We all have times when our memories become a little less reliable, whether due to stress, menopause, or neurodegeneration leading to dementia. There can be many different reasons, and one of the cruel realities of life is that the more we worry about it, the worse it gets, which is a particular problem around exams for some. Luckily, our memory is intrinsically related to smell, so using essential oils can help give our brains the extra boost they need to retain information for long periods of time. This blog post will look at some of the most popular essential oils for memory and brain power.
Overview of Memory Improvement
Improving memory is a hot topic, and with life expectancy getting longer, more older adults are developing diseases that lead to upsetting memory loss. There is lots of research into essential oils and memory and ways to use them to help improve people's quality of life.
Research shows there are neurological exercises that can be beneficial, and I hope that all of you are doing some kind of brain training…remember the old mantra "Use it or lose it" - although fifty years on I'm not sure I ever developed the long division brain cell, let alone worrying about losing it!
A body of research found that working memory increases after regular exercising over a sustained period. (Duzal, 2016) Emotional intelligence is another factor that naturally improves one's ability to remember important details. (Orzechowski, 2020) Learning to recognize emotions leads to better decision-making and problem-solving skills, which help us remember facts for longer.
Experts have consistently recommended meditation as a way to help with improving memory along with decreasing stress levels. These techniques are promising when used on an ongoing basis and can make a lasting difference in overall mental health - not just as a means of retaining information.
Benefits of Essential Oils
When we smell something, it is processed by the same part of the brain that deals with memory, learning, and mood. Deliberately smelling something can make a fast gateway from one mental state to another. Research also suggests that certain essential oils, such as Rosemary and lavender, have properties that can encourage better memory retention when diffused in a room or added to massage oils. The essential oil can also be helpful for relaxation - both physically and mentally - which often helps people stay alert and on task for extended periods, supporting healthy memory function.
Best Essential Oils for Memory Improvement
The top of the chart for essential oils for memory is Rosemary. Studies have found that it can increase cognitive performance by improving focus and concentration levels. It helps with recall, making information easier to remember, and keeps the thoughts positive and razor sharp.
The power of Rosemary is rooted in its natural chemical composition.
In a study conducted by Northumbria University in England, participants who inhaled Rosemary essential oil performed better on subtraction and memory tests than those who had not been exposed to the oil. (Moss, 2012) They credited 1,8 cineole for the improvements. Additionally, research has found that inhaling Rosemary essential oil can improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. (Kennedy, 2006) (Habtemariam, 2016), (Rahbahdar, 2020)
1,8-cineole has been shown to stimulate the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for forming memories. In 2003, Moss and colleagues reported that inhaling rosemary aroma improved long-term memory compared with controls (Moss, 2003).
Anecdotally, many people report experiencing improved focus while using rosemary essential oil. For students preparing for exams or high-stakes tests such as the SAT or ACT, diffusing rosemary essential oil before studying may help them stay alert and retain information more easily.
Safety Notes for Rosemary Essential Oil
This should be approached with the most caution of all the essential oils that can help improve memory. While some people report benefits for epilepsy, Rosemary contains constituents proven to be pro-convulsive. If you have epilepsy, I will approach this one with care.
It is a very stimulating essential oil, wonderfully motivating, and for giving you some get up and go. To do this, it makes internal systems work faster and harder. It can be a problematic essential oil for people with high blood pressure. Because of this same stimulating effect, I recommend avoiding this for nighttime study and using it solely as a morning oil.
Lastly, again because it contains constituents that can be neurotoxic, I would suggest avoiding this if you have any psychosis or delusory issues.
Otherwise, Rosemary essential oil is safe for topical use after 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Lavender oil is another popular essential oil for memory improvement, mainly due to its calming properties. Stress can have a significant impact on our ability to remember information. Studies have shown that feeling elevated amounts of stress can significantly impair our memory and cause us to struggle to retain newly acquired knowledge. Lavender improves retention by promoting a sense of calm and relieving tension to help us focus our attention.
The scent of lavender reduces stress, which can help improve mental clarity and recall capabilities. Lavender oil can be diffused into the air or added to baths or massage oils for topical application.
Lavender essential oil is safe and easy to use but should be avoided during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Peppermint is an energizing essential oil with many uses, including boosting energy levels and improving mental clarity. Peppermint also helps improve alertness which is necessary for learning new information and retaining it in our long-term memory banks. This oil can be diffused into the air or added directly onto the skin using carrier oils such as olive or coconut oil.
