With the exam season approaching and revision under way, university researchers have suggested that the smell of rosemary could enhance memory.
A study found that pupils working in a room with the aroma of rosemary, in the form of an essential oil, achieved 5% to 7% better results in memory tests.
Mark Moss from Northumbria University said the findings were consistent with tests on adults.
Dr Moss said the study supported traditional beliefs about rosemary.
He said that rosemary had been associated with memory for hundreds of years.
Ancient Greek students wore garlands of rosemary in exams – and Ophelia, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, says: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
The study, to be presented this week at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society, will back the “received wisdom” that rosemary can assist memory.
In the tests carried out by Dr Moss and Victoria Earle, 40 pupils aged 10 and 11 carried out a series of memory tests in rooms with and without the aroma of rosemary.
The pupils did not know they were taking part in memory tests related to scent – but Dr Moss said that those exposed to rosemary had on average an improvement of 5% to 7% in results.
This small-scale test followed up earlier research on adults which had suggested a link between rosemary and memory.
Dr Moss said it confirmed that children as well as adults seemed to be influenced.
But he said there was variability in the level of impact and some people did not seem to respond at all.
He said the human sense of smell is highly sensitive and sends messages to the brain, setting off reactions and responses.
There are neurotransmitters in the brain associated with memory and Dr Moss suggests that these can be affected by scents.
He described it as “almost like a drug interaction” where the brain is influenced by what is being inhaled.
“It could be that aromas affect electrical activity in the brain or that pharmacologically active compounds can be absorbed when adults are exposed,” he said.
Dr Moss said the next step should be to extend the study, with “large-scale trials of aroma application in education settings”.