Like celebrities under the scrutinizing public eye, every herb has a reputation. Peppermint is known to help stimulate, enliven, and awaken…chamomile is said to relax and calm…lavender is known to promote sleepiness…and rosemary to increase alertness and enhance memory. Findings from two recent studies out of Northumbria University’s Department of Psychology and presented at the annual British Psychological Society Conference in Nottingham April 26-28, 2016, confirm that these herbs do indeed have an impact on mood, memory, and alertness.
For the first study, 180 volunteers drank peppermint tea, chamomile tea, or hot water as part of the control group.
- Those who drank the peppermint tea showed significant improvements in mood and cognition, with beneficial impacts on long-term memory, working memory, and alertness.
- Those who drank the chamomile tea experienced a sedative effect that curbed memory and slowed attention speed.
Dr. Mark Moss, Head of the Department of Psychology, explains the specifics:
“Peppermint has a reputation for being psychologically or mentally alerting. It picks you up and makes you feel a little bit brighter, so we endeavoured to test this out by giving people peppermint tea, or chamomile tea, which is a more calming drink and then put them through some computerised tests. We found that those people who had drunk the peppermint tea had better long-term memory. They were able to remember more words and pictures that they had seen. In contrast, the people who had the chamomile were slower in responding to tasks.”
Rosemary vs. Lavender
For the second study, 150 healthy seniors 65 years and older hung out in rooms scented with rosemary, lavender, or no scent as part of the control group. Volunteers were tested on prospective memory, which is the faculty of remembering to complete a task at a specified time, such as remembering a scheduled conference call.
- Those in the room scented with rosemary essential oil showed improvements in alertness and prospective memory, scoring 15% higher than those in the control group.
- Those in the room scented with lavender essential oil were more calm and content. Due to the palliative effects of the lavender they exhibited a decreased capacity in prospective memory.
Dr. Moss said:
“Rosemary meanwhile has a reputation about being associated with memory – even Shakespeare said ‘rosemary is for remembrance’ – and it’s also associated with being invigorating. We have found that people are more alert after being in a room that has rosemary aroma in it. We tested prospective memory – our ability to remember to do something – on people over 65 years of age, to see if we could improve their ability and we found that rosemary could do that. This is potentially very important because prospective memory, for example, enables you to remember to take your medication at certain times of the day.”
An easy way to benefit from essential oils is to diffuse them in an aromatherapy diffuser. Breathe in some rosemary during the day, and relax in the evening with some lavender and chamomile tea.