BRAIN-BOOSTING HERBS: PART II
HERBAL BRAIN TONICS: are plants that have specific actions that directly affect the body systems associated with the brain, particularly the nervous and cardiovascular systems. These herbs are specifically indicated for various brain-related conditions, and over time, work to promote overall brain health and function.
Herbal brain tonics are great for supporting healthy brain function. Not only do they help to relax the nervous system and promote focus, they stimulate the circulatory system and provide plenty of good blood flow to the brain, and improve memory recall, mood, and concentration. Herbs that are brain tonics include Bacopa, Gotu Kola, and Wood Betony.
BACOPA: (Bacopa monnieri): Above ground parts: is also called Brahmi or water hyssop, and is a succulent, water-loving creeper that is found in tropical and semitropical wetlands.
Bacopa is an Ayurvedic herb that helps to increase cognitive function, and it especially improves memory recall and the ability to focus. Research indicates that bacopa also supports healthy mental function as we age. It has effects on multiple body systems, but its action on the nervous and cardiovascular systems in particular, are what makes it a notable brain tonic. Bacopa’s most widely accepted mechanisms of action are its modulation of neurotransmitters, its ability to scavenge free radicals, its impact on cognition by increasing cerebral blood flow, prevention of neuronal damage, and reduction of neuroinflammation. Most benefits are seen when bacopa is used for 12 weeks or longer.
GOTU KOLA: (Centella asiatica): Leaf: a creeping perennial that is a common culinary herb in many Asian cultures, and can be juiced for a drink, added to soup, congee, or curry, or even used as salad greens. Gotu kola and other related species known as pennyworts, grow all over the world, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions, and in some locations are so common they’re considered invasive weeds. If you’d like to cultivate these weedy wonders in a cooler climate, gotu kola can easily be grown in a pot and brought indoors for the winter.
Gotu Kola is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used as a brain tonic for over 2,000 years. It is a cooling, slightly drying herb that balances the body systems, and has a wide range of actions, including effects on the nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. Gotu kola improves vascular tone and protects against cardiovascular disease, increases neuronal branching, improves free radical scavenging activity, resulting in a reduction in oxidative stress and damage, improving cognition and memory. It also improves the body’s ability to use glucose, the brain’s primary fuel, when blood sugar levels are low.
WOOD BETONY: (Stachys officinalis): Aerial Parts: Wood Betony is a brain tonic that gently tones and strengthens the nervous system while relaxing it at the same time. Traditionally, this plant has been used for a variety of head-related conditions, such as head injuries, concussions, strokes, vertigo, memory loss, migraines, tension headaches, sinus headaches, and toothache. It promotes cerebral circulation, opens the arterial blood supply, and reduces high blood pressure.
Plant Wood Betony seeds or cuttings as both work equally well. Grow the plants in the same location until they become overcrowded, then divide them and replant after three years growth in a sunny location. If grown in partial shade, the plant may not need to be divided for five years or more. Wood Betony is commonly used for teas and infusions. Cut the entire plant at the base of the stem, and hang it to dry in an out-of-the-way location. To keep the leaves bright, it's best to gather the plants in bundles and place them into a brown paper bag, hanging the entire bag. Wood Betony fades quickly, so once the plants are dry, break off the toughest part of the stem and store the rest in as whole a form as possible, using colored glass jars, or clear jars out of direct sunlight. Keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. Don't dry them in a food dehydrator, as this fades the plant immediately.
HERBAL MEMORY ENHANCERS: support brain function, enhance memory and recall, increase focus, improve blood flow to the brain, and elevate mood and motivation. Many of the plants in the mint family are memory enhancers. Peppermint, Rosemary, and Sage are examples of herbal memory enhancers.
PEPPERMINT: (Mentha piperita) Leaf: The aroma of peppermint has been shown to improve alertness, memory recall, and reaction time, and it is an excellent support when a boost of physical and mental energy is needed. Peppermint’s brain-supportive actions are in part due to the plant’s effects on the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Peppermint is both relaxing, calming anxiety and easing tension, and stimulating when used to wake up or to recharge vital energy. Its cardiovascular benefits are due to its ability to dilate blood vessels and stimulate circulation, increasing blood flow throughout the body.
Peppermint is very robust plant that can even get out of hand in the garden. Plant peppermint in spring after the last frost, in full sun, and space 18 to 24 inches apart. Add several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch becomes dry. Once plants are established, harvest mint leaves by pinching off the stems.
ROSEMARY: (Rosmarinus officinalis): Leaf: is one of the most well-known “brain herbs” used today. It has been shown to improve the speed of memory recall in the elderly when used in “seasoning” doses of 750 milligrams, and its effects on the cardiovascular system increases mental function and acuity by stimulating circulation and increasing blood flow to the brain. Rosemary’s stimulating action also has other benefits to the brain, and it is used as a folk remedy for anxiety, depression, insomnia, lethargy, nervousness, fatigue, exhaustion, stress, headaches, and migraines.
Rosemary requires only sunlight, good drainage, and ample air circulation to thrive. A sandy, well-draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily will have the plants off and running in no time.
SAGE: (Salvia officinalis): Leaf: In herbal folk traditions, sage has historically been used as an herb that increases wisdom, such as giving a person the title of a “wise sage.” In the sixteenth century, John Gerard noted sage’s affinity for the head and the brain, remarking that sage quickened the senses and memory. Modern research has revealed that sage has the ability to enhance cognition. Compounds found in sage act on the muscarinic and nicotinic cholinergic systems that are involved in cognition and memory processes. Sage inhibits acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, and helps improve memory recall, and improves mood and overall cognition. Studies show that a single dose of sage extract or dried leaf is capable of increasing memory capacity and improving mood. However, sage doesn’t have to be taken internally, as the aroma alone can help to promote mental alertness. Sage has also been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation, a biomarker of oxidative stress and damage, in the brain, therefore, it protects brain tissue, and acts as an antioxidant that promotes the scavenging of free radicals.
Common garden sage is the most widely used species, and this herb has a surprising number of uses in herbalism. It’s easy to grow in almost any climate, as long as it gets plenty of sun, and it draw bees and other beneficial pollinators to the garden!