Essential Oils that Improve Memory

By Michael Lawrence Green

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to improve memory and brain function. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were the first known users of essential oils for memory issues.  

Our memories are tied to smells as much as anything. Researchers have learned that memory recall at least doubles when a past event is associated with a smell. That’s why a whiff of a fragrance can send you back in time and carry with it images and feelings associated with that event.  

Essential oils don’t just help you bring back memories of special points in time or places, some help with alertness, future memories, calming the brain and other mental benefits. Essential oils are composed of chemical compounds called terpenes – small molecules that are absorbed into the blood stream through the nose or lungs. Terpenes are so small they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they can be absorbed by the brain, impacting its neurological processes.
Here are some of the essential oils associated with memory and brain function.
Rosemary – Rosemary has been used with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients for many years.  Rosemary is an uplifting oil used to stimulate the mind and body. It may even improve cognitive performance and mood. This sharp and camphorous scent has been shown to enhance proscriptive memory, which is the ability to remember things happening in the future.  In a series of tests at Northumbria University, Newcastle rosemary essential oil from the herb increased the chances of remembering to do things in the future, by 60-75 per cent compared with people who had not been exposed to the oil. Emily Feldon of Wellness Today suggests rubbing it on your palms in the morning as you review your schedule or adding a few drops to a relaxing bath at night while you rejuvenate for the next day.
Peppermint – Peppermint is an energizer and can be used to stimulate the mind and calm nerves at the same time. Peppermint fragrance helps to wake up the mind, focus your senses, and improve memory. It is also a natural cure for headaches.  Peppermint has also been used to improve concentration levels, relieve mental fatigue, and refresh the spirit. Peppermint oil is best used in the morning.  It can be can be inhaled directly, diffused in a room, used as a massage oil, sprayed in the air or even placed in a bath. 
Lavender – Lavender has been traditionally used as a calming agent. It has even been used to mitigate anxiety related to work or school, allowing students to concentrate on questions and have better memory recall. In addition, it has been used to increase alertness and boost stamina and energy. Mind Body Green suggests rubbing 2-3 drops of lavender oil in your cupped palms, then use the inhalation method to draw the scent all the way into your amygdala gland (the emotional warehouse) in your brain to calm the mind.
Basil – Basil has been used in India for centuries to improve memory and sharpen the mind. Basil has been used to help with poor memory and fatigue-induced distractions. It has been shown to improve alertness, concentration, and attentiveness.  Basil’s possible neuro-regulating properties have made it a choice for support of mild nervous disorders, stress and anxieties. It is noted as a natural nerve tonic, with the ability to be stimulant and/or restorative depending on the body’s needs. Emily Feldon suggests using Basil essential oil before heading into a late night study session or prepping for a  big presentation. She suggests using 20-25 drops in a diffuser and inhaling basil essential oil deeply to get yourself ready to go.
Sage – Sage has been used for centuries to help with lost or declining mental functions such as Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, it has been used to stimulate and boost one’s senses.  Part of the reason is that sage has been shown to enhance acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter substance involved in the signal transferring between the synapses. Studies have shown that sage can improve memory and cognition.  In larger doses it can elevate mood, as well as increase alertness, calmness, and contentedness. Sage oil has also been reported to improve immediate word recall.  Sustainable Baby Steps suggests rubbing 1-2 drops in your hands and inhaling to open your mind and memory. 
Frankincense – Frankincense has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties especially in improving promoting mental clarity, mind stimulation, and memory function. Frankincense is high in sesquiterpenes which stimulates and oxygenates the limbic system of the brain. As a result, our brain processes better, our memory retention improves, and our mood is elevated. Lindsey Gremont  of suggests applying 1-2 drops of frankincense essential oil to the back of your neck and your temples to enhance your concentration. 
Lemon – Research has shown that lemon essential oil can increase your ability to focus and improve productivity.  Japanese research scientists, who conducted a study about the effect of lemon essential oil on the ability to focus, reported that the diffusion of lemon essential oil into an office environment dramatically improved mental accuracy and concentration. The research results showed that typical mistakes were reduced by 54 percent when lemon oil was diffused into an office or work room.  Another research study in Japan published in ‘Nutritional Neuroscience’ reported that lemon pure essential oil also improved the memory of subjects impaired with dementia.  A few drops in a diffuser can brighten up your house and your brain. suggests combining 3 drops of Lemon essential oil with 3 drops of Rosemary essential oil in a diffuser to really gain clarity of thought.
Remember to start slowly with these oils.  They are extremely powerful. You might want to even start by putting a few drops in a pot of water to engage your entire environment.  Get a feel for which ones you react well with and which ones you don’t.  You also want to check on physician recommendations. Once you get them wired down, essential oils will make a difference with your memory and brain health. What oils do you use?

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3 years ago

Excellent article and very accessible. You can get quality essential oils at a number of locations where they will demonstrate and allow you to smell the oil in the store.

tami haas
tami haas
3 years ago

I am a big believer in essential oils. I love frankinsense the most – it has so many healing properties. I use it every morning with my moisturizer on my face. Good for dark spots and skin health. I also use lavender throughout the day to calm my brain and help me focus, and to help with anxiety and sleep difficulties. I have had to discontinue diffusing citrus oils as it is not good for pets, but I do love the smell and will put a drop or two in a water bottle from time to time, to spice up… Read more »

3 years ago

I use several oils – Frankincense being my favorite, multi use oil. I also like lavender and some oil blends for stress reducing benefits. They are a great alternative to drugs. One caution though, if you have pets, be careful what you put in a diffuser – citrus and other oils can be very harmful to animals. I tend to just put them in the palms of my hands and inhale them that way.

2 years ago

Does anyone know what oils to put together to help memory for a test?
I can’t take anything that will bring on seizures.

Last edited 2 years ago by Janie
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