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"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance..."
~ William Shakespeare
Since ancient times, herbs have been appreciated for their profound therapeutic effects. Science as a form of evidence-gathering did not take the epistemological pole position until quite recently in cultural history, with the evidence of direct experience and the senses being the method and the means for ascertaining the medicinal value of plant medicines and foods for countless generations stretching back to the dawn of the human experience.
Rosemary, a small perennial shrub in the mint family, is one such example, a plant woven deeply into ancient history and mythology, providing clues and hints to its particular value in cognition, memory and enhanced sensorial awareness, and ultimately its sacredness, which literally means "holy," a word that also shares etymological roots with "whole," "healthy" and "heal."
Several examples include:
- "Greek scholars wore rosemary in their hair to help remember their studies, and the association with remembrance has carried through to modern times. In literature and folklore it is an emblem of remembrance." [Source]
- "On ANZAC Day, a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, the wearing of small sprigs of rosemary in the coat lapel, pinned to the breast or held in place by medals is thus synonymous with remembrance and commemoration." [Source]
- "Rosemary (R. officinalis L., Family Lamiaceae) is native to the Mediterranean region, where the ancient Greeks revered it for stimulating the brain and assisting memory; Dioscorides wrote of rosemary: "the eating of its flower in a preserve comforts the brain, the heart and the stomach; sharpens understanding, restores lost memory, awakens the mind, and in sum is a healthy remedy for various cold ailments of the head and the stomach." [Source]
- "Legend says that the Virgin Mary, while resting, spread her cloak over a white flowering rosemary bush. The flowers turned the blue of her cloak, and from then on the bush was referred to as the "Rose of Mary". [Source]
Today, through the optic of science and human clinical studies, we can further test the wisdom of the ancients through placebo-controlled and randomized trials. This is the 'holy grail' of so-called "evidenced-based" medicine, and confers a type of gravitas in today's medical practice that is considered essential in informing treatment decisions and establishing their legality vis-à-vis the regulatory bureaucracies (e.g. FDA, AMA) that increasingly attempt to control what you can and cannot do with your body.
Science Grows Up: Remembering The Wisdom of the Ancients
All the more reason why a recent study published in The Journal of Medicinal Food, titled "Short-Term Study on the Effects of Rosemary on Cognitive Function in an Elderly Population," is so important and confirmatory of traditional plant-based medical practice.
The study sought to investigate the role of rosemary in reducing cognitive decline in elderly subjects (average age 75 years).
Subjects enrolled in this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, crossover study were administered several different dosages of dried rosemary leaf powder and evaluated for changes in cognitive performance.
The study design was as follows:
"Twenty-eight older adults (mean age, 75 years) were tested using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized assessment system 1, 2.5, 4, and 6 hours following a placebo and four different doses of rosemary. Doses were counterbalanced, and there was a 7-day washout between visits."
The results were reported as follows:
"There was a biphasic dose-dependent effect in measures of speed of memory: the lowest dose (750 mg) of rosemary had a statistically significant beneficial effect compared with placebo (P=.01), whereas the highest dose (6,000 mg) had a significant impairing effect (P<.01). There were significant deleterious effects on other measures of cognitive performance, although these were less consistent. Speed of memory is a potentially useful predictor of cognitive function during aging. The positive effect of the dose nearest normal culinary consumption points to the value of further work on effects of low doses over the longer term."