Rosemary may improve memory and alertness by protecting neurons and neurotransmitters.
Rosemary is a woody shrub that contains a diverse store of health-promoting bioactive nutrients that may specifically benefit brain health via:
- Neuroprotection. Rosemary has a capacity to protect neurons through its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and nicotinic receptor-binding activities.
- Neurotransmitter support. Rosemary has been shown to combat the degradation of acetylcholine, which is vital for numerous brain functions.
A member of the mint family, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody herb that grows sweet-smelling, evergreen leaves and white, blue, pink, or purple flowers. The tough leaves and roots of rosemary, although native to the warm Mediterranean region, are reminiscent of adaptogens like rhodiola rosea because they can withstand droughts, cold climates, and lengthy exposure to UV radiation.
Most commonly used as either a flavoring in foods or a fragrant perfume, rosemary has also been lauded in traditional medicine for its potential to help manage a variety of disorders; the principal bioactive ingredient in rosemary, rosmarinic acid, is known to possess antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities.1
How Rosemary Might Help the Brain
Rosemary contains a plethora of bioactive compounds — including carnosic acid, carnosol, and the diterpenes rosmanol, isorosmanol, and dimethyl isorosmanol — that have demonstrated potent capabilities in neuroprotection . There are 3 chief mechanisms by which rosemary seems to keep neurons safe:
- Antioxidation. The diterpenes and carnosol in rosemary have repeatedly proven strong antioxidant effects against oxidative stress that would otherwise threaten neuronal membranes.2 3 4
- Anti-inflammation. Rosemary has displayed anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting leukocytes, decreasing the pro-inflammatory activity of myeloperoxidase, adenosine-deaminase, and interleukin 17A, and increasing levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 10.5
- Activating nicotinic receptors. Binding to nicotinic receptors enables rosemary to protect nerves (specifically preventing axon and myelin derangement) by reducing hypersensitivity to harmful stimuli pain.6
Inhibiting acetylcholine degradation
Rosemary has further been shown to inhibit the activity of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme responsible for breaking down one of the key neurotransmitters involved in managing memories — acetylcholine (ACh).7
Countering the formation of brain plaques
Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) are tied to the formation of toxic protein aggregates known as Aβ that are hallmarks of memory loss.8 Carnosic acid in rosemary has been shown to suppress the formation of Aβ brain plaques.9 10
Rosemary Nootropic Benefits & Uses
Clinical research has identified various nootropic benefits from consuming or inhaling rosemary, including:11
- Increased speed of memory
- Enhanced cognitive performance
- Elevated alertness
- Decreased anxiety
In addition to the numerous nootropic effects of rosemary exemplified in animal studies, these benefits suggest its important therapeutic role, particularly in conditions of memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s, as well as general mental stimulation. Similar to other nootropics, rosemary use by students has skyrocketed in recent years for its perceived benefits to memory.
Animal research has demonstrated that a wide-range of nootropic effects follow from ingestion of rosemary:
- Anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activity in mice and rats13 14
- Analgesic effects on mice15
- Improvement of spatial memory and learning in rats16
- Anxiolytic and antidepressant effects on mice17 18 19
- Neuroprotection of rat brains20
- Improve cognitive deficits in rats21
Clinical studies, although few in number, suggest that rosemary supplementation may impart memory-boosting and cognition-stimulating effects.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover investigation, 28 adults over the age of 75 years were given either a placebo or 4 different doses of rosemary and then asked to complete a computerized cognitive assessment. The lowest dose (750 mg) had a significantly beneficial effect on speed of memory (a predictor of cognitive function) compared to the placebo, whereas the highest dose (6000 mg) had little impact on cognition.
- The researchers concluded that “rosemary had a statistically significant beneficial effect compared with placebo.”22
In this therapeutic assessment of rosemary, the author examined the current literature and noted that the general pharmacological effects of rosemary — including improvements in memory impairment, antioxidation, anti-inflammation, inhibition of amyloid brain plaque formation, and reduction of acetylcholine degradation — suggest the therapeutic potential of rosemary against Alzheimer’s.
- The researchers concluded that “treatment with multifunctional drugs like those demonstrated by rosemary diterpenes constitutes a viable therapeutic approach.”23
In this randomized, single-blind investigation, 20 volunteers were exposed to 4 drops of rosemary essential oil aroma while performing various cognitive tasks examining both smart and quick responses. Although it had no notable effect on mood, rosemary aroma led to significantly improved performance on cognitive tasks.
- The researchers concluded that “compounds absorbed from rosemary aroma affect cognition and subjective state.”24
In this randomized investigation, 40 adults were given 3 minutes of aromatherapy in the form of either lavender or rosemary and then given simple math computations to perform. The rosemary group demonstrated increased alertness, based on faster computation, as well as lower anxiety.
- The researchers concluded that “the rosemary group… reported feeling more relaxed and alert.”25
In this controlled investigation, 20 adults were administered 1 mL of either sweet almond oil or 10% rosemary oil through a respiratory mask and then assessed for impact on the autonomic nervous system (ANS) as well as mood changes. The rosemary group displayed significant increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate, and also became more active and stated that they felt more fresh. The electroencephalography (EEG) analysis also showed a drop in alpha brain waves coinciding with an increase in beta brain waves, which collectively suggest increased alertness.
