Struggling with focus? Ditch the bogus techniques and sugar-filled energy drinks for natural plant extracts. Here, we’ll share the best essential oils for focus and how to use them.
by James Han
In our attention economy, we’re bombarded with both physical and digital distractions every moment of the day. With responsibilities and information competing for our focus, it’s no wonder we might find ourselves scattered, foggy or mentally fatigued.
While there are plenty of pharmaceuticals, retreats and energy drinks that promise focus, studies suggest that we can actually turn to time-tested and science-backed natural botanicals to help us find greater clarity, motivation and energy. Essential oils are one such option.
Made by distilling plant extracts through steam-distilling or cold-pressing certain plants, essential oils are a concentrated source of plant nutrients that have a wide array of aromatic and therapeutic properties. Here, we’ll discuss the best essential oils for focus and offer tips on the best ways to incorporate them into your daily routine.
How To Use Essential Oils for Focus
Using essential oils may seem simple enough — after all, plants can’t be toxic, right? The truth is that essential oils are potent extractions; a tiny 15 milliliter bottle of lemon essential oil, for instance, requires the peel of 45 whole lemons. So unless you’re taking a pre-diluted, safe tincture such as the GO blend, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
All the essential oils below can be used internally, topically and as aromatherapy. When you’re consuming pure essential oils, never use more than a drop or two in food, and dilute a single drop with at least four ounces of liquid. If administering on the skin, follow a 2.5% dilution rule for adults: For every 15 drops of essential oil, use 6 teaspoons of a neutral carrier oil like jojoba or fractionated coconut. All citrus oils — such as lemon, orange and bergamot — should never been applied to the skin before going out into the sun.
1. Cardamom Essential Oil
Native to South India, cardamom is a spice that comes from the seeds in the ginger family. Its aroma is similar to that of cloves, and its taste is often described as a wonderful blend of ginger and cinnamon, with floral or fruity undertones. As a plant, cardamom has been used for centuries. Ancient Egyptians incorporated it into their medicines and spiritual rituals, and often chewed on its pods to combat halitosis or relieve indigestion. Now, cardamom is a valuable culinary ingredient frequently used in Middle Eastern cuisine as well as South Asian curries, teas and more. As an essential oil, cardamom has been shown to help improve breathing and oxygen use by relaxing the airway. One study found that a group of participants who inhaled cardamom essential oil had better oxygen uptake than the control group. When blood oxygen saturation increases, your body can actually experience improved cognitive function and decreased heart rate, making cardamom a great essential oil for focus.
How To Use It
Take as a tincture to help with focus and balance digestion or add a few drops to desserts, marinades and smoothies for flavor. Alternatively, add three to four drops to a diffuser. If applying to skin, dilute heavily with a carrier oil.
2. Rosemary Essential Oil
We think of rosemary as being a fragrant complement to potatoes and lamb, but this powerful and long-revered herb has a long history of cognitive use. Native to the dry and rocky areas along the coast of the Mediterranean, rosemary’s etymological name means “dew of the sea.” Ancient Greek scholars actually wore garlands of rosemary around their heads to boost memory during exams. Several studies have indicated that rosemary can help increase energy levels and relieve stress. In one study from 2018, teenagers who inhaled rosemary essential oil were better at memorizing numbers compared to those who inhaled lavender essential oil. In another, people who breathed in rosemary oil reported feeling 30% more refreshed and 25% less drowsy.
How To Use It
Take as a tincture to help with focus and nervous tension or add a drop to meat dishes for flavor. You can also hold a bottle of rosemary oil up to your nose and inhale deeply for a boost of energy. If using it on the skin, dilute heavily with a carrier oil and apply to the temples.
3. Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger is a pungent rhizome that is a close relative of turmeric root and cardamom. Originating in ancient China, ginger has since become a staple across many cultures around the world as a spice, food and medicine. The plant itself is composed of 2% essential oil, and when distilled it offers a spicy, warm and invigorating aroma. Research suggests that ginger oil can help with blood flow and circulation, resulting in the oxygenation of all parts of your body, including your brain. It’s also thought to help give you an energy boost because it can speed up your metabolism. Since around 60% of your body’s energy goes to your metabolism, ginger oil may free up your energy reserves to be used elsewhere in the body.
How To Use It
Take as a tincture to help with focus or add a drop to dishes, desserts, smoothies or simple syrups for flavor. If using it on the skin, dilute heavily with carrier oil and apply to the temples.
