BRAIN-BOOSTING HERBS: PART III
HERBAL NERVINES: are a group of herbs that help to nourish, soothe, and strengthen the nervous system, which helps to revitalize neurotransmitter and nerve function, thus benefiting brain health. Any herb that has a notable effect on the nervous system can be considered a nervine. Herbal Nervines include Chamomile and Lemon Balm.
CHAMOMILE: (Matricaria chamomilla): Flower: Chamomile is a potent anti-inflammatory herb and powerful nervine which makes it a wonderful ally for anyone with nervous disorders. Camomile is particularly effective when used fresh, as the volatile oils are most intact in this form. It is commonly used to ease anxiety and tension, and clinical trials have shown chamomile to provide significant anxiolytic effects in patients with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. It also exhibits antidepressant activity, helps to ease emotional symptoms when used regularly, and is also beneficial for those who experience anger and inflammation when under stress.
Chamomile can be planted in the spring, and grows best in cool conditions and part shade. The soil should be dry. Once chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Too much fertilizer will result in lots of weakly flavored foliage and few flowers. Chamomile is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.
LEMON BALM: (Melissa officinalis): Leaf: Best known for its nervine properties, lemon balm is sometimes referred to as a nervous system trophorestorative, which indicates that over time, it helps to tonify and repair the nervous system. It also has mild anti-depressive properties, is beneficial for improving mood, has mild a tonic effect on the cardiovascular system, and improves circulation by helping to dilate blood vessels. Lemon balm is also a great ally for healthy brain function. It improves the ability of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in memory and learning that often declines as we age, to effectively transmit synaptic messages onto the tissues in the brain.
Lemon balm grows well in dry soil and partial shade. If grown outside it dies in winter but regrows again in spring. Lemon balm spreads vigorously if grown in garden beds so it’s better to grow it in a confined space or in a container.
HERBAL STIMULANTS: are substances that raise the level of physiological or nervous activity in the body, and many plants contain chemical constituents that have stimulant actions. Most of these substances have a direct stimulating effect on the nervous and cardiovascular systems, but sometimes directly affect the respiratory, urinary, and other body systems.
Cerebral circulatory stimulants increase blood flow to or within the brain by stimulating dilation of the small vessels within, increase peripheral circulation, and increase circulation to the brain. Examples of herbal stimulants include Cacao, Gingko, and Green Tea.
CACAO: (Theobroma cacao): Fruit: Cacao contains several chemicals that affect the brain in a variety of ways. Caffeine and theobromine are nervous system and cardiovascular system stimulants that are found in varying amounts in chocolate, and work synergistically. Non-stimulating chemicals that have a direct impact on brain function and are contained in Cacao include phenylethylamine (PEA), a neuromodulator of brain synapses that plays an important role in mood modulation