Rosmarinus officinalis is the scientific name for the rosemary plant which is native to the Mediterranean. Rosemary is not only used in cuisine as a spice, it has also been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes. Rosemary supplements are sold in tincture, fluid extract and capsule form and the dried herb can be steeped and consumed as a tea; however the aromatic essential oil of rosemary is arguably the most popular medicinal form. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, rosemary has been historically used to prevent headaches, support the circulatory and nervous system, improve memory and reduce inflammation. Recent research suggests that rosemary essential oils may also function as brain foods and help to elevate ones mood.
Rosemary has several beneficial ingredients, including: vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc; volatile oils and the phytochemicals rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid. Recently, Lorraine Oliver and Mark Moss, from the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Center, Northumbria University, UK, conducted an experiment which examined the pharmacological effects of the terpene 1,8-cineole found in rosemary. Terpenes such as 1,8-cineole are small, fat soluble molecules, found in many aromatic plants. They can enter the blood stream via the lungs or nasal mucosa, and once in the blood stream, they can easily pass the blood brain barrier. 1,8-cineole is one of rosemary’s primary components; and essential oils of rosemary typically contain 35% to 45% 1,8-cineole.
Recently, Oliver and Moss designed an investigation to determine whether or not the 1,8-cineole found in rosemary oils can boost memory and act as brain foods. The subjects did not consume the oil, they were merely exposed to various levels of the rosemary aroma because as previously mentioned, breathing in 1,8-cineole results in entry to the blood and subsequently the brain. After inhaling the rosemary oils all of the subjects had blood tests to determine how much of the 1,8-cineole they had absorbed. Subsequently, their moods were assessed and they performed speed and accuracy tests in order to evaluate memory, brain function and overall cognitive performance.
The results, which were published by SAGE in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology (2012), showed that the 1,8-cineole absorbed through the inhalation of rosemary, markedly effected the participants brains. According to the investigation, rosemary essential oils act as brain foods; in fact higher blood concentration of 1,8-cineole, resulted in an improvement in concentration, speed, accuracy and overall brain performance. In addition to enhanced brain function, high levels of 1,8-cineole also resulted in an improvement in mood.
It is hypothesized that rosemary enhances brain function because the 1,8-cineole in it helps prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This prevention is significant because acetylcholine is required for both brain processing speed and memory. Although the Oliver and Moss investigation suggests that 1,8-cineole is responsible for the enhanced brain performance and improved mood associated with inhaling rosemary, Science Daily states that: “It is also possible that detected (1,8-cineole) blood levels simply serve as a marker for relative levels of other active compounds present in rosemary oil, such as rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid, which are present at much lower concentrations.” Although more research needs to be done to determine rosemary’s active ingredients and mechanisms of action, this investigation clearly suggests that rosemary can in fact improve brain function and cognitive performance.