4. Orange Essential Oil
Oranges were first cultivated in Asia, and have since become a popular snack that many of us associate with their high vitamin C content. Though you may have grown up drinking the juice of oranges, using their essential oil can help you reap some of their lesser-known benefits for focus and endurance. In one study, athletes who inhaled sweet orange oil saw a marked improvement in their performance as well as boosted lung function. Orange oil’s sweet and uplifting citrus scent can also help improve your mood and clear your mind.
How To Use It
Take as a tincture or add a few drops to your diffuser. Avoid applying it to your skin unless heavily diluted by a carrier oil. Note that orange oil can cause phototoxicity if you apply it to your skin directly before going out into the sun, so don’t put it on your face.
5. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint is an aromatic herb in the mint family, a cross between spearmint and watermint. It’s been cultivated since around 1500 B.C., first appearing in North Africa and the Mediterranean before spreading to Europe and arriving with settlers in what would become the U.S. Unlike other mints, peppermint has a distinctly sharp, peppery quality (hence its name) that makes it an especially popular flavoring in toothpastes and chewing gums. You’ve likely already experienced its “wake-up” effects, but there’s also strong research behind peppermint’s ability to combat drowsiness and bring you clarity of mind. A group of young people who were given peppermint oil capsules, for instance, experienced less fatigue and performed better on cognitive tests. Another study showed that sniffing peppermint oil can even help improve memory and alertness.
How To Use It
Add a few drops to your diffuser or inhale directly from the bottle for a boost of clarity. If applied to the skin, dilute with a carrier oil to avoid damaging your skin. You can also apply REPAIR, an Ayurvedic ointment that contains peppermint oil as well as cucumber seed, sage and aloe vera, to soothe your skin.
6. Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon oil, extracted from the peel of fresh lemons, isn’t just a lovely, fresh scent, but a great mood-lifter and stress-reliever, too. If you’re feeling jittery and restless, lemon oil can help steer your focus because of linalool, a substance in lemons that helps calm our fight-or-flight response. Some studies have found that lemon and rosemary essential oils could help with concentration and memory by activating the sympathetic nervous system.
How To Use It
Add a few drops to your diffuser or to your next cake or cookie mix. Avoid applying it to your skin unless heavily diluted by a carrier oil. Note that lemon oil can cause phototoxicity if you apply it to your skin directly before going out into the sun, so, just like with orange oil, don’t put it on your face.
7. Bergamot Essential Oil
Bergamot is derived from the rinds of the citrus fruits that grow on bergamot orange trees. You may have come across its unique flavor in Earl Grey tea, which infuses black tea with bergamot oil. Grown almost exclusively in Italy, bergamot has a pleasant and refreshing scent and taste and has garnered the nickname “prince of citrus.” As an essential oil for focus, bergamot can help reduce fatigue and anxiousness, leading to a sharper, clearer and more grounded state of mind.
How To Use It
Add a few drops to your diffuser for a fresh smelling room. This is another oil to avoid applying to your skin unless heavily diluted in a carrier oil. And bergamot oil can also cause phototoxicity if you apply it to your skin directly before going out in the sun, like the other citrus oils.
James Han is a writer, editor and content strategist based in Los Angeles. When he’s not deep in a Google Doc, you can find him reading, watching films and taking long walks.
Britannica - Cardamom
Journal of Health and Allied Sciences - Evaluation of the Efficacy of Cardamom Aromatherapy on Aerobic Fitness and Autonomic Functions Among Students
Neural Regeneration Research - Effects of Oxygen Concentration and Flow Rate on Cognitive Ability and Physiological Responses in the Elderly
Herb Society - Rosemary
Scientia Pharmaceutica - Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System
Psychophysiology - Finger Pulse Volume as a Measure of Anxiety in Response To Evaluative Threat
Britannica - Ginger
Urology of Virginia - 5 Essential Oils for Energy and Focus
Britannica - Orange Fruit
Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition - The Effect of Inhalation of Citrus sinensis Flowers and Mentha spicata Leave Essential Oils on Lung Function and Exercise Performance: A Quasi-Experimental Uncontrolled Before-and-After Study
InDepthInfo - Peppermint History
Randomized Controlled Trial - Volatile Terpenes and Brain Function: Investigation of the Cognitive and Mood Effects of Mentha × Piperita L. Essential Oil With In Vitro Properties Relevant To Central Nervous System Function
Psychoendoneurocrinology - Olfactory Influences on Mood and Autonomic, Endocrine, and Immune Function
Psychogeriatrics - Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease
Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering - The Fascinating History of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso & Poiteau), the Exclusive Essence of Calabria: A ReviewForschende Komplementarmedizin - Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females