Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an evergreen herb belonging to the mint family Lamiaceae. And is used world-wide as a culinary spice and medicine.
Native to the Mediterranean region, Rosemary is now grown around the world. It has traditionally been used as a nootropic to treat memory loss.
And for high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, and respiratory system-related diseases.
Rosemary is considered a powerful cardiac stimulant, a strong antiseptic, antispasmodic, calms the nerves, for arthritis, dandruff, skin diseases, and stimulate hair growth.[i]
- Memory: Rosemary helps improve memory, boosts alertness, energy, and focus. And acts as a cognitive stimulant, improving concentration, cognitive performance and speed, and accuracy.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory: As a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, Rosemary boosts the immune system and improves blood circulation. Antioxidants play a vital role in neutralizing free radicals.
- Alzheimer’s: The compounds found in Rosemary including diterpenes, carnosic acid, and carnosol have been shown in recent studies to inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity, is a heavy metal chelator, and protects against Amyloid-β aggregation and tau tangles.[ii] All promising therapies for preventing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Table of Contents
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a fragrant herb with needle-shaped leaves native to northern Asia and the Mediterranean.
Rosemary’s medicinal use dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans in 500 B.C. Greek students wore garlands of Rosemary on their head to help stimulate memory during exams.
Its genus name, Rosmarinus, is derived from the Latin word for ‘dew’ (ros), and ‘belonging in the sea’ (marinus).
Legend says the Virgin Mary took shelter next to a Rosemary bush as she fled from Egypt. She threw her blue cape on a Rosemary bush, and the white flowers turned blue. This is how Rosemary or ‘rose of Mary’ got its name.[iii]
Rosemary with its pleasant flavor and aroma, and bitter taste is used in many traditional dishes. Rosemary can be used in the form of fresh leaves, powder, or as an essential oil.
Rosemary has also been used traditionally to relieve pain, improve memory, increase immunity, and promote hair growth.
Compounds found in Rosemary oil have been shown to increase memory. The compound 1,8-cineole acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor which boosts acetylcholine levels in your brain. In the same way as drugs prescribed to treat dementia.[v]
A study conducted at Mahidol University in Thailand in 2013 tested Rosemary essential oil and its effects on the human central nervous system.
20 healthy subjects ages 18 – 28 years were asked to inhale the aroma of Rosemary essential oil. An EEG found that alpha brain waves decreased, and beta brain waves increased after inhalation of the oil.
Rosemary essential oil is also a proven stress-reliever. It acts by lowering cortisol levels.
Research shows that Rosemary has stimulatory effects on brain wave activity, autonomic nervous system activity, and mood.
Rosemary boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
- Rosemary improves memory – Rosemary has traditionally been used to improve cognitive performance and mood. And these reports have been verified in recent clinical studies.
A study conducted at the University of Northumbria in the UK worked with 144 volunteers. In this study, the group who inhaled Rosemary essential oil demonstrated an overall improvement in memory and mood.[vii]
In 2013, Jemma McCready and Dr Mark Moss from the University of Northumbria conducted a study with 66 adults. The focus of this trial was on prospective memory, which involved remembering things that were bound to happen in the future, or simply remembering things that were critical for everyday functioning.
The test group were put into a room infused with Rosemary essential oil, and the control group in a room with no scent.
The study found that the group in the Rosemary scented room performed 60-75% better on the prospective memory tasks than the control group.[viii]
In 2017, the same researchers presented their findings to the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton.
In a follow-up study, they recruited 40 children age 10 – 11 to find out if Rosemary produced a similar benefit in the young.
Once again, the test group were put into a Rosemary oil infused room, and the control group in a room with no scent.
- Rosemary is neuroprotective – Rosemary’s bioactive compounds including phenolic diterpenes and triterpene acids are known to be potent neuroprotectors.
Animal research demonstrates the phenolic compounds in Rosemary reduce oxidative stress. Animals pre-treated with Rosemary experienced far less brain damage during an ischemic stroke. And recovered with higher neurological scores because of an intact blood-brain barrier.[x]
Rosemary extract has been used traditionally and in modern times to relieve pain. Studies show that terpenoids, and to a lesser extent rosmarinic acid significantly reduce pain sensitivity.
Rosemary protects nerve fibers and prevents reduction in both myelin thickness and axon diameter. And helps maintain the plasticity of glial cells and astrocytes involved in pain maintenance. In turn preventing feelings of pain and alterations of the nervous system induced by nerve injury.[xi]
Its anti-neuropathic properties can be attributed to rosemary binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors which are polypeptides that respond to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. When rosemary binds to these receptors it reduces neuropathic hypersensitivity and protects nerve tissue.[xii]
How things go bad
As we get older, our brain chemistry and energy metabolism changes.
