Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva

Psychiatry Res. 2007 Feb 28;150(1):89-96. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2005.12.012. Epub 2007 Feb 7.


Free radicals/reactive oxygen species are related to many biological phenomena such as inflammation, aging, and carcinogenesis. The body possesses various antioxidative systems (free radical scavenging activity, FRSA) for preventing oxidative stress, and saliva contains such activity. In the present study, we measured the total salivary FRSA induced after the smelling of lavender and rosemary essential oils that are widely used in aromatherapy. Various physiologically active substances in saliva such as cortisol, secretory IgA, and alpha-amylase activity were found to be correlated with aroma-induced FRSA. The subjects (22 healthy volunteers) sniffed aroma for 5 min, and each subject's saliva was collected immediately. FRSA was measured using 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl. The FRSA values were increased by stimulation with low concentrations (1000 times dilution) of lavender or by high-concentrations (10 times dilution) of rosemary. In contrast, both lavender and rosemary stimulations decreased cortisol levels. A significant inverse correlation was observed between the FRSA values and the cortisol levels with each concentration of rosemary stimulation. No significant changes were noted in sIgA or alpha-amylase. These findings clarify that lavender and rosemary enhance FRSA and decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, which protects the body from oxidative stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aromatherapy*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / metabolism*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / metabolism
  • Lavandula
  • Male
  • Oils, Volatile*
  • Plant Oils*
  • Rosmarinus*
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • alpha-Amylases / metabolism


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Oils
  • rosemary oil
  • alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone
  • lavender oil