For years, essential oils have been the rage in the natural health arena. From improving your mood to helping stimulate healing, is there anything they can’t do? Whether you’re in school and test time is looming, or you’re concerned with aging gracefully and retaining your memory functions as you do so, there are a number of essential oils to help you achieve your goals. I’ve pulled together a list of my five favorite essential oils to improve memory, plus a few more recommendations for decreased stress, to help you do just that.
1. Rosemary essential oil
There’s ample evidence to show that rosemary is the best essential oil to diffuse for improved memory. Dating as far back as Tudor England, people have ascribed to the idea that rosemary helps boost memory. Today, modern science supports the theory.
In a 2009 study conducted by the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at the University of Northumbria, in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, researchers, led by Mark Moss, found that rosemary enhanced subjects’ test performance. Overall memory quality was improved when subjects were exposed to rosemary essential oil, but the speed of recall was reduced when compared to the control group. So, if time is of the essence, you might want to choose a different oil to wear at test time.
In 2012, Moss conducted another study that measured the effects of the absorption of rosemary oil in subjects’ circulatory systems. The healthy volunteers performed a number of math-based tasks, some in a room with diffused rosemary essential oil. Blood samples were taken at the end of each session to determine how much of the oil was absorbed into the bloodstream.
The team found that subjects who were exposed to — and therefore absorbed — more rosemary oil compounds performed significantly better on tasks that required concentration, speed, and accuracy.
2. Lavender essential oil
In the same 2009 University of Northumbria study, subjects who inhaled lavender oil became too calm to perform well on memory-based tests. However, lavender’s sedative effects can make it a useful oil for improving your memory over the long term, by reducing anxiety and stress levels. So, avoid using it while studying, but integrate this oil into your daily life for improved memory overall.
3. Peppermint essential oil
Not only does peppermint oil help keep you alert, but it can also improve your memory in significant ways. Another of Mark Moss’ studies — this one published in 2008 — found that peppermint oil improves memory accuracy. The oil has also shown effective at keeping daytime sleepiness at bay while boosting alertness.
4. Basil essential oil
Basil essential oil is a stimulant, which means that it may help you to focus on the present moment easier. This is especially helpful when studying or learning a new task. A Japanese study from Hiroshima Prefectural Women’s University found that people who inhaled basil essential oil experienced increased skin temperature and increased beta waves when measured by an EEG. These two factors are correlated with being alert. There’s an array of anecdotal evidence that supports the theory that basil essential oil helps to keep you alert, so it’s worth a try.
5. Sage essential oil
Like peppermint and basil, sage essential oil stimulates the senses and may help increase focus. A 2010 study published in Human Psychopharmacology found that healthy adults who inhaled sage aromas performed much better on cognitive tests. They were more alert than the control group and experienced better mood, too.
Other oils that may help
Stress plays an integral role in memory. Students endure high levels of stress before test time, and in high-stakes business — or social — interactions, elevated stress levels can impair memory. When we’re in the fight-or-flight mode, our brain is not ready to retain intellectual information, and it’s not prepared to recall facts when you need it to. But there are a few oils that may help reduce stress and bring some calmness to your day. When used after one of the oils mentioned above, you might find your recipe for memory success.
- A 2005 study found that orange oil was just as effective as lavender oil at reducing anxiety and improving mood before a dental treatment.
- If you experience anxiety, try using rose essential oil to calm your mind. It has been shown to help reduce levels of anxiety.
- Ylang ylang can help create a sense of calm, according to the experts. Diffusing ylang ylang after a study session may help reduce anxiety, thereby helping the brain to retain information during a rest-and-digest state.
- Naturally reduce your blood pressure and anxiety levels by diffusing bergamot essential oil when you’re done studying. It will help keep you grounded and make you feel relaxed.
No matter which essential oil you use to improve your memory, always do so safely. Dilute the oil with a carrier oil if you place it on your skin: many of the oils mentioned here are “hot” oils and can cause skin irritation. Diffuse oils for a short period if they’re new to you, to make sure you aren’t allergic. With some trial and error, you’ll find the essential oils that work best for you.
What’s your favorite oil to boost memory? Let us know in the comments.