↓ Concentration, attention, and mental agility decline
↓ Brain cell membranes degenerate
↓ Acetylcholine levels decline
All of these age-related changes are contributing factors to the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But even if you’re not concerned with the effects of aging, Rosemary can help.
Rosemary has been used for millennia to protect and support brain function.
Rosemary is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Rosemary can boost concentration and memory. Simply smelling Rosemary can help you remember things better.
20 healthy volunteers performed subtraction and visual processing tasks in a cubicle diffused with the aroma of Rosemary. Mood was assessed before and after the test. And blood samples were taken during the study.
The study showed improved performance and concentration related to how much 1,8-cineole was absorbed following exposure to Rosemary aroma.
Speed and accuracy improved and there was a significant reduction in feelings of contentment as blood levels of 1,8-cineole declined.[xiii]
Reductions in acetylcholine is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Rosemary inhibits acetylcholinesterase activity which increases acetylcholine levels in the brain.
Amyloid-β proteins clump to form amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) causing memory loss in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The carnosic acid in Rosemary has been shown to suppress the formation of amyloid-β plaques.[xiv]
How does Rosemary feel?
Many users of Rosemary report more energy and better clarity when thinking after taking the supplement.
People who use Rosemary essential oil report improved mood, lower stress levels, and fewer episodes of cortisol imbalance.
Some report better immunity and blood circulation after supplementing with Rosemary. Likely due to its rich antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Some neurohackers also like to include Rosemary in their diets as an herbal tea, or as a seasoning agent in food. It has a lovely flavour and aroma that can energize you instantly.
Apart from the studies mentioned earlier about Rosemary’s memory-boosting properties, several studies have been conducted on its impact on general brain health as well.
Rosemary boosts cognitive performance
Researchers at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne wanted to find out how the aroma of essential oils affected human behavior.
Mood was assessed pre- and post-testing, and blood samples were drawn at the end of the session.
The study authors discovered that performance on cognitive tasks were related to the concentration of 1,8-cineole from Rosemary absorbed in blood from simple exposure to Rosemary aroma.
Performance improved as concentrations of 1,8-cineole increased. This performance boost was reflected in speed and accuracy.
Mood changes were not as significant. But the researchers did notice that feelings of contentment declined as 1,8-cineole levels in blood decreased.
The researchers concluded that compounds absorbed from Rosemary aroma had a positive effect on cognition and mood.[xvi]
Rosemary increases alertness
A study at the University of Miami School of Medicine recruited 40 adults to observe the effects of aromatherapy on alertness and mood.
Participants were exposed to the aromas of Lavender (considered a relaxing odor) or Rosemary (considered a stimulatory odor) for 3 minutes each.
Participants were also given simple math computations before and after the therapy.
The Lavender group showed increased beta power suggesting increased drowsiness, and less depression. The adults in this group also reported feeling more relaxed and performed the math computations faster and more accurately following aromatherapy.
The Rosemary group on the other hand showed decreased frontal alpha and beta power suggesting increased alertness.
The Rosemary adults also had lower anxiety scores. They reported feeling more relaxed and alert. They were faster doing math computations but unlike the Lavender group were not more accurate.[xvii]
The recommended dosage of Rosemary leaf for nootropic benefit is 750 mg per day.
Rosemary extract (standardized to 20% rosmarinic acid, 20% diterpenes, and 9% carnosic acid) is 275 mg per day.
Rosemary essential oil in a diffuser 1 mL (10 – 40 drops) as needed.
Rosemary as a nootropic is considered non-toxic and safe when used as recommended.
Rosemary as been used by humanity for millennia as a food condiment. So as a nootropic should be well tolerated by most people.
Rosemary has been shown in animal models to reduce sperm count in male rats, and abort fetuses in female rats.
But keep in mind that the dosage size of Rosemary in rats was 250 and 500 mg/kg of body weight. Much higher doses than we would use as a nootropic. Authors of this study attributed these side effects to reductions in testosterone caused by high-dose Rosemary.[xviii]
Do no use Rosemary if you are using blood-thinning medication. Or ACE inhibitors used to treat high blood pressure.
Do NOT take Rosemary essential oil internally because it could cause vomiting, uterine bleeding, kidney irritation, increased sun sensitivity, skin redness, and allergic reactions.
Do not use Rosemary as a nootropic supplement if you are pregnant because it may stimulate a miscarriage. And if you’re breastfeeding you should use Rosemary in moderation.
If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic or suffer from insulin resistance you should avoid using Rosemary as a nootropic.[xix]
Avoid using Rosemary if you are undergoing chemotherapy.
