Brain Supplies: Five Herbs to Remember

I know it’s only August, but here in Prescott, Arizona some of the kids started school this week. It’s been a long time since I climbed on the bus, nervous for the first day of school, but I still remember those early fall days with fondness. Okay, I admit, I got excited about new shoes and new school supplies, but I also started school with a love for learning which continues to this day.

Now, when I think about learning, it’s not school supplies, but rather, brain supplies. What do I need to keep my brain healthy and sharp as I age? In this post I’m going to introduce you to five herbs for brain health—five herbs to remember!

Taking care of your brain is just as important as taking care of the rest of your body. However, too often, we don’t start thinking about brain health until we begin to experience poor memory, difficulty concentrating or mental fog. Fortunately, there is much you can do to promote mental clarity and memory as you age. Medicinal herbs are an important strategy for optimal brain function and are best utilized in the holistic context of a brain-healthy lifestyle. This little infographic shows the key brain power strategies that make up a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping in mind this brain-healthy lifestyle, I’d like to introduce you to five herbs you can employ for optimal brain function. First, I have a new vocabulary word for you: NOOTROPIC (pronounced, noh-ə-TROP-ik). A combination of the Greek “nous” related to mind or intellect and “tropos” for turning, nootropics are substances that enhance cognitive function, including thinking, memory, creativity, and motivation. Though each one is unique, Herbalists consider all of these five herbs, nootropics.

1. BACOPA | Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa comes to us from the Ayurvedic system of India where it is was traditionally used for nervous disorders and as a brain tonic. Now readily available in the west, clinical research has demonstrated its nootropic, relaxant, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant and anti-oxidant properties.

Bacopa is used to promote memory and focus, to relieve anxiety, and slow aged-related mental decline. It is also helpful for adults and children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and for recovery from head trauma. In one gold standard (randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled) clinical study involving healthy adults, participants receiving Bacopa for 12 weeks showed significantly better cognitive function than the placebo group, including faster information processing, verbal learning speed, and memory consolidation. Participants receiving Bacopa also experienced a highly significant reduction in anxiety.

Bacopa is traditionally used as a tea (though I find it quite bitter) or as liquid extract (tincture). Know that Bacopa is a water-loving plant that will absorb water-born pollutants, so be sure your source is organically grown. Nectar’s Bacopa Extract is made from pure fresh Bacopa organically grown here in the United States. We also offer dried organic Bacopa in the shop.

2. GINKGO | Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo, a popular herb for brain function, has been extensively studied for its effects on cognitive function, memory and dementia. Part of its action as a nootropic stems from it ability to increase blood flow to the limbs and brain. It also shows anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and helps reduce blood platelet aggregation that can lead to strokes.

In over forty clinical studies in patients with cerebral insufficiency (restricted cerebral blood flow), including dementia and senile memory decline, all but one showed positive results. Ginkgo’s effects on Alzheimer’s disease, reversing or delaying mental deterioration, are most pronounced in the early stages of the disease. In a recent placebo-controlled, randomized study in people with mild to moderate dementia, participants receiving Ginkgo showed significant improvements in mood, sleep and nighttime behavior.

Ginkgo’s memory and mood enhancing effects are not limited to persons with dementia. Ginkgo has also been shown to improve working and long-term memory, abstract reasoning and processing speed in healthy adults, and particularly in older adults. Adults and children with ADHD given Ginkgo show improvements in inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and socialization. In this study on children with ADHD, Ginkgo was combined with American Ginseng.

Ginkgo has also shown benefits in depression, menopause, PMS, and menstrual imbalances.  Though some individual may experience changes in less time, in general, Ginkgo must be taken consistently for at least 6-12 weeks before results can be expected. Many of the active compounds in Ginkgo are not water soluble, so it is best used as a tincture rather than a tea. For more significant cerebral deficits, the standardized extract which has been the subject of most clinical trials is preferred. At Nectar you can find Ginkgo in our Brain Boost Extract and as a single Ginkgo Extract.

3. Gotu Kola | Centella asiatica

Gotu kola is another medicinal herb from India and the Ayurvedic system now popular in the North America. When it comes to brain health, Gotu kola is useful for poor memory, mental fatigue and irritability, and recover from head injuries.  In addition to its nootropic properties, Gotu kola is a calming nervine helpful for anxiety and “mental chatter.”

Gotu kola is also an anti-inflammatory that can be used for red, irritated skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and to accelerate wound healing. Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated its benefits topically and internally for varicose veins and lower leg edema. This effect is likely due to Gotu kola’s ability to improve microcirculation and decrease capillary permeability. Internally, Gotu kola can be used as a tea or liquid extract and it is often used in combination with Ginkgo.

At Nectar you will find Gotu kola combined with Ginkgo and other nootropics in our Brain Boost Extract and as a single Gotu Kola Extract. We also blend Gotu kola into our Remember Tea. This delicious herbal tea combines organic Tulsi Basil, Gotu Kola, and Rosemary are all considered nootropics, and organic Hawthorn flower and leaf, and organic Schisandra berries help to relax and uplift an agitated mind. The bright taste of organic Peppermint compliments the rich green flavors in this beautiful tea.

4. Lion’s Mane | Hericium erinaceum

Lion’s Mane is gourmet mushroom coveted for its seafood like flavor  as well as its medicinal properties. In addition to its nootropic action, Lion’s Mane is an immune stimulant, anti-microbial, anti-mutagenic, and anti-depressant. Its nootropic action may be due in part to its neuroregenerative effect which has been confirmed in numerous studies.

In one recent clinical study participants receiving Lion’s Mane had significantly increased scores on cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. This furry, dramatic mushroom may also inhibit the beta amyloid plaque that is considered a primary biomarker associated for Alzheimer’s disease. Like Ginkgo, Lion’s Mane has also been shown to relieve depression and anxiety.

One of these days I hope to experience the gourmet flavor of this mushroom. Until then, I will continue using it in the encapsulated form. In the shop we offer Lion’s Mane products by Host Defense (always 20% below suggested retail).

5. Rosemary | Rosmarinus officinalis

This familiar aromatic, culinary herb, like Ginkgo improves circulation to the limbs and brain. It is stimulating to the mind, memory and to the senses.

In one clinical study using Rosemary essential oil, inhalation for three minutes produced brain wave patterns indicative of increased alertness. Participants also reported feeling more relaxed and alert and were faster (though not more accurate) at mathematical computations than at baseline (without inhalation of the essential oil).

Rosemary’s stimulating action also makes it useful in depressed states, cloudy thinking and menopausal “brain fog.” In addition to its effects on cerebral function and mood, this common herb is also antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and helps relieve digestive gas and bloating. Rosemary can be used as a simple tea, as a tincture, or as an inhalation of the essential oil. You can find Rosemary essential oil, here. At Nectar we combine Rosemary with other nootropics in our Brain Boost Extract and you can also enjoy it in our Remember Tea.

It is always a good time to take care of your brain, whether you’re headed off to school, want to improve focus and concentration or are focused on healthy aging. These five nootropics, alone or in combination, are a wise choice and important part of your brain-healthy lifestyle.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
Herbalist & Proprietress

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