What if taking a whiff of a certain plant oil could actually have a significant impact on your cognitive performance and also potentially on your mood? Well, it turns out this is a proven benefit of rosemary essential oil, which is simply the oil essence of a fairly common aromatic herb that can often be found growing wild in many parts of the Pacific Northwest.
Studies on Rosemary and Memory
The most powerful correlation between rosemary and cognitive performance is its apparent effect on our ability to memorize things we may be studying or reading at the time of our exposure to this distinct aroma.
Studies are showing that subjects in a room scented with rosemary perform better on memorizing future events and complex tasks. Remembering to do things like take a vitamin, put the garbage out, or get to an appointment are all examples of remembering future tasks, and although it sounds trivial, this can have profound effects on overall productivity and effectiveness in one’s daily life.
Researchers aren’t sure if it’s the distinct aroma of rosemary that helps to stimulate the brain’s contextual memory centers, or whether there is a constituent, or multiple chemical constituents of the herbal oil, that physiologically effect us upon entering the body via the nasal passages and then the lungs. It may in fact be a combination of the two.
Rosemary and Anxiety
Whiffs or rosemary may also have an effect on our mood, which in turn may help explain its relationship to increased memory and retention. More specifically, inhaling this aroma along with its phytochemical constituents, seems to induce a calm demeanor by reducing stress and anxiety responses. One study showed the inhalation of rosemary, as well as the essential oil of lavender, reduced cortisol, a steroid hormone marker of anxiety and stress, in nursing students who were taking a test.
When we inhale plant oils, it is not only the actual aroma our brain is registering that can have an effect on how we feel or perceive things in that moment. These natural plant chemicals also can be absorbed by our body to some extent via the active molecules that are circulating in the air, and subsequently attach to our lung tissue and distributed throughout the body.
Further, some of these molecules are able to then penetrate the blood-brain barrier in order to induce certain effects on our brain activity and therefore our behavior.
This helps explain phenomenon like the calming effect of an outdoor summer walk that is rife with the scents of plants, trees and shrubs, or the scents of flowers permeating the air, oxygenating the blood and also potentially putting out various phytochemicals that may be absorbed.
It also explains why so many people love to mow the lawn and inhale the scent of freshly cut grass (studies actually show a chemical released from grass calms the mind and helps create pleasant feelings of well-being). In other words, it is often not just the pleasant scent that our brain correlates with a certain state of being, rosemary, and other plant oils may actually have a direct, chemical or physiological effect on our bodies as well.
Danna Norek founded AuraSensory.com, which offers a popular line of natural & effective haircare and skincare products.