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The 6 Best Essential Oils for Improving Cognitive Function: Benefits, Recipes, and More

We’ve all been there, right? We have this idea. It’s great. If we pull it off, it could mean money, achievement, fame. So we sit ourselves down and get to it, and then… oh, look, a bee! And work emails! And bills! But let’s watch that bee for a while longer.

We know it’s not really all that funny though. There are times when we might have been right—that idea could really have been something, if only we didn’t give up on it halfway, if only we were just a little bit smarter or more creative, we could have jumped whatever hurdle was ahead and we would have reached that finish line. Other people have done it, after all. In fact, even at this very moment, they’re pushing on, achieving their goals despite the difficulties. We see that and can’t help but wonder, why can’t I do the same?

People with poor cognitive skills find it hard to process information, recognize patterns, understand complex systems and create solutions. Photo Source: Pixabay

We have all been in that situation when we say: I can think better than this -- I know I can think better than this! Maybe we are stressed, a bit distracted, or need a little more sleep. Whatever it is that is keeping our brains from working at its best, its effects on our productivity are always frustratingly apparent.

If you've been having a hard time concentrating or meeting your goals, allow us to say: yes! you can definitely think better, focus longer, and create more. There is no doubt. With a help from our 100% pure essential oils, what might actually surprise you is how much better.

The brain-boosting abilities of these essential oils are backed by research. Who knows? Perhaps all that you need to release the genius in you is a just click away.

We did a side-by-side comparison with two of the world's biggest essential oil brands

Essential Oils for Improving Cognitive Function


While some people’s chronic inability to maintain focus on anything may not be as debilitating as certain physical illnesses, it certainly puts a damper on the quality of the lives they lead. After all, each and every person could be more than even he or she realizes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all tap into the known and unknown abilities within us and let the world know just what it is we can really do?

Allow us to tell you all about the following essential oils, along with their properties that have been known to help improve cognitive function.

We’ll see you at the finish line.


1. Rosemary Essential Oil

rosemary essential oilScientific studies on the chemical makeup of rosemary suggest that it helps improve memory and other brain functions. Photo via Pexels.


There’s a vast body of evidence that suggests rosemary isn’t your typical plant. Several ancient cultures certainly held it in high regard, and modern science has been doing its part in debunking or confirming the long-held beliefs surrounding its uses. Some of the things they found out are promising. For instance, the fact that rosemary and its essential oil can be beneficial for improving memory and mental alertness has been passed down in the traditional lores of many cultures, and certain studies were conducted to test if there might actually be some truth to this found the answer to be in the affirmative.

See, one of the primary chemical components of rosemary is 1,8-cineole, and this has been shown to have properties that can enhance the brain’s ability to absorb and retain information. It is so good at doing this, in fact, that its effects are held to be comparable to drugs used to treat dementia. Having this chemical as a whopping 30% of its makeup, rosemary essential oil can and have shown a capacity to improve test subjects’ cognitive performance after being exposed for a period of time to its scent.

We can easily see just how this benefit might be put to good use. Not only is it a promising natural alternative for helping slow down the progress of dementia and general forgetfulness in older people, it is also a highly viable option for younger adults to try and enhance their memory and therefore improve their overall intelligence. As a bonus, it could also serve as a preventive measure for neurodegeneration.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Children, especially babies, should not be exposed to rosemary essential oil as it can slow down their breathing and may even stop it for a spell, making it extremely dangerous. While it might seem tempting for parents to try alternative medicines to improve their children’s performance at school, rosemary oil might not be the best option. Please see Precautions for more information on the proper use of essential oils.

Learn more about rosemary essential oil.


2. Peppermint Essential Oil

peppermint essential oilPeppermint essential oil has more to offer than a strong, refreshing scent. Photo via Pixabay.


This essential oil doesn’t need much introduction, especially in relation to its reputation as a “driver” of concentration and alertness. In one study, peppermint and ylang ylang essential oils were tested for their possible effects on the cognitive performance and mood in healthy test subjects. They controlled for various aspects that might skew the results, so the conclusion reached is fairly reliable.

