Rosemary (R. officinalis L., Family Lamiaceae) is native to the Mediterranean region, where the ancient Greeks revered it for stimulating the brain and assisting memory. Rosemary contains an essential oil (0.6–2%) of varying composition. The major constituents of the essential oil are 1,8- cineole, a-pinene, camphor, borneol, and carvacrol, but the exact composition can vary between individual samples and time of harvest (1-3). Other constituents include phenolic diterpenes, flavones, the caffeic acid derivative rosmarinic acid, and the triterpene ursolic acid (4,5). In experimental studies, rosemary extracts were shown to possess potent radical scavenging activity (6). The diterpenes carnosol and carnosic acid are thought to be the major antioxidant components (2,3) although antioxidant properties have also been reported for several other constituents, including rosmarinic acid. (7-10). In vitro studies with rosemary extracts have demonstrated acetylcholinesterase inhibition (11) butyrylcholinesterase inhibition,(12) and a protective effect on dopaminergic neurons (13).
It has long been known as the herb of remembrance (14), and it has been reported that memory is improved with the use of R. officinalis (15,16). Although the mechanism of its nootropic effects is unknown, extracts of R. officinalis have been found to enhance the production of the nerve growth factor (NGF) (17), which functions as a neurotrophic molecule for magnocellular cholinergic neurons in basal forebrain nuclei, which are specifically lost in Alzheimer disease (AD) (18), and inhibit acetylcholinsesterase (16).
Several constituents of R. officinalis have also been investigated for their activity in the central nervous system. Thujone has been shown to modulate GABA A receptors (19). Rosmarinic acid has been shown to have antidepressive activity (20,21), and at low doses to elicit anxiolytic-like activity (22). The aerial parts of R. officinalis have also been reported to possess antinociceptive activity. In rotenone-induced neurotoxicity of cultured dopaminergic cells carnosol significantly increased the amount of tyrosine hydroxylase, an enzyme that is down-regulated in Parkinson’s disease (22).
The oral administration of R. officinalis extract improved spatial memory and enhanced the levels of antioxidants in the hippocampus in preclinical models (24), improved cognitive impairment in a scopolamine-induced dementia model (25), and induced anxiolytic and anti-depressant-like effect (26). Clinical evidence suggests that both the oral administration herbal preparations (27) and the aroma of essential oil (28,29) can improve cognition.
Moss et al. (29) found that ambient aroma of R. officinalis can enhance mood and improve cognitive functions without speed-accuracy trade-off , while an active constituent 1,8-cineole was absorbed into the blood circulation and its serum levels correlated with improved cognitive performance(28). McCaffrey et al. (30) studied the effect of the aroma using an inhaler, and found that it can reduce anxiety in test-taking nursing students. In addition, they compared rosemary and lavender and observed that both aromas were relaxing, however R. officinalis assisted in concentration and recalling information whereas Lavandula hybrid was too relaxing and made it difficult to concentrate (30). Lindheimer et al. (27) reported that a mixture of R. officinalis dried leaves (rosmarinic acid 20 mg/g) reduced mental fatigue and false alarm errors in young adults with low energy states (27), while Pengelly et al. (31) found dose specific effects of R. officinalis dried leaves in improving in alertness and speed of memory in twenty-eight older adults tested using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized assessment system The data indicate that single oral administration of R. officinalis leaves at a moderate dose, as well as essential oil aroma, can have positive effects on cognition and mood of healthy individuals.
1. Tucker AO, Debaggio T: The Encyclopedia of Herbs. Timber Press, Portland, OR, 2009, p. 434.
2. Ganena AK, Hense H, Smaˆnia Junior A, de Souza SM: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)—a study of the composition, antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of extracts obtained with supercritical carbon dioxide. Cienc Tecnol Aliment Campinas 2008;28:463–469.
3. Baydar H, Ozkan G, Erbas S, Altindal D: Yield, chemical composition and antioxidant properties of extracts and essential oils of sage and rosemary depending on seasonal variations. Acta Hort 2009;826:383–389.
4. Bisset NG, ed.: Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 1994, pp. 428–430.
5. Ho C-T, Huang M-T, Lou Y-R, Ma W, Shao Y, Wei G-J, Wang M, Chin C-K: Antioxidant and antitumor activity in rosemary leaves. In: Phytochemicals and Phytopharmaceuticals (Shadihi F, Ho CH, eds.) AOCS Press, Champaign, IL, 2000, pp. 296–300.
6. Grazma-Michalowski A, Abramowski Z, Jovel E, Hes M: Antioxidant potential of herb extracts and impact on HepG2 cells viability. Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment 2008;7:61–72.
7. Schwarz K, Ternes W: Antioxidative constituents of Rosmarinus officinalis and Salvia officinalis. II. Isolation of carnosic acid and formation of other phenolic diterpenes. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch 1992;195:99–103.
8. Haraguchi H, Saito T, Okamura N, Yagi A: Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and superoxide generation by diterpenoid from Rosmarinus officinalis. Planta Med 1995;61:333–336.
9. Zeng HH, Tu PF, Zhou K, Wang H, Wang BH, Lu JF: Antioxidant properties of phenolic diterpenes from Rosmarinus officinalis. Acta Pharmacol Sin 2001;22:1094–1098.
