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Skeptics slapped down as new science shows aromatherapy sharply improves the memory of children

The mention of aromatherapy to someone who is skeptical of the practice might garner a sideways glance, but its powers of enhancing your physical and psychological well-being are more than merely anecdotal. In the latest evidence backing up what alternative medicine proponents have known for centuries, Northumbria University researchers Dr. Mark Moss and Victoria Earle recently demonstrated that the aroma of rosemary essential oil could enhance the working memory of school-aged children.

Inspired by their own previous study that found the oil enhanced cognition among healthy adults, they recruited 40 children aged 10 and 11 to participate in a class-based test of several mental tasks. They randomly assigned the children to groups that entered rooms that either had no scent or had been diffused with rosemary oil for ten minutes.

Each child was tested on an individual basis, with the researcher sitting across from them and asking them to play some memory games. The children were instructed not to be nervous but to try to remember certain things. The children who were in the room with the rosemary oil aroma received scores that were 5 to 7 percent higher than those who took the same test in the room without a scent. The test that entailed recalling words showed the biggest difference in scores.

Dr. Moss pointed out that rosemary has been linked to memory enhancement for centuries. In fact, students in ancient Greece wore garlands made of rosemary or braided it into their hair for exams, and in the Shakespeare play Hamlet, Ophelia says “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” Native to the Mediterranean, this evergreen herb is a member of the mint family.

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The researchers say that although the effect is clear, they are not certain exactly why rosemary has this action. They theorize that the aroma might affect the brain’s electrical activity, but more research is needed. It is believed that a compound in the oil, 1,8-cineole, acts on the biochemical systems underpinning memory.

Poor academic performance is closely related to a poor working memory, so these findings could lead to an easy and affordable intervention to help students perform better in school.

Rosemary’s many powers

In the researchers’ previous study on the herb, they found that people who smelled rosemary essential oil performed better on prospective memory tasks, which means it could be used to help people remember to take their medication or send a birthday card, for example. In their tests, people’s chances of remembering to do certain tasks in the future rose by 60 to 75 percent compared to the group that was not exposed to the oil. This effect is incredibly strong when you consider that just four drops were diffused into the testing room five minutes before the participants entered!

Enhancing memory is not the only benefit of rosemary. It is also used in herbal medicine for digestive problems as it is believed to detoxify the liver and relieve constipation and flatulence. It is also used to alleviate minor pain and migraines. It is rich in calcium, vitamin B6, and iron, along with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds like carnosic acid, enabling it to prevent free radical damage in your brain and slow down the process of brain aging. It has also been known to boost the circulatory system.

You can grow your own rosemary at home, either outdoors, if you live in a warm climate, or indoors. It’s great for adding flavor to chicken and pasta dishes, and you can also create your own essential oil with it. Some people like to diffuse the oil into their home for a pleasant aroma, and you can even add it to homemade skin care products like body creams.


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