First, the Basics
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is safe, gentle, and lovely multitasker for the multitasker. In India and Asia, people have long relied on the herb to enhance memory. It enhances circulation, improves connective tissue support, decreases anxiety, and improves the body’s resistance to stress, all of which benefit memory and cognition. Studies also suggest that gotu kola improves the brain’s ability to use glucose for energy when blood sugar levels are low. The herb is generally safe, even for children, though you should be cautious combining it with blood-thinning medications.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is helpful for mental function and focus. It’s a nootropic (“smart drug” or memory enhancer) that promotes memory and focus, relieves anxiety, slows the progression of Alzheimer’s, and improves recovery from brain trauma. Both bacopa and gotu kola are called “brahmi,” so check the Latin name to confirm.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), a common culinary herb, shines for cerebral circulation. “Rosemary for remembrance,” is the classic catchphrase. Though this may be due to the intense fragrance, which perks up the senses and is not easily forgotten, rosemary is a powerful antioxidant herb that can help fight the oxidative damage that inhibits brain function.
Recent research confirms the historical use of the antioxidant-rich herbs rosemary, sage (Salvia spp), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for mental clarity. These herbs appear to improve short-term memory and slow dementia and Alzheimer’s in old age, perhaps by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that degrades neurotransmitters. You can eat these herbs, drink them as tea, or take them as supplements. For a simple mental perk, simply inhale the scent of the fresh rosemary or its essential oil.
The invigorating scent of peppermint (Mentha x piperita) has also been noted to improve brain function in studies. (Do not ingest the essential oil form of these herbs.) Use caution with blood-thinning medications.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has achieved stardom due to its many benefits including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, vascular, and liver support, and general protective properties. It may be particularly helpful in staving off diseases like Alzheimer’s, which is poorly understood but characterized by oxidation, plaque buildup in the vascular system, and inflammation. Populations in India and Okinawa that consume turmeric regularly tend to have long, healthy life spans and exhibit significantly less incidence of these brain diseases. Turmeric is more bioavailable if you cook it with some oil. Adding a bit of black pepper improves absorption by 2,000 times! Use caution with blood-thinning medications.
Learn More ~
Additional Writings & Teachings of Mine about Brain Herbs
- These herbs get their own chapters in Body into Balance and Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies
- Listen to my podcast on Brain-Boosting Herbs from the Garden on the Wellness Insider Network
- More about memory, attention, and cognition herbs (annotated with studies!) from the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild
- Mint-Family Memory Herbs Article, a look at the studies and history, in AromaCulture Magazine
- Specifically more about ADHD and herbs (Remedies magazine)
- Online Herbs for ADHD, Cognition & Focus Intensive webinar series that I teach via the Herbal Academy
The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions. This blog originally appeared on the Concord Food Co-op site and has been reprinted with permission.