My short-term memory has been appalling during the last few weeks. I like to think it’s because I’ve run out of green tea and been too busy to replace it. But I suspect it’s the busy-ness that’s caused the problem. At a recent party I was barely able to have a fully-functioning conversation and spent most of the time either ‘umm-ing’ or apologising for having forgotten my friend’s name, where I went on holiday, the names of my children, the age of my dog etc. etc. Hopeless!
But then I read some studies and articles on rosemary. Yes, the humble herb that anyone can grow. If you don’t have a pot of this extraordinary herb, go out and buy one now. For those of you that know your Shakespeare, you’ll remember Ophelia saying “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” And it appears she was right.
Recent studies have shown the olfactory power of rosemary: inhaling it improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients; inhaling it calmed pre-exam students by lowering their cortisol levels; inhaling it increased alertness and helped destroy free radicals. And so on. I’ve moved my pot of rosemary from the kitchen to my desk, but a bottle of essential oil would work just as well. After all, who doesn’t want to be simultaneously calm and alert?
But it’s the memory-boosting compounds that have really caught my eye. Rosemary contains a range of powerful phytochemicals – rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, – and two potent antioxidant compounds, carnosic acid and carnosol (as well as iron, calcium and B6). All of these have benefits. But it’s the carnosic acid in rosemary that particularly aids the brain, helping to protect against the effects of beta-amyloid plaque (if you follow us regularly, you’ll know that beta-amyloid plaque is thought to cause Alzheimer’s). Studies in mice and rats have demonstrated rosemary’s ability to improve memory and reduce neurodegeneration while a fascinating study run by Professor Moss at Northumbria University, found that people in a room infused with rosemary oil had significantly better ‘future memories’ (that’s the ‘I must remember to’ memory). There’s an excellent account of this experiment, as witnessed by a doctor, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33519453. Rosemary also contains the flavonoid, luteolin, which an American study found to increase spatial working memory in mice. That’s the bit of memory which helps you remember where you parked the car or how to find your way out of a shopping mall.
Meanwhile, rosmarinic acid has been listed in a recent study as having anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antidepressant, and anticancer properties. Several studies are now investigating the role of rosemary in cancer and eye health. Read more at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266370.php. One report found that adding rosemary to minced beef reduced the development of the cancer-causing agents that can arise when cooking meat – read our post on cooking and cancer here.
To get these benefits you need to add more than a single leaf of rosemary to a dish. I always considered rosemary to be too overpowering for generous use in cooking. But I’ve been experimenting and can confidently admit I was wrong. The recipe below is an Italian dish, uses several rosemary spears, and tastes all the better for such extravagance! I’m eating this regularly at the moment, not just for the sake of my threadbare memory but because it takes five minutes to prepare and tastes delicious. This recipe serves 2-4
WHITE BEANS WITH MUSHROOMS AND ROSEMARY
- 2 tsps finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 onion, halved and sliced
- I packet mushrooms, quartered (I like Chestnut for flavour but have also used wild mushrooms – as in the picture – to make it into a glamorous starter, and sometimes I add Shitake for an extra nutritional boost)
- 1 tin white beans (I like cannellini best)
- Olive oil
Saute the onion and rosemary until the onion is just cooked. Add the mushrooms and leave for a few minutes until soft. Add the beans. When everything is cooked and hot, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season to taste. Serve with a green salad or some wilted spinach.
Teresa Vick says
Thanks for your posts always very helpful but I’d like to ask if dried rosemary works just as well? I’ll buy a pot for sure but I always have dried around for beef, lamb or roasted veg, especially chips! Thanks
Annabel Abbs says
Yes – dried is almost as good as fresh, apparently. Worth having a jar in the larder, for sure… Thanks for your kind words too.
Pam Skinner says
Annabel ….. I could kiss you …. I have been so concerned, over the past months, about my terrible memory, in fact my family have noticed how I repeat somethings that I have already told them, not good. I have also had tests at the doctors, which have been okay, for someone of my age! So to read your article, has given me a ray of hope and tomorrow I shall go and clear the supermarket shelves of white beans ( slight exaggeration). I will give it a go and will report back to you in a few months time.
P.s. I went to the hairdressers today and had my mid-length hair cut into a sophisticated ‘bob’ and so far have had many positive comments on how much younger I look, which made me feel good …. Just wait until the beans start their job !!!
Annabel Abbs says
Thanks for your comforting words, Pam. It’s always good to know one is not alone! Do try green tea – I’m still convinced I wasn’t quite so useless when I was drinking 3 cups of green tea a day. Note to self: buy in bulk, alongside the rosemary. The smell of rosemary is very important too. I now have a little pot on my desk and I pinch n’sniff at every opportunity! I probably smell a bit culinary when I go out but it’s certainly cheaper than Jo Malone!
I have planted Rosemary in my garden with great success. I took a cutting from a good plant of my daughters, nurtured it a bit and then put it next to a warm south facing wall and it’s as happy as Larry and has put on loads of growth. I had previously seen it growing by the roadside when visiting some family in Corfu and thought it would hate a cold, windswept Yorkshire hilltop but I was wrong! I think Rosemary is well worth growing as it’s rather expensive to buy and now I can be extravagant with it. It’s also very decorative and looks well fastened to a special present with ribbon.
Enjoyed this post and the recipe. Thank you for both. I love using Rosemary any way, but you’ve given me even more ideas. I added a good squeeze of lemon juice to the finished white beans dish as well as
the drizzle of olive oil.
Annabel Abbs says
Yes, a great idea to add a squeeze of lemon juice. I add lemon juice to virtually everything these days. It helps with the iron absorption too. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks once again for excellent advice, this time about rosemary and memory improvement. I have a rosemary bush growing under my clothes line and I allow my sheets and pillow cases to blow up against it. I can’t remember why I planted it there, but it did occur to me that most people would have planted a lavender . Now I’m glad I have the rosemary. It smells so delicious just as I round the corner every time I come home.
Just a thing about green tea I heard on the news. In Australia, there have been at least 6 cases in the last 2 years of transplants of livers and kidneys and several deaths caused by people taking green tea supplements. Some of the people are/were very young and just wanted to be healthier, so drink the real tea; it is good for you, but just don’t take supplements containing it.
Annabel Abbs says
Thanks Gaynor – yes, i just drink the tea. I’m not a big fan of supplements in general, but thanks for the advice and thanks for your comment. Rosemary on bed linen sounds lovely!
Toby B. says
Wonderful blog– i can not wait to try the recipes! For us lesser cooks, the literary references lighten the load….
Annabel Abbs says
Thanks Toby – glad you like it! i’d love to get more literary references in – will work on it…