10. Dastmalchi K, Ollilainen V, Lackman P, Genna¨s GB, Dorman HJ, Ja¨rvinen PP, Yli-Kauhaluoma J, Hiltunen R: Acetylcholinesterase inhibitory guided fractionation of Melissa officinalis L. Bioorg Med Chem 2009;15:867–871.
11. Adsersen A, Gauguin B, Gudiksen L, Ja¨ger AK: Screening of plants used in Danish folk medicine to treat memory dysfunction for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. J Ethnopharmacol 2006;104:418–422.
12. Orhan I, Aslan S, Kartal M, Sener B, Basar HC: Inhibitory effect of Turkish Rosmarinus officinalis on acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase enzymes. Food Chem 2008;108:663–668.
13. Kim SJ, Kim JS, Cho HS, Lee HJ, Kim SY, Kim S, Lee SY, Chun HS: Carnosol, a component of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) protects nigral dopaminergic neuronal cells. Neuroreport 2006;17:1729–1733
14. Duke JA. Alzheimaretto. J Med Food. 1998;1:53.
15. Perry EK, Pickering AT, Wang WW, Houghton P, Perry NSL. Medicinal Plants and Alzheimer's Disease: Integrating Ethnobotanical and Contemporary Scientific Evidence. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1998;4:419.
16. Ozarowski M, Mikolajczak PL, Bogacz A, Gryszczynska A, Kujawska M, Jodynis-Liebert J, et al. Rosmarinus officinalis L. leaf extract improves memory impairment and affects acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase activities in rat brain. Fitoterapia. 2013;91:261-71.
17. Kosaka K, Yokoi T. Carnosic acid, a component of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.), promotes synthesis of nerve growth factor in T98G human glioblastoma cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2003;26:1620-2. Epub 2003/11/06.
18. Crutcher KA, Scott SA, Liang S, Everson WV, Weingartner J. Detection of NGF-like activity in human brain tissue: increased levels in Alzheimer's disease. J Neurosci. 1993;13:2540-50. Epub 1993/06/01.
19. Hold KM, Sirisoma NS, Ikeda T, Narahashi T, Casida JE. Alpha-thujone (the active component of absinthe): gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation and metabolic detoxification. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2000;97:3826-31. Epub 2000/03/22.
20. Takeda H, Tsuji M, Inazu M, Egashira T, Matsumiya T. Rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid produce antidepressive-like effect in the forced swimming test in mice. Eur J Pharmacol. 2002;449:261-7. Epub 2002/08/09.
21. Takeda H, Tsuji M, Miyamoto J, Matsumiya T. Rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid reduce the defensive freezing behavior of mice exposed to conditioned fear stress. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002;164:233-5. Epub 2002/10/31.
22. Pereira P, Tysca D, Oliveira P, da Silva Brum LF, Picada JN, Ardenghi P. Neurobehavioral and genotoxic aspects of rosmarinic acid. Pharmacol Res. 2005;52:199-203. Epub 2005/07/20.
23. Kim SJ, Kim JS, Cho HS, Lee HJ, Kim SY, Kim S, et al. Carnosol, a component of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) protects nigral dopaminergic neuronal cells. Neuroreport. 2006;17:1729-33. Epub 2006/10/19.
24 H. Rasoolijazi, M. Mehdizadeh, M. Soleimani, F. Nikbakhte, M. Eslami Farsani, S. Ababzadeh, 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 29 (2015) 187.
25 M. Ozarowski, P.L. Mikolajczak, A. Bogacz, A. Gryszczynska, M. Kujawska, J. Jodynis-Liebert, A. Piasecka, H. Napieczynska, M. Szulc, R. Kujawski, J. Bartkowiak-Wieczorek, J. Cichocka, T. Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, B. Czerny, P.M. Mrozikiewicz, Rosmarinus officinalis L. leaf extract improves memory impairment and affects acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase activities in rat brain, Fitoterapia 91 (2013) 261–271.
26 A.V. Ferlemi, A. Katsikoudi, V.G. Kontogianni, T.F. Kellici, G. Iatrou, F.N. Lamari, A.G. Tzakos, M. Margarity, 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. 237 (2015) 47–57.
27 J.B. Lindheimer, B.D. Loy, P.J. O'Connor, Short-term effecs of black pepper (Piper nigrum) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus eriocalyx) on sustained attention and on energy and fatigue mood states in young adults with low energy, J. Med. Food 16 (2013) 765–771.
28 M. Moss, L. Oliver, Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma, Ther. Adv. Psychopharmacol. 2 (2012) 103–113.
29 M. Moss, J. Cook, K. Wesnes, P. Duckett, Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults, Int. J. Neurosci. 113 (2003) 15–38.
30 R. McCaffrey, D.J. Thomas, A.O. Kinzelman, The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students, Holist. Nurs. Pract. 23 (2009) 88–93
31 A. Pengelly, J. Snow, S.Y. Mills, A. Scholey, K. Wesnes, L.R. Butler, Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population, J. Med. Food 15 (2012) 10–17.