Rosemary is available as a nootropic supplement in capsules, tablets, and as bags of powder.
As an extract, look for Rosemary standardized to 20% rosmarinic acid, 20% diterpenes, and 10% carnosic acid.
Rosemary essential oil can be used in aromatherapy or for topical application on your skin.
Nootropics Expert Recommendation
I recommend using Rosemary extract as a nootropic supplement. Either in capsule form or as aromatherapy.
Your body does not make Rosemary on its own. So, to get its benefits you must take it as a supplement or use it in aromatherapy.
Rosemary as a nootropic can be taken as a supplement in capsules or powder or steeped as Rosemary tea 2 or 3-times a day.
Rosemary seems to be especially helpful for those dealing with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Rosemary increases acetylcholine, inhibits Amyloid-β plaques and tau tangles, reduces inflammation and eliminates heavy metals.
Simply the scent of Rosemary has been proven to boost alertness and memory.
Purity and dosing are important when selecting a Rosemary extract supplement or essential oil. Choose a product where the manufacturer can verify their production and testing methods.
And user reviews can be very helpful for choosing the best vendor and brand of Rosemary.
[i] al-Sereiti, M. R., Abu-Amer, K. M., & Sen, P. (1999). “Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials.” Indian journal of experimental biology, 37(2), 124–130. (source)
[ii] Habtemariam S. (2016). “The Therapeutic Potential of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Diterpenes for Alzheimer's Disease”. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2016, 2680409. (source)
[iii] Pardo de Santayana, Manuel & Rey, M. & Heinrich, Michael. (2006). “The historical evolution of the medicinal use of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.), a Spanish panacea.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 58. A81-A81 (Source)
[v] Moss, M., & Oliver, L. (2012). “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2(3), 103–113. (Source)
[vi] Sayorwan, W., Ruangrungsi, N., Piriyapunyporn, T., Hongratanaworakit, T., Kotchabhakdi, N., & Siripornpanich, V. (2013). Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. Scientia pharmaceutica, 81(2), 531–542. (source)
[vii] Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K., & Duckett, P. (2003). “Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults”. The International journal of neuroscience, 113(1), 15–38. (source)
[ix] British Psychological Society. (2017, May 2). “Rosemary aroma can aid children's working memory: Exposure to the aroma of rosemary essential oil can significantly enhance working memory in children.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved 02 Nov. 2020 (source)
[x] Seyedemadi, P., Rahnema, M., Bigdeli, M. R., Oryan, S., & Rafati, H. (2016). “The Neuroprotective Effect of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) Hydro-alcoholic Extract on Cerebral Ischemic Tolerance in Experimental Stroke.” Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research: IJPR, 15(4), 875–883. (source)
[xi] Di Cesare Mannelli, L., Micheli, L., Maresca, M., Cravotto, G., Bellumori, M., Innocenti, M., Mulinacci, N., & Ghelardini, C. (2016). “Anti-neuropathic effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. terpenoid fraction: relevance of nicotinic receptors.” Scientific Reports, 6, 34832. (source)
[xii] Di Cesare Mannelli, L., Micheli, L., Maresca, M. et al. “Anti-neuropathic effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. terpenoid fraction: relevance of nicotinic receptors.” Scientific Reports 6, 34832 (2016). (source)
[xiii] Moss, M., & Oliver, L. (2012). “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2(3), 103–113. (source)
[xiv] Meng, P., Yoshida, H., Matsumiya, T., Imaizumi, T., Tanji, K., Xing, F., Hayakari, R., Dempoya, J., Tatsuta, T., Aizawa-Yashiro, T., Mimura, J., Kosaka, K., Itoh, K., & Satoh, K. (2013). “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, 75(2), 94–102. (source)
[xv] Ulbricht C., Abram T.R., Brigham A., Ceurvels J. “An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis ) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration” Journal of Dietary Supplements 7(4):351-413 (source)
[xvi] Moss, M., & Oliver, L. (2012). “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma”. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2(3), 103–113. (source)
[xvii] Diego, M. A., Jones, N. A., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, C., McAdam, V., Galamaga, R., & Galamaga, M. (1998). “Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations.” The International journal of neuroscience, 96(3-4), 217–224.(source)
[xviii] Mohamad K. Nusier, Hameed N. Bataineh, Haytham M. Daradkah “Adverse Effects of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) on Reproductive Function in Adult Male Rats” Experimental Biology and Medicine Volume: 232 issue: 6, page(s): 809-813 (source)
This article may contain affiliate links for which I receive a small commission and you are doing your part to support the work of Nootropics Expert.