The Smell of Rosemary is Good for your Brain

Native to the Mediterranean area, rosemary now grows widely in other parts of the world. Even in the bitter cold winters here in Canada, you can continue to grow this beautiful herb indoors! The plant takes its name from rosmarinus, a Latin term meaning sea dew. Ros (meaning dew) and marinus (meaning sea), which translates to dew of the sea or sea dew. According to Greek methology, rosemary was draped around the neck of Aphrodite as she rose from the sea, and hence the name dew of the sea.

Here at Purple Urchin, we love using rosemary in our 100% natural, vegan Rosemary Mint Bar Soap and Liquid Soap. It's no wonder this scent is our best seller! Both the fresh and dried leaves from rosemary are aromatic and have an extensive list of benefits to the skin when applied topically. The benefits of using rosemary as a topical include improved cognitive function, such as alleviating anxiety, improving brain function and academic performance, and may even assist in aiding memory loss. 


In ancient Greece and Rome, Rosemary was used to strengthen memory. Previously known as a herb used in folk medicine, many scientists are now testing its potential health benefits. Several studies have been conducted to indicate that the aroma of Rosemary helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a brain chemical attributed to improving cognitive function, boosting alertness and concentration.


The cortisol levels in your body can heighten when stressed or anxious. When our bodies go into fight or flight mode, cortisol levels can spike. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, in the glucocorticoid class of hormones. Too much cortisol in your bloodstream on an ongoing basis can cause and exacerbate anxiety. High cortisol levels can have many negative affects on your health. It is imperative to assuage the symptoms of anxiety by finding ways to lower your overall cortisol levels. 

The aroma of rosemary has been linked to improving mood, clearing the mind, relieving stress and lowering cortisol levels (including those with chronic anxiety or stress hormone imbalances). Rosemary is known to rapidly reduce cortisol levels by simply just smelling it - alleviating stress in the body. When you are able to lessen the burden on the adrenals they will be able to restore themselves. 

The adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline, the steroids aldosterone and cortisol. When the scent of rosemary is inhaled or our soap is massaged into the skin (specifically above your kidneys where your adrenal glands live) the aroma of rosemary mimics adrenal hormones. This stimulates the adrenal cortex, giving you a natural energy boost which can help level out spiked cortisol. 

Although rosemary can be a stimulating and energizing scent, it may not be a good choice if what you really want is to relax.

"It depends on the type of anxiety you have. For some people, rosemary might activate the brain and make anxiety worse. But if you have racing thoughts, rosemary can clear the mind to help you focus better," Eugene Lee, MD


The aroma of rosemary stimulates cognitive function. While rosemary is a common herb used in cooking, when you eat it the herb gets broken down in the liver (which processes everything absorbed by the gut). With inhalation small molecules pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain. When evaluating the impacts of smelling rosemary, this study analyzed blood samples which found traces of the chemicals (1,8-cineole) in rosemary. The aroma of rosemary ignites neurotransmitters, a chemical release (acetylcholine). This release stimulates motor neurons of the nervous system which activate muscles and thereby kicks the brain into high gear. 

In this study, students were put in a room diffused with rosemary. Their speed and accuracy answering mathematical questions improved in direct response to when the aroma of rosemary was released. 


There have been many folk stories about rosemary assisting with the aid of memory loss. As of recently more studies are putting these stories to the test. In this study, researchers examined the curative effects of rosemary as aromatherapy for dementia in 28 elderly people, 17 of whom had Alzheimer's disease (AD). The aromatherapy consisted of the use of rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange in the evening. To determine the effects of aromatherapy, patients were evaluated before the control period, after the control period, after aromatherapy, and after the washout period. 

All patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function on both the GBSS-J and TDAS after therapy. In particular, patients with AD showed significant improvement in total TDAS scores. 

In another study, researchers specifically studied the extracts of rosemary and bacopa (known to prevent Alzheimer's) separately and together using human brain and nerve cells. They found that each extract inhibited the phosphorylation of tau tangles. Tau tangles have been linked with Alzheimer’s progression, meaning in indicator that Alzheimer's is occurring. When rosemary and bacopa combined, they produced an even greater inhibitory effect - halting the production of amyloid proteins. Amyloid protein production precedes the tau tangle formations.

There is still much research required to determine all of the healing powers rosemary has as a herb. And much research has been conducted, but only in the past few years. However great studies have been conducted to indicate its positive effects to alleviate anxiety, improve cognitive function and assist in aiding memory loss and the treatment of Alzheimers. 


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