One of the things they found was that while ylang ylang essential oil, which is reputed to have excellent antidepressant effects, lengthened processing speed and impaired memory, peppermint essential oil improved them significantly. Another result was that while ylang ylang increased feelings of calmness in subjects, thereby proving its effectiveness in affecting a person’s mood for the better, peppermint increased alertness.

Don’t be thrown off by how peppermint essential oil’s benefits to memory and alertness seem dependent on how ylang ylang essential oil performed in comparison. The study wasn’t designed to hail one oil over the other for a specific quality. Instead, it sought to find out if there’s any truth to the purported benefits of these two particular essential oils and, by extension, to the others of its kind. In one fell swoop, the study not only showed that the claimed effects of both can indeed hold water, it also proved that each essential oil has a range of beneficial properties unique to it. For peppermint essential oil, that range of benefits include improving overall cognitive performance. And that’s not all it’s good for.

In a different study, peppermint oil was combined with ethanol and was dabbed using a sponge to the temples and other parts of the participants’ forehead. The peppermint solution not only exhibited a muscle-soothing and mentally relaxing effect—similar with another combination tested that included eucalyptus oil—it also proved effective in easing headaches due to its significant analgesic property. Anyone with a tired brain and an aching head can’t possibly perform well even if the motivation is there, so this is yet another benefit you can expect to receive from the sharp and cooling essential oil of peppermint.

Learn more about peppermint essential oil.


3. Lemon Essential Oil

lemon essential oilGet a kick out of what lemon essential oil can do for your brain.


Ever had that classmate who claims he never studies for exams but would still get top scores? Don’t be so quick to dismiss him for a liar and a show-off, there’s a good chance it’s true. Try to check what he’s doing during class, and you might see that his eyes are glued to the instructor in front, paying close attention to the lessons. Even if he's looking down and doodling, his ears at least are probably actively absorbing the information.

But why are we talking about this? For one thing, there’s this strong and obvious relationship between attention and memory. Being able to maintain sharp focus for long periods of time leads to a greater capacity for retaining information. But though this ability doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it can be promoted artificially. Enter lemon essential oil.

In one study, rats were divided into two groups—one for experimenting on and one to serve as controls, which is another way of saying the scientists didn’t do anything to them. The experimental group was made to inhale the scent of lemon essential oil each day for five minutes, then both this and the control group were released in completely separate but identical mazes. This part of the experiment lasted for ten days, and its aim was to measure the amount of time it would take both groups to memorize the way to a predetermined “goal.”

The results were as you’d expect. The rats exposed to the scent of lemon needed shorter and shorter amounts of time each experimental day to reach the goal. According to the researchers, the success of the experiment can be attributed to the lemon oil aroma’s stimulation of the rats’ central nervous system, which then led to increased levels of attention. As we mentioned, sustained focus is key to an enhanced memory. It is also key to increasing work accuracy by more than 50 percent, as a famous Japanese study found after releasing the scent of lemon oil in a room full of workers.

Improved attention span, memory, and accuracy—sounds like a recipe for greatness, wouldn’t you agree?

Learn more about lemon essential oil.


4. Basil Essential Oil

basil essential oilEssential oil from the basil plant has been shown to help combat chronic stress. Photo via Pexels.


Basil essential oil has been used for centuries to treat a range of illnesses, both of the body and of the mind. It has been described as the “oil that uplifts and renews,” and its regular use is said to be able to impart mental strength and clarity. Containing properties that are known to reduce anxiety, nervousness, stress, and fatigue, basil essential oil has also traditionally been used to combat inattention, increase energy, and improve recall because its inhalation could drive up focus and strengthen your mental muscles.

In fact, basil is so good at “renewing” that it’s been called an “adaptogen,” and that’s a pretty rare property for an essential oil to boast of. In one study, it has been shown that among other things, the use of basil essential oil could help combat chronic stress. This is especially beneficial in this day and age where everyone is constantly under pressure, and one of the known effects of chronic stress on the body is early signs of aging.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Pregnant or breastfeeding women are discouraged from using basil essential oil. It has known anti-fertility properties, so those trying to conceive must also avoid it. As with other essential oils, it might also have effects that could run counter to doctor-prescribed medication. Please seek your health provider’s advice prior to use.

