tasks. The children put in scented rooms performed higher than the others (Moss M., 2017).

Rosemary water: In another study involving 80 adults, some consumed mineral water and others rosemary water in doses of 250ml. The participants were tested for alertness and fatigue. Results found were consistent with those of infused rosemary aroma (Moss M. S., 2018).

During the test, there were significant deoxygenated hemoglobin levels in those who drank rosemary water. This result indicates that rosemary helps in oxygen extraction when needed by the brain.

Essential oil: In another study with 53 secondary school students aged between 13 to 15 years, the essential oil increased their image memory in contrast with the other group (O.V. Filiptsova, 2017).

Rosemary Can Be Used to Treat Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Rosemary has a compound called 1,8-cineole, which helps in preventing the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (Habtemariam, 2016). The best way to get it into the brain is through inhalation.

Rosemary Helps to Reduce Stress Levels

Every day, we experience situations that trigger anxiety and stress. According to a few studies, rosemary can help ease stress and anxiety levels.

In one study, nursing students taking their final test inhaled rosemary scent during and before their trial. Their pulse levels reduced by nine percent, while there was no difference in those who didn’t inhale the aroma (McCaffrey, 2009).

An increase in pulse rate symbolizes a rise in short-term stress and anxiety levels. Therefore, rosemary oil could reduce anxiety and stress levels (Smith, 1984).

In another study, 22 adults sniffed the rosemary scent for five minutes. Immediately after, their saliva was tested. The research showed that there was a decrease in cortisol levels (Atsumi, 2007).

High levels of cortisol in the body lead to increased problems like insomnia and mood swings. The study concluded that rosemary decreases stress hormone levels and cortisol.

Final words

Ancient medicines have a place in society today, especially in aromatherapy and cognitive function. Most of these herbs and plants are very useful, rosemary among them. With more study, we may understand the extensive importance of rosemary.

As much as rosemary is a good tool for the brain, it comes with its drawbacks. One should consult a doctor before usage, especially if you’re under some form of medication; it may cancel out some medicines. Otherwise, it is a good tool for mental wellbeing and clarity.


Atsumi, T. (2007). Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva. Psychiatry research, 89-96.

Habtemariam, S. (2016). The therapeutic potential of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) diterpenes for Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

McCaffrey, R. T. (2009). The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holistic nursing practice, 88-93.

Moss, M. & Oliver, L. (2012). Plasma 1, 8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 103-113.

Moss, M. (2017, May 4). Retrieved from The British Psychological Society:

Moss, M. S. (2018). Acute ingestion of rosemary water: Evidence of cognitive and cerebrovascular effects in healthy adults. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 1319-1329.

O.V. Filiptsova, L. G.-R. (2017). The essential oil of rosemary and its effect on the human image and numerical short-term memory. Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 107-111.

Pengelly, A. S. (2012). Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population. Journal of medicinal food,, 10-17.

Smith, T. W. (1984). Finger pulse volume as a measure of anxiety in response to evaluative threat. . Psychophysiology, 260-264.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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