Peppermint would not be suitable for young children. The chemical constituent, menthol, slows respiration, so avoid this for young ones.
Vetiver essential oil is derived from a grass plant native to India and can be used as a natural remedy to improve cognitive performance. It does this by increasing alertness and focus, promoting relaxation, and helping to improve concentration and attention levels. Research has also shown its ability to alter brain activity in the areas associated with memory function. As such, it is often thought of as one of the best essential oils for memory power and overall brain health.
The following excerpt is taken from my book on Vetiver:
A 2012 study in Japan focused on Vetiver's effects on subjects while performing a visual task. The objective was to ascertain whether it was possible for them to hold focus for a longer time and to improve response speeds. Subjects were given five minutes to relax with their eyes closed, 30 minutes doing the task, and 5 minutes of recovery time.
During the 30 minutes of work, odorant molecules of Vetiver were delivered via a fan mechanism into the room. The subjects were measured with ECG and EEG monitors throughout their challenge. The delivery of the oils was tested at two doses, 1g for a low dose and 30g for a high amount, and then a control group.
The results for the two dose groups were very similar in most ways, except the high-dose group was able to report a perception of a pleasant scent, whereas the control group was not. Since perceiving a foul smell makes you hyper-vigilant, this was seen as relevant.
The tests showed that the blood volume at the front of the brain was decreased, which is a sign of the body being sedated. The results of the P(th) test– the number of actual hits minus the number of incorrect ones - showed that the high-dose group performance improved by 5.6% and the low dose by 3.6% compared to the control group. Response times were improved too. The low dose had a 3.7% increase in speed compared to the control, and the high amount had a further 2.5% increase on that! (Matsubara, 2012). This is a critical study because it is the first experimental test to support traditional medicine's claim that you can improve focus in humans. (Ashley, 2016)
Safety: Vetiver essential oil is safe after 16 weeks of pregnancy.
5. Sweet Basil
Rodent studies suggest that Sweet basil essential oil effectively promotes focus and memory retention. The health benefits of sweet basil essential oil stem from its natural compounds that can enhance circulation, reduce anxiety, and stimulate mental recall when inhaled or used topically. Studies have found that it can help improve cognitive processes, such as decision-making and multitasking. (Heshami, 2021) (Singh, 2022) Essential oils like sweet basil can also aid in reducing stress levels, resulting in improved mood and clarity of thought.
Safety: Suitable for topical use after 16 weeks of pregnancy
6. Clary Sage
This wonderfully soothing oil can tremendously help if your memory issues are hormonal. Aromatherapists use clary sage for post-menopausal matters such as brain fog and nervous stress.
Safety: Not advisable for topical or inhalation during pregnancy. Clary sage and alcohol are not a good mix; avoid them if you have had a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage.
How to Use Essential Oils for Memory Improvement
Essential oils are taken into the body through routes, inhalation, and through the skin.
For long-term conditions like menopause, adding essential oils to your nightly bath or massage oils can be wonderfully helpful.
For dementia, studies reveal adding essential oils to lotions and using them for hand massages. Adding a drop of essential oil onto a face cloth and inhaling the vapors can uplift the patient.
Add a drop to a diffuser, or combine a few to blend. This is super for exams and calming stress.
Rollerball blends are super for carrying in your handbag. Apply them every couple of hours to the insides of your wrists where there is a good blood supply.
Usage of essential oils is cumulative, so their effects get stronger each time you use them.
DIY Essential Oil Recipes for Memory Improvement and Concentration
Roller Ball Recipe for Concentration
- 9ml Grapeseed Carrier Oil (Vitis vinifera)
- 5 drops Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
- 1 drop Sweet Basil Essential Oil (Ocimum basilicum)
- 1 drop Vetiver Essential Oil (Vetiveria zizanoides)
Method of use: Use every couple of hours or so on your pulse points.
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Exams diffuser Blend For Concentration
- 3 drops Sweet Basil Essential Oil (Ocimum basilicum)
- 2 drops Melissa Essential Oil (Melissa officinalis)
- 2 drops Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
Safety: Not designed for topical use.
Essential oils have been used for centuries for their healing properties. They are being studied more closely for their ability to help with brain function, including improving memory retention and recall abilities. From Rosemary's cognitive enhancing properties to lavender's calming effect on the mind, peppermint's energizing effects, and Vetiver's tranquilizing powers – there are several different types of essential oils you can use depending on your needs! The best ways to use essential oils for memory are either through diffusion or topical application using rollerballs, creams, and lotions.