Learn more about basil essential oil.


5. Lavender Essential Oil

lavender essential oilLavender is best known for its fragrance, but did you know that it can also help improve efficiency?


The use of lavender essential oil to improve cognitive function is slightly controversial. It does seem counterintuitive, seeing as lavender is a well-known sedative. How can that possibly help with focus and improve mental performance? Wouldn’t it just put you to sleep?

In some cases, yes. A number of studies have already been conducted to test whether or not lavender aroma can be used to increase workers’ efficiency. In one of them, the subjects’ rate of calculation was found to decrease initially while they’re doing complex mathematical equations. But another study found that lavender scent lowered the number of mistakes committed while also doing mathematical and “character count” equations. So what gives with these contradicting results?

One explanation is said to be that when a given task requires high levels of mental activity to be accomplished, the use of a sedative-type scent smack in the middle of it would result in decreased performance. But we already knew that. What’s surprising was how helpful this very same sedating scent can be when used on a stressed and overstimulated mind that’s taking a well-deserved break. This is when lavender essential oil could show great promise.

Researchers already went to the trouble of proving that. They chose healthy subjects whose sense of smell aren’t in any way impaired and randomly divided them into three groups. The experiment was conducted using a typical workday-like setting, divided into five parts with a 30-minute break in between. During these recess sessions, the three separate groups were exposed to either lavender scent, jasmine scent, or no scent as control. Jasmine is considered a stimulant-type, but its results showed no significant difference compared with those of the control group. Lavender, meanwhile, exhibited a surprising effect.

Because of the highly demanding nature of the work being performed, the test subjects’ levels of stress and mental fatigue accumulated, and when no effective intervention was introduced during breaks, the performance was shown to steadily decline as the workday progressed.

This was averted with those exposed to lavender scent during the 30-minute breaks. And though all groups were not allowed to sleep during these times, the lavender group was able to achieve greater rest and relaxation, leading them to maintain their work efficiency even during the time-block where fatigue and drowsiness are at their peaks across all groups.

So the next time you feel yourself about to give up because you’re spread too thin or are too high-strung to stay still and focus… take a breather, literally, with the aid of lavender essential oil.

Learn more about lavender essential oil


6. Grapefruit Essential Oil

grapefruit essential oilOften referred to as the "millennial oil", grapefruit essential oil is known to uplift people's moods and aid in retrieving old memories. Photo via Pixabay.


Ready for a refreshing boost to your creativity? There’s a theory that says introducing pleasant odors during attention-sensitive tasks is enough to have an effect on cognition, simply because the pleasant smell has elevated the person’s mood first. Under this theory, any aroma that an individual deems “pleasing” can give similar results.

Furthermore, the link between scents and memory is well-established. Not only would specific scents help you remember things quicker, it could also facilitate faster recall if you inhale the same scent you used during the memorization process. This principle could work the same way for evoking older memories, especially if they’re tied to a particular emotion. And although this theory isn’t substantiated yet, that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to see if it could apply to their situation. But why grapefruit? And how does that tie in with creativity?

Some of the things grapefruit essential oil is known for are how its inhalation can ease tension, bring back balance to a tired and overwhelmed mind, increase levels of energy, and provide an uplifting and rejuvenating effect owing to its refreshing scent that stands out even among other citruses. Emotionally, this type of fragrance can only tap at positive and hope-filled thoughts from your past.

Plus, grapefruit essential oil isn’t dubbed the “millennial oil” for nothing. This essential oil and its scent is perfect if you need something from your past to inspire you, or if you just want to bring back some of the youthful vigor and excitement you used to feel when this particular dream or pursuit of yours was all you could think of.

If you tie all that in with the properties grapefruit shares with other essential oils on this list of cognitive function boosters (i.e., how its scent, as well as its main component limonene, can also stimulate the “fight-or-flight” system of the body, acting as a stimulant that may promote alertness and improve focus), you might not even have to look beyond it for all your motivational needs.

