Shakespeare was right – the smell of rosemary is good for your memory, according to a new study.
Essential oil of rosemary boosted healthy adults’ ability to recall past events and remember to perform future tasks, which could include taking medication or sending a birthday card, at the correct time.
The improvement was unrelated to the participants’ mood, suggesting it was having a chemical influence which improved their memory, the study found.
Researchers, who will present their findings at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Harrogate on Tuesday, said the results could improve the everyday lives of people with age-related memory loss.
Rosemary has long been linked to memory and fidelity, and was used by ancient Egyptians in weddings and funeral rituals.
Shakespeare, it seems, was also aware of its properties. In Hamlet, Ophelia remarks: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you, love, remember.”
Previous studies had already suggested that compounds in rosemary aroma could improve long-term memory and mental arithmetic, by inhibiting enzymes which block normal brain functioning.
Dr Mark Moss, who led the study, said: “We wanted to build on our previous research that indicated rosemary aroma improved long-term memory and mental arithmetic.
“We focused on prospective memory, which involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times this is critical for everyday functioning.”
60 six participants were divided into two groups and asked to wait in different rooms, one of which had been scented with rosemary essential oil.
The volunteers then completed a series of memory tests, which included hiding objects and finding them again at a later stage, or passing a specified object to a researcher at a particular time which had been specified earlier.
People who had been assigned to the rosemary-scented room performed better at both types of test, and were also found to have higher levels of 1,8-cineole, a compound found in rosemary oil, in their blood.
The compound has previously been shown to influence chemical systems in the body which impact on memory.
Jemma McCready, a research intern who carried out the study, said: “These findings may have implications for treating individuals with memory impairments.
“Remembering when and where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do, and we all suffer minor failings that can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous. Further research is needed to investigate if this treatment is useful for older adults who have experienced memory decline.”
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