Rosemary and cannellini bean pesto and can the aroma of rosemary improve cognitive performance?

Rosemary cannellini bean pestoAs I have mentioned previously, our very lovely neighbour has a massive rosemary bush. I walked past it several times over the weekend and decided I should come up with a recipe involving rosemary. So I made this pesto. I included the cannellini beans to reduce the calories. I could not get the rosemary to process as finely as I would have liked. I don’t know if this was because I am impatient or because I reduced the amount of olive oil. Anyway, it still tasted good.

I ended up cooking a chicken breast in about ¾ of the pesto and served the chicken with mushrooms and tomatoes roasted with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. This turned out to be a simple and nutritious dinner. The boyfriend had potato cut into wedges baked with olive oil and salt for additional carbohydrates. The following morning I had the remaining pesto mixed in with some scrambled eggs and vegetables for breakfast.

Now for an interesting scientific study involving rosemary. This study is totally outside of my area. I found a study published in 2003 in the International Journal of Neuroscience. This is not the most reputable journal, but this article was interesting nonetheless. This study looked at the impact of the essential oils of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and rosemary (Rosmarlnus officinilis) on cognitive performance and mood in 144 healthy volunteers. Apparently a number of studies using a range of methods have demonstrated that the aroma of lavender essential oil has a sedative effect, whereas the aroma of the rosemary essential oil has stimulating or arousing properties. The authors sought to investigate the effects of the aroma of lavender, the aroma of rosemary or no odor (control) on cognitive performance. The participants were assessed in cubicles with the appropriate essential oil, or no oil for the control group, using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized assessment system to evaluate cognitive performance. This system involves tests such as Immediate word recall, Simple reaction time and Picture recognition. The participants were also assessed for their mood. They were not told anything about the involvement of essential oil in the study.

The aroma of rosemary was found to enhance secondary memory (long-term memory) and enhance the subject’s feeling of alertness compared to controls. So perhaps if you want to feel alert and you have a meeting with your boss in which you need to discuss a project from two years ago try smelling some rosemary. On the other hand, lavender was found to impair performance in working memory and slow reaction times for both memory and attention based tasks when compared to controls (1), so lavender is ideal for relaxation.

 Rosemary and cannellini bean pesto

4 large sprigs of rosemary stripped off the stem

2 cloves of garlic, roasted (see Note below)

½ can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

¾ cup walnuts, roasted (see Note below)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil



  • Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until the rosemary is finely chopped and a smooth paste is formed.

Note: To roast the garlic cloves, wrap the whole head, or just several cloves, in aluminum foil and roast in the oven at 180°C for 30 minutes. To roast the walnuts, line a baking tray with baking paper and spread the walnuts out on the baking paper. Roast in the oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes or until the walnuts begin to turn golden brown.

  1. Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K. and Duckett, P. (2003). Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults. Intern. J. Neuroscience. 113: 15-38.

2 thoughts on “Rosemary and cannellini bean pesto and can the aroma of rosemary improve cognitive performance?

  1. Pingback: Chicken with Basil, sliverbeet and cannellini bean pesto | I can't believe that's healthy

  2. Pingback: Pesto chicken risotto made with cauliflower rice | I can't believe that's healthy

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