Learn more about grapefruit essential oil.


You can see a whole range of pure and all-natural essential oils from our collection.


Pregnant and breastfeeding women should refrain from using essential oils as many have components that might be adverse to babies. Some essential oils are also natural emmenagogues, which promotes menstruation. While this effect is typically not strong enough to induce a miscarriage, complications might still occur which could endanger both the mother’s and the fetus’ lives.

If you have serious conditions for which you’re taking medications, please consult with your health provider on the advisability of using alternative treatments like essential oils. Many may have properties that could interfere with the effects of the drugs you’re taking. People with epilepsy are also highly discouraged from using essential oils.

Although some essential oils labeled “food grade” or “therapeutic grade” can be safe for consumption in small doses, it is generally not recommended to take essential oils orally, most especially without undergoing proper dilution or further processing. The potent nature of these oils means that even a little could go a long way—one drop of peppermint essential oil, for example, is said to be the equivalent of twenty cups of peppermint tea. This would also apply to other types of essential oils, and doubly so for cold-pressed citruses which tend to be a lot more concentrated while also being highly acidic. They could burn the mouth and throat linings, so please consult a qualified aromatherapy practitioner before ingesting essential oils to learn about proper dosage and administration.

When applied topically, dilution must also be properly observed. For most essential oils, the ratio of essential oil to carrier agent is usually one drop per one milliliter, or one teaspoon, as is often used as well. Before any large-scale skin application, perform a patch test first in a non-sensitive part of the skin to see if you have any adverse reaction. If irritation or allergy occurs, please refrain from further use. If you’re applying photosensitive oils like those made from citrus, wait for at least twenty-four hours before exposing your skin to the sun as the citrus essential oil might react to the strong light and cause burns or skin pigmentation. Wear sun-protective clothing as an added measure.

Keep away from children’s and pets’ reach. Avoid getting essential oils in the mucous membranes like those in the eyes. If undiluted essential oil accidentally spills on the skin, please do not use water to wash it away as oils are not water soluble and doing this would only spread the oil further on the skin. Instead, use carrier oils to simultaneously dilute and remove the excess.


How to Use Essential Oils to Improve Cognitive Function

brain boost essential oilsCreativity and imagination are key contributors to our problem-solving abilities. Photo via Pixabay.


Any of the essential oils listed here to improve your cognitive function can be used on its own to great effect, but to make the most of their benefits, they can also be blended together in a personal formula specific to your needs at any given situation. To make it easier for you, Aroma Foundry has packed them all in a convenient bundle. You won’t have to go far and wide, we have them all here: six all-natural and 100% pure essential oils that can help increase your focus, boost your creativity, improve your memory, and so much more.

There’s a variety of ways you could enjoy these benefits, including:


1. Diffusion

Pop a few drops in your diffuser, turn it on, and you’re all set. The exact number of drops would depend on the type of oil you’re using and how long you want the session to last. Three to five drops are usually enough for a 100-ml capacity tank in a modest-sized room, and citrus essential oils like grapefruit that were made using the cold pressing method would need even less because they’re much more concentrated. Do make sure your diffuser is designed to handle its high acidity, though.

Of course, simple inhalation straight from the bottle could work as well, but the advantage of diffusion is that it spreads the beneficial molecules around the space you’re moving in and you can receive them each time you breathe in. This would also make sure that no drop would go to waste because a good diffuser would convert every last one to something your entire body can use—anything your lungs couldn’t gather would go to your skin, as it’s also a highly effective conductor of essential oils. Which brings us to…


2. Topical application

Want the rejuvenating properties of these oils on your body as well? If you can find the time during a hectic day, then massage your aching head or limbs with these oils, or simply apply some on your pulse points. For the sake of convenience, you can blend your personal mind-boosting formula beforehand and carry it with you wherever you go.

