Essential oils to enhance learning
Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM
This back-to-school season, don’t just stock up on books and other supplies; add essential oils to help enhance your learning experience. Aromatherapy is not just great for boosting memory, but it may also help enhance focus, cognition, alertness, and outlook.
When we talk about aromatherapy, we’re talking about the therapeutic use of natural oils that are extracted from flowers, plants, trees, resins, and other botanical elements in nature.
Known as essential oils, each one has unique healing properties that can be gleaned either from inhaling their scent using a diffuser or room spray or through their absorption when diluted and topically applied to the skin. There are many essential oils that may help improve learning and retention.
Eucalyptus, the classic scent linked to chest rub ointments used during colds and flu, is also used with a diffuser for stimulating the brain and improving energy, both of which can help improve learning.
Lavender essential oil seems to have a calming effect that may help alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies tests and exams. In preclinical research, the essential oil holds promise in the restoration of healthy serotonin levels in the brain, which could explain its reported ability to improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression.
Animal studies seem to support the traditional uses of lemon essential oil to elevate mood and ease depression and anxiety, making it an excellent choice for those who struggle with the emotional aspects of learning.
Researchers have found that the effect of inhaling orange essential oil was lower levels of anxiety, increased calmness, and a better mood in study participants. These beneficial effects could also apply to a learning environment.
Peppermint is widely used in aromatherapy to improve alertness and focus and to boost mood and energy, all of which can be helpful when studying or learning. In a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that smelling peppermint essential oil boosted alertness and enhanced memory.
Research in the medical journal Neuroscience found that smelling the scent of roses during learning and sleep increases memory and learning ability. Another study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that inhaling the scent of rose (or orange) essential oil induced relaxation, which may be helpful in dealing with the stress linked to learning.
Rosemary’s long-time reputation for boosting memory likely stems from its ability to increase blood flow to the brain. In animal studies, rosemary has been found to slow the degradation of the compound acetylcholine, which is involved in memory formation. Arguably the best essential oil for memory and learning, rosemary was found by other research published in the Alexandria Journal of Medicine to enhance focus, memory, and memorization in children.
There are many great ways to incorporate essential oils into your life to boost learning.
Be sure to dilute essential oils in carrier oils such as coconut, almond, grapeseed, or jojoba, or in a lotion before being used directly on the skin. The rule of thumb for mixing essential oils for applying to the skin is 3 percent dilution, or 20 drops of essential oil per 2 Tbsp (30 mL) carrier oil. Apply diluted oils to your forehead, back of skull, under your nose, or in the palms of your hands.
Inhalation of essential oils can be done by using an essential oil diffuser, which causes the oils to vaporize into the air. Diffuse 3 to 5 drops of the oils of your choice to encourage the scent to enter your nose and access your olfactory system.
This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of alive Canada.