Essential Oils for the Mind

This summer I taught a class on how you can work with essential oils to support your mind.  This has so many applications that are helpful for work and school.

  • Staying focused
  • Endurance
  • Lifting mind fog
  • Reducing fatigue
  • Improving memory
  • Improving mood
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving sleep (because we all know how difficult it can be to focus and think clearly when we are sleep deprived!)

The photo at the top of the page is a close up of Rosemary, one of my favorite essential oils to work with when I want my mind to be working well.

Here are some helpful essential oils and ways they can help in this context:

  • Frankincense – helps you to be more present, focused, creative, eases tension
  • Peppermint – stimulating, helps with alertness, motivation, eases tension
  • Rosemary – stimulating to the mind, memory, focus, reduces mental fatigue
  • Wild Orange or Sweet Orange (and other citruses) – lifts mood, reduces stress, encouraging, calms anger and frustration
  • Lavender – helps with long intense projects, cognition, reduces stress
  • Laurel Leaf – boosts confidence, focus and attention, creativity, uplifting
  • Ginger – eases burnout, helps with focus, boosts motivation
  • Juniper berry – reduces fear and negativity, boosts confidence, encouraging
  • Black Pepper – reduces fatigue, fear and negativity
  • Cardamom – Gently stimulating, can help with concentration
  • Eucalyptus – Eases burnout and fatigue, stimulating
  • Roman Chamomile – calms anger and frustration

How do essential oils help us?

Essential oil molecules are very small, with a molecular weight of 500 daltons/atomic mass units or less. In addition to this, they are mostly lipophilic, which means they mix well with lipids/fats rather than water. These two properties allow essential oil molecules to penetrate the skin and the membrane where our scent receptors are – our olfactory epithelium. The fact that they evaporate easily makes them that much easier to breathe in.

Our olfactory bulb is directly connected to our limbic system – we are wired for aromatic experiences! Our limbic system consists of several parts of the brain that deal with memory, learning, emotions, our “fight or flight” response, sleep, and autonomic nervous system functions.  These things can be affected when essential oils interact with our limbic system.

Essential oils are made up of many different kinds of molecules, and many of them are the subject of scientific research, which is one way we have an idea of what effects essential oils can have on our body and mind.

One molecule found in many essential oils is 1,8 cineole.  It is found in Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Cardamom, Laurel leaf, Peppermint, and many more.  In fact, it is often referred to as “eucalyptol”.  It can increase blood flow in the brain, enhance cognition, reduce pain, and act as  an airborne antimicrobial.  It has many other properties that are beneficial as well and is one of the components in eucalyptus that helps us break up congestion when one has a cold. This component and the essential oils that contain it do have a safety consideration though – it can cause breathing or neurological problems in young children up to 5 years old if too much is used near the nose or mouth.

Another molecule that is well-known to aromatherapists and essential oil enthusiasts is linalol (also spelled linalool) and is found in Lavender, Bergamot, Petitgrain, Sweet Basil and a couple hundred other commercial essential oils! It is calming, sometimes sedative for many people, can also enhance cognition, and mood.  It can help reduce pain and reduce microbial presence. The only safety consideration to keep in mind is that it can cause irritition or allergic skin reactions if it has become oxidized, which happens when essential oils are old or have been exposed to too much air, light, or heat.

While many of the physical and mental effects of essential oils are known because of scientific studies, it is more difficult to verify the energetic and emotional effects in this way.  Much of what we know is based on how essential oils have historically helped.  Some people study the energetic and emotional effects of essential oils in the context of traditional healing systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Ayurvedic medicine. Others have simply worked with essential oils so extensively and deeply that they have seen patterns in how they work.  Sometimes effects on mood are due to a memory we have associated with a scent, and sometimes the mood-enhancing effect of an essential oil is as simple as having a positive psychological reaction to smelling an aroma you like.  Of course everyone is different, and people have different associations with aromas, so essential oils might not work the same way for everyone.


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