All you’ll need is a compact, UV-filtering bottle to mix and store your blend in and you’ll always be able to keep it on your person, to be whipped out whenever you think you need it. Make sure the oils are properly diluted in a carrier agent like coconut or olive oil. As we’ve discussed in the Precautions section, a 1:1 ratio of essential oil drop to a milliliter or to a teaspoon of carrier oil is usually the standard.

3. Miscellaneous uses

There are plenty of other ways you could reap the brain-boosting and mind-healing benefits of these six essential oils. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can improvise by adding the drops to a bowl of hot water. Wait a bit for it to cool, then cover the bowl and your head with a towel and inhale the steam.

If you want a mixture you can spray on yourself or in your space, mix up to six drops of your essential oils of choice in 100 ml of purified water or alcohol. Shake the mist bottle well before each use.

As a last example, you can pop a few drops into your bath to unwind after a long stressful day, or add some to your liquid soap or shampoo to motivate you at the start of yet another one. You can even do both. We promise no one’s going to blame you for it.



Aroma Foundry Brain Boost Scents

You’ve got this idea, and it could be great, but for the entire world to see that, you have to give form to it first. But that’s easier said than done. There are so many considerations to think of, things that need to be gotten out of the way first. Try to consider this too: we all have the potential to get past those challenges, whatever they may be. It’s just a matter of finding the right tools to help us. For instance, using nature’s bounty in the form of essential oils to help boost our creativity, focus, intelligence, and mental stamina. And just like with people, there’s a right oil for every job.

If a person’s brain is overstimulated, so much so that it couldn’t possibly function optimally anymore, a sedative type like lavender essential oil can be used to give it a break from work while also preparing it to handle more. If fatigue or persistent inattention is the problem, a stimulant type like peppermint essential oil might be the right answer. If you need a refreshing way to improve your memory or take your creativity to new heights, the essential oils of lemon and grapefruit would be happy to serve. And to protect your brain and body from untimely degeneration so that you could extend your future as far as it could go, using rosemary and basil essential oils could prove to be the key.

The best part is, you don’t have to choose just one essential oil from this collection. Aroma Foundry has gathered all these essential oils for cognitive function in just one package. 


  1. Göbel, H., G. Schmidt, and D. Soyka. "Effect of Peppermint and Eucalyptus Oil Preparations on Neurophysiological and Experimental Algesimetric Headache Parameters." Cephalalgia : An International Journal of Headache. June 1994.
  2. Jyoti, S., S. Satendra, S. Sushma, T. Anjana, and S. Shashi. "Antistressor Activity of Ocimum Sanctum (Tulsi) against Experimentally Induced Oxidative Stress in Rabbits." Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology.
  3. Moss, M., J. Cook, K. Wesnes, and P. Duckett. "Aromas of Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oils Differentially Affect Cognition and Mood in Healthy Adults." The International Journal of Neuroscience. January 2003.
  4. Moss, M., S. Hewitt, L. Moss, and K. Wesnes. "Modulation of Cognitive Performance and Mood by Aromas of Peppermint and Ylang-ylang." The International Journal of Neuroscience. January 2008.
  5. Ogeturk, Murat, Evren Kose, Mustafa Sarsilmaz, Burhan Akpinar, Ilter Kus, and Sedat Meydan. "Effects of Lemon Essential Oil Aroma on the Learning Behaviors of Rats." October 2010.
  6. Sakamoto, Reiko, Kazuya, Usui, Akira, Ishizuka, Yoshikazu, and Shigenobu. "Effectiveness of Aroma on Work Efficiency: Lavender Aroma during Recesses Prevents Deterioration of Work Performance | Chemical Senses | Oxford Academic." OUP Academic. September 14, 2005.
  7. Tanida, M., A. Niijima, J. Shen, T. Nakamura, and K. Nagai. "Olfactory Stimulation with Scent of Essential Oil of Grapefruit Affects Autonomic Neurotransmission and Blood Pressure." Brain Research. October 05, 2005.
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Fagjun Santos is an avid reader who eventually decided to try her hand at writing her own stuff. After spending her teen years writing what can be considered to be Vogon poetry, she now writes things that aren't a pain to read. Her favorite Aroma Foundry scent is peppermint, with lavender coming in a close second.

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