Rosemary (Rosmarinum officinalis) essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils because of to its ability to ignite feelings of refreshment and invigoration with its fresh, almost woodsy herbal fragrance. While most people associate rosemary with food, it has a rich tradition not solely in cuisine but in folk medicine and traditional culture as well.
Romans used rosemary in religious ceremonies, while the Egyptians used it as incense. By the 16th century, Paracelsus, a renowned Swiss physician who coined the term “essential oil,” promoted rosemary essential oil for its ability to strengthen the body, believing it to benefit the heart, liver, and brain.1
As a nootropic essential oil, rosemary is primarily valued for its impressive beneficial effects on memory. This may not come as much of a surprise to many, as rosemary has been linked to good memory for centuries.2
Nootropic Benefits of Rosemary Essential Oil
Recent research has set out to understand what effects rosemary has on cognitive function and by what mechanisms it achieves these effects. Highlighted below are the top scientifically-backed nootropic benefits of rosemary essential oil.
If you breathe in rosemary, you are likely to notice increased feelings of alertness, something that almost feels like enhanced focus. In one study, volunteers who inhaled rosemary essential oil reported feeling “fresher” and were found to become more active after inhalation.3
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This study also measured physiological changes like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Given the elevation in these markers, it’s not surprising that some users reported heightened alertness after breathing in rosemary essential oil.
In one study, healthy volunteers were exposed to rosemary essential oil at the same time they took a computerized assessment of cognition.4 Researchers discovered that rosemary essential oil, in comparison to the control (no odor), was found to produce a significant improvement in the quality of memory, as well as secondary memory factors.
One warning when it comes to using rosemary essential oil for memory: while it has demonstrated promise for enhancing memory, in one study, it did so at the cost of speed of memory. This means that while the memory performance was enhanced, the speed of memory was decreased.
When individuals experience stress, the body releases stress hormones (primarily cortisol) that prompt the body to enter fight-or-flight mode. One of the results of this stress response is inflammation in the body, which is how the body combats the stress. However, when individuals experience one stressor after another, the bodies continue to release cortisol, which can lead to chronic inflammation and damage to the cells of the body.
Too much stress and the related inflammatory response have been implicated in the pathogenesis of many conditions, including mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.5 This means that chronic stress can dampen mood, as well as brain function.
In an effort to look at methods of reducing stress, researchers sought to determine what, if any, effect aromatherapy with rosemary essential oil had on salivary levels of the stress hormone cortisol.6 In this study, volunteers inhaled rosemary essential oil aroma for five minutes and had their cortisol measured before and after. Following inhalation of rosemary essential, cortisol levels in participants were significantly decreased.
Following an assessment to test cognitive function, healthy volunteers who were exposed to rosemary essential oil during the test were found to be more content than those who were exposed to no odor.
After healthy adults were exposed to rosemary essential oil during a computerized cognitive assessment battery, they were found to be more alert than participants with no odor exposure.
Rosemary essential is perhaps the most scientific evidence backing its cognitive-enhancing effects. Try using this essential oil topically after diluting it with a carrier oil or aromatically in a room diffuser, or on-the-go with a portable diffuser like Active, Vibrant, or Zen as each of them contain rosemary essential oil.
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