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.


Cognitive function

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.



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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.