Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rosemary & Memory

 (Hyssopus officinalis LINN.)
History ~ The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells. At weddings, it was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride, being first dipped into scented water....Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year's gift - allusions to this custom are to be found in Ben Jonson's plays.

Here's an interesting article. It's yet another vindication of a piece of folk medicine. I've long been curious as to how these medicines were first discovered by our early ancestors. Was it trial and error, or had they access to some ancient, now lost, advice, and if so, from whom did it come?

"What does rosemary do to your brain?"

"In folk medicine, rosemary has been associated for centuries with having a good memory. But is it worth investigating whether it really has any powers, asks Dr Chris Van Tulleken."
...Prof Mark Moss at Northumbria University. His team is running an experiment to test whether rosemary essential oil could benefit future memory.....

Here's how the experiment worked. The team at Northumbria recruited 60 older volunteers to test the effects of not only rosemary oil but also lavender oil. They then tested these volunteers in a room infused with either rosemary essential oil, lavender essential oil or no aroma. Participants were told they were there to test a vitamin water drink. Any comments about the aromas were passed off as irrelevant and "left over from the previous group to use the room".

The volunteers... then took a test which was designed to test their prospective memory. It's a clever test with many layers so you never quite know what's being tested............(see full article for detail)

What Mark's team found was remarkable. The volunteers in the room with the rosemary infusion did statistically significantly better than those in the control room but lavender caused a significant decrease in performance. Lavender is traditionally associated with sleep and sedation.

Was the lavender sending our volunteers to sleep and decreasing their performance? How could vaporised essential oils possibly have this effect?

It turns out that there are compounds in rosemary oil that may be responsible for changes in memory performance. One of them is called 1,8-cineole - as well as smelling wonderful (if you like that sort of thing) it may act in the same way as the drugs licensed to treat dementia, causing an increase in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.

These compounds do this by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by an enzyme. And this is highly plausible - inhalation is one of the best ways of getting drugs into the brain. When you eat a drug it may be broken down in the liver which processes everything absorbed by the gut, but with inhalation small molecules can pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain without being broken down by the liver.

As further confirmation Mark and his team analysed blood samples and found traces of the chemicals in rosemary oil in the blood.

Ve-ery int-eresting!


Sonny G said...

hmmm.. couldn't hurt to try it.. I have a diffuser , just need some rosemary oil. I'll let ya'll know if it works for me..

mike said...

I love the fresh, clean, medicinal scent of rosemary! I'm sure it was a mainstay in the old days to camouflage the putrid odors of everyday life and death.

Until about the 1980s, vitamins and minerals were considered appropriate nutritional considerations, but the last two decades have presented food as a source of extremely essential antioxidants and other necessary plant-based phytochemicals as health promoting. I've mentioned epigenetics in previous posts as modifications to our DNA caused by attachment of chemicals to our DNA. Some modifications are detrimental and are caused by toxins in our environment. Phytochemicals have been identified that attach to our DNA and are protective and beneficial. Many phytochemicals have favorable cellular, biological activity as antimicrobial, anti-cancer, cellular proliferation, and antioxidants. Extracts of rosemary contain a number of isolates that are in this category:
"Rosemary contains a number of phytochemicals, including rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, and the antioxidants carnosic acid and carnosol."

I certainly have seen the benefit of using plant-based, natural healing. I had a terrible rash-ulcerations on my shins called numular dermatitis. Nothing in the synthetic, prescription drug category was a successful treatment and I tried many prescriptions at tremendous expense. I found an article about Ayurveda medicine and the use of curcumin...turmeric a possible solution. By golly, it worked like magic and very inexpensively. I've heard so many anecdotal "cures" about using various herbs-plants for a number of health complaints.

In the USA, pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in natural alternatives, as they can't patent the compounds. Very little money is provided for plant-based research, with the National Institutes of Health (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) being predominant. India and China are the leading countries for this type of research and clinical trials.

Off topic - I watched PBS' "Humanity from Space" last night on my Roku's PBS channel:
"A trip through 12,000 years of development, the film shows how seemingly small flashes of innovation have changed the course of civilization. The program considers the challenges humanity will face in order to survive as our global population soars."

