Along with the usual desks and blackboards, primary school classrooms may soon be equipped with something a little less traditional – rosemary essential oil. According to a study recently conducted by a team from Northumbria University, the scent of the herb boosts children's working memory.

Led by Dr. Mark Moss and Victoria Earle, the scientists administered a memory test to 40 children aged 10 to 11. Each child was randomly assigned to take that test either in a room in which rosemary essential oil had been diffused for 10 minutes, or in a room with no scent. They were tested individually, seated across a table from a researcher.

When the results were tallied, it was found that children tested in the scented room received "significantly higher" scores. This was particularly true of tasks in which they had to recall words. Although the science behind the effect isn't entirely understood, it is believed that aromas may affect electrical activity in the brain, or that pharmacologically-active compounds might be absorbed via exposure to odors.

A previous study conducted by the same group concluded that rosemary essential oil aroma could boost cognition in healthy adults. According to Moss, however, the phenomenon may be particularly beneficial to school-age children.

"We do know that poor working memory is related to poor academic performance and these findings offers a possible cost-effective and simple intervention to improve academic performance in children," he says.

A paper on the research is being presented this Thursday at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton, UK.