- The researchers concluded that “brain wave activities, autonomic nervous system responses, and mood states can all be modified with rosemary oil inhalation. The results support that there are medicinal benefits of rosemary.”26
- Successful clinical research studies have used 750 mg of rosemary extract or 1 mL (~4 drops) of rosemary oil per day.
- Typical rosemary supplements range from 275 – 500 mg of rosemary extract capsules or 0.5 – 1 mL (10 – 40 drops) of rosemary essential oil per day.
- Capsule or tablet
- Essential oil
Supplements in Review Says
- Rosemary essential oil 0.5 – 1 mL as a nootropic.
Rosemary may improve memory and other aspects of cognitive function. We recommend rosemary as a safe and natural nootropic supplement with few adverse side effects. It may be beneficial for memory, alertness, and general cognitive performance.
Try 10 – 40 drops of rosemary essential oil. Among the many forms of rosemary supplements, rosemary essential oil has the most clinical research supporting its use as a nootropic.
- Peterson M, et al. Rosmarinic acid. Phytochemistry. 2003 Jan;62(2):121-5. ↩
- Muneé-Bosch S, et al. Response of abietane diterpenes to stress in Rosmarinus officinalis L.: new insights into the function of diterpenes in plants. Free Radic Res. 1999 Dec;31 Suppl:S107-12. ↩
- Del Baño MJ, et al. Phenolic diterpenes, flavones, and rosmarinic acid distribution during the development of leaves, flowers, stems, and roots of Rosmarinus officinalis. Antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Jul 16;51(15):4247-53. ↩
- Wijeratne SS, et al. Potential of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis L.) diterpenes in preventing lipid hydroperoxide-mediated oxidative stress in Caco-2 cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Feb 21;55(4):1193-9. ↩
- Da Rosa JS, et al. Systemic administration of Rosmarinus officinalis attenuates the inflammatory response induced by carrageenan in the mouse model of pleurisy. Planta Med. 2013 Nov;79(17):1605-14. ↩
- Di Cesare Mannelli L, et al. Anti-neuropathic effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. terpenoid fraction: relevance of nicotinic receptors. Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 7;6:34832. ↩
- Ozarowski M, et al. Rosmarinus officinalis L. leaf extract improves memory impairment and affects acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase activities in rat brain. Fitoterapia. 2013 Dec;91:261-71. ↩
- Braak H, et al. Neuropathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Progress in Brain Research. 1998;117:267–285. ↩
- Rasoolijazi H, et al.. The protective role of carnosic acid against beta-amyloid toxicity in rats. The Scientific World Journal. 2013;2013:5. ↩
- Meng P, et al. Carnosic acid suppresses the production of amyloid-β 1-42 by inducing the metalloprotease gene TACE/ADAM17 in SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells. Neuroscience Research. 2013;75(2):94-102. ↩
- Ulbricht C, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2010 Dec;7(4):351-413. ↩
- Rostami H, et al. Oxidative stability of chilled broiler breast meat as affected by dietary supplementation with rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) powder and vitamin E. Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Apr 20;5(4):904-10. ↩
- Takaki I, et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Antinociceptive Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. Essential Oil in Experimental Animal Models. Journal of Medicinal Food. December 2008;11(4):741-6. ↩
- Martínez AL, et al. Antinociceptive effect and GC/MS analysis of Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil from its aerial parts. Planta Med. 2009 Apr;75(5):508-11. ↩
- Raskovic A, et al. Analgesic effects of rosemary essential oil and its interactions with codeine and paracetamol in mice. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015 Jan;19(1):165-72. ↩
- Rasoolijazi H, et al. The effect of rosemary extract on spatial memory, learning and antioxidant enzymes activities in the hippocampus of middle-aged rats. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2015;29:187. ↩
- Ferlemi AV, et al. Rosemary tea consumption results to anxiolytic- and anti-depressant-like behavior of adult male mice and inhibits all cerebral area and liver cholinesterase activity; phytochemical investigation and in silico studies. Chem Biol Interact. 2015 Jul 25;237:47-57. ↩
- Machado DG, et al. Rosmarinus officinalis L. hydroalcoholic extract, similar to fluoxetine, reverses depressive-like behavior without altering learning deficit in olfactory bulbectomized mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Aug 30;143(1):158-69. ↩
- Machado DG, et al. Antidepressant-like effect of the extract of Rosmarinus officinalis in mice: involvement of the monoaminergic system. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Jun 15;33(4):642-50. ↩
- Seyedernadi, et al. The Neuroprotective Effect of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) Hydro-alcoholic Extract on Cerebral Ischemic Tolerance in Experimental Stroke. Iran J Pharm Res. 2016 Autumn;15(4):875-83. ↩
- Song H, et al. Rosemary extract improves cognitive deficits in a rats model of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury associated with reduction of astrocytosis and neuronal degeneration in hippocampus. Neurosci Lett. 2016 May 27;622:95-101. ↩
- Pengelle A, et al. Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population. J Med Food. 2012 Jan;15(1):10-7. ↩
- Habtemariam S. The Therapeutic Potential of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Diterpenes for Alzheimer’s Disease. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 2680409. ↩
- Moss M, et al. Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2012 Jun; 2(3):103-13. ↩
- Diega MA, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1998 Dec;96(3-4):217-24. ↩
- Sayorwan W, et al. Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System. Sci Pharm. 2013 Apr-Jun;81(2):531-42. ↩
- Jimbo D, et al. Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics. 2009 Dec;9(4):173-9. ↩