I highly recommend viewing this two-hour program. Excellent and thought provoking. Our global population will increase about 30% by 2050, and there are many challenges ahead. The program is very optimistic about our success...LOL...but caveats abound.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Good luck! Don't forget (lol) to come back and tell us results if any.

Anonymous said...

I believe our 'ancient wisdom' about medicinal plants was acquired through both trial/error and observation of other species. (See Wiki here - - I've seen video of bears preparing and applying medicaments.)

With Sun/Asc Virgo, Moon Taurus, Mars/NN Cap, I've been fascinated by flora and fauna since I was a child. The most varieties of herbs I've grown at one location is 50; the herbals I've read and studied probably number more than that. The lore is plentiful but much of it remains to be studied scientifically. Repel tigers with mint! You go first ;P

I've been 'compounding' scratch curries for over 40 years and the digestive and healing properties of the herbs and spices comprising them are now widely accepted. And remember Woodward's Gripe Water?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the additional information. I wouldn't discount any folk medicine, though I haven't used it a lot myself. I remember as a child being told that if stung by a nettle, to find a Dock leaf, often growing near clumps of nettles, then spit on it and apply it to the sting - must have done that many times - I think it did help.

Thanks for the PBS recommendation. Coincidentally I was pondering last night over whether to watch "World War 2 From Space" on Netflix/Roku. Decided it'd be too depressing though. Maybe it's part of a series of topics as seen "From Space". "Humanity from Space" sounds much better. Will write it on my list of stuff "To Watch".

We watched a two part pilot of "The Conspiracy" last night - I think it turned into a series later. Not bad, a bit clunky towards the end though. Starts with assassination of the first female president of the USA (not HRC though!) Carries on with layers of mystery, led by a guy who has lost his memory falling out of a they do ya know. ;-)

LB said...

Thanks, Twilight. I've learned something new about an herb I already love. For several years I consumed crushed rosemary daily as an antioxidant. My mom did too (for a while).

Not to rule out the possibility of trial and error, but our earliest ancestors (at least the more spiritually tuned-in ones) probably received guidance about herbs through dreams and visions.


mike ~ Thanks for the link to the PBS documentary. I'd like to watch it, if I haven't already, I forget.:0

For another, very sobering but detailed, well thought out perspective on the state of our planet and how to (and not to) approach our challenges, here's the link to a post titled, "Nothing we do is sustainable….. been saying it for years now":

It's worth a read. About the only philosophical disagreement I have with the author is that, no matter how necessary, none of us can *force* change on anyone else. But I do agree about most of the other stuff, which is why I don't see myself voting for Green candidate Jill Stein. I have serious misgivings about a lot of the 'green technology' (and greenwashing) out there.

It's complicated and I don't have answers, though I do understand the value in making informed choices.

LB said...

P.S. For a few years now, I've been questioning how producing MORE could be good for people or planet.

Then when I learned about the resources it takes to produce green products, how the raw materials are mined and delivered and the effect their production has on communities and the environment, I had to rethink (and question) everything I thought I knew.

Corporations, industry and government contribute to the problem (and illusion). But so do I. Every time I flick a switch or enjoy any of the modern conveniences I've come to depend on, I'm part of the problem.

It's a sobering thought, I know ~ but maybe also appropriate for transiting Venus (retrograde) in Leo square Saturn in Scorpio. Even if the solution isn't as easy as we'd like it to be, it doesn't mean it's hopeless or not worth making an effort. Maybe the answer is different than we'd like it to be.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~ Now that's something I hadn't considered - the observation of animals and birds in discovering which herbs and plants might be helpful for certain ailments.
Thanks for the interesting link. Next question: how do animals and birds know? But they must have an extra sense, or heightened sense of smell - or maybe some special sense coded in their DNA (which maybe we have too, but have let it go into disuse).

Whoa! You're an expert in these things...50 varieties of herb!! :-)

Twilight said...

LB ~ Guidance from dreams and visions - yes, that's another possibility, and sounds very likely in the case of Native American tribes.

R J Adams said...

A recent BBC series - "Trust Me I'm A Doctor" - conducted experiments using older people and differing forms of exercises in mental agility, while subjected to various natural substances. Rosemary was the outright winner. Definite scientific proof that the herb does have a positive effect on our brains.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Good to know. Better get me some Rosemary next time I go shopping! :-)

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