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A Close Look at Rosemary for Migraine Headaches

Medically reviewed Danielle Aberman, Registered Dietitian (RD).

We pride ourselves on bringing you scientifically supported information that is actionable. From time to time there is a topic that is scientifically unsatisfying to present, but we think it’s worthy of discussion. The information may help some people decide if it’s worth spending time and energy on a possible natural migraine remedy. Today is one of those days as we review the evidence for using rosemary for migraine and headache relief.

What peaked my interest in a possible relationship between rosemary and migraine was seeing a few positive posts about nibbling on the fresh herb in social media.

Did you know that this powerful herb has been used for centuries to improve cognitive function, memory, and mood? Perhaps it also has some valuable properties for people who suffer from frequent migraine attacks and tension headaches. Let’s take a look.

** While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.

What the science shows about rosemary impacting mood and thinking power

Rosemary has long been used as a cognitive enhancer in folk medicine. In 2020, a review was published that looked at the therapeutic effects of the components of rosemary on nervous system disorders. Unfortunately, almost each study they looked at was a rodent study. Since rosemary may be helpful, I summarized information from some studies on humans.

Many of you reading this have plenty of experience with migraine symptoms. Brain fog, mood disorders and disrupted sleep are often part of migraine so it’s interesting that rosemary has been shown to help these conditions in a few studies.

Teenagers and memory tests

In a small study, healthy teenagers who used rosemary essential oil aromatherapy performed better on memory tests than those who took a placebo. The participants were tested on recall of images as well as recall of numbers. In both cases, those who used the rosemary oil performed significantly better than those who did not use the aromatic oil.

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College students, mood and cognition

In this study researchers were interested in seeing if there was a difference in mood and cognition when comparing rosemary oil, lavender oil and the control, no scent. The study involved 144 healthy adult participants divided into 3 groups. They were subjected to the same battery of cognitive tests and subjective questionnaire about their mood. The participants were deceived about the intention of the study and told the purpose was to validate the different tests. There was no mention of the use of scented oils. They took the tests in rooms scented with the herbal oils or an unscented room (the control). The results were as follows:

“The rosemary group produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors, but also produced an impairment of speed of memory compared to the control group (no scent). With regard to mood, comparisons of the change in ratings from baseline to post-test revealed that following the completion of the cognitive assessment battery, both the control and lavender groups were significantly less alert than the rosemary group; however, the control group was significantly less content than both rosemary and lavender conditions. These findings indicate that the olfactory properties of these essential oils can produce objective effects on cognitive performance, as well as subjective effects on mood.”

College students, memory performance, mood disorders and sleep quality

Students were divided into 2 groups for this rosemary study. One group was given the dried, ground herb orally in capsules. The other group was given corn starch in capsules. Given the fact that the study was not truly “blinded” and the students could tell which group they were in, the results must be taken with some caution. The capsules looked, smelled and tasted different.

Nevertheless, the results showed significant positive results in the study group:

“Rosemary as a traditional herb could be used to boost prospective and retrospective memory, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleep quality in university students.”

Rosemary for migraines and headaches

As I am sitting here typing away, I am very aware of a growing headache. So, I’m boosting my hydration and using a favorite migraine stick to see if I can keep it from becoming a full migraine attack.

I happen to have a few sprigs of rosemary handy so I’m nibbling on that now to see if it helps me. I must say the aroma is intoxicating. It’s rich and earthy. This herb is rather pungent to bite into, but still pleasant to me.

I’m hopeful that it helps, but based on what I’ve read in the research and social media, I think the direct benefit of rosemary for migraine is possibly the placebo effect. While many bristle at an intervention being called a placebo, I think placebos are good and will explain why.

What is the placebo effect?

The placebo effect is when a person experiences a positive change in their condition after taking a placebo, a substance or intervention with no therapeutic value. The placebo effect is thought to be caused by the power of suggestion. When a person believes that they are taking a medication, they may experience the benefits of the medication even if it is just a sugar pill.

There is usually a negative connotation to the word placebo as deception may be involved. The placebo may be a known fake to the person offering it to someone in need. Then, if the person improves after “the fake therapeutic,” some may mock them and think they was faking their illness. However, this is is not the case. Placebos show the power of the human mind and body to change physiology. Some placebos are quite remarkable.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss placebos as related to migraine, but the topic has been studied by headache specialists. I find it interesting but also positive. At Migraine Strong, we believe if a strategy helps you, you should absolutely keep doing. Even if it’s a placebo effect, improvement is a win!

If a person feels better after eating some rosemary for migraine (or using rosemary oil) when there is no documented scientific value, is that a bad thing? Perhaps the college students in the last study above who knew they had the “experimental substance” and not the control responded due to the placebo effect. Or, maybe the rosemary truly helped them.

“Bottom Line” – Is rosemary good for migraine?

Rosemary for migraine may bring about some relief or just temporary distraction when it’s being nibbled on. When rosemary oil is being inhaled, it may be wonderfully pleasant and lift your mood. Like other essential oils for migraine, we tend to believe that the oils help ease symptoms of migraine rather than control the actual attack.

Since many people with migraine are sensitive to certain scents, rosemary could have the opposite effect so consider this fair warning.

My personal rule for whether or not something is worth trying is that it must meet 3 criteria. It must be safe, reasonable to try and financially responsible. Taking an herbal supplement should always be reviewed with your doctor before starting. Orally supplementing with rosemary is not safe for people on certain medications and medical conditions. It’s certainly reasonable and inexpensive to apply rosemary oil and chew on some pungent leaves if you wish to see if it helps.

A Close Look at Rosemary for Migraine Headaches

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About the Author

Danielle Aberman RDN

My degree is in clinical nutrition and I’m a registered dietitian. I changed my career to focus only on helping people with migraine find relief and became a certified health and wellness coach to help me help my clients beyond just my expertise in food and nutrition. My fascination with diet, nutrition and migraine began when I made my condition worse by eating “clean and healthy.” This was mainly due to both rebound/medication-overuse headache and a diet high is beautiful, nutritious, wholesome food triggers. Implementing a comprehensive migraine elimination diet helped me dramatically. Continuing my research into diet, I transitioned to the Ketogenic diet which further improved my brain fog. My work with the Ketogenic diet for migraine relief has led me to working with one of the pioneers in reversing diabetes and obesity with Keto, Dr. Eric Westman. I love helping people take control of their wellness and get their lives back. For relaxation and enjoyment, I like to go on adventures with my family, spend time in the garden and cook for friends and family.

View all posts by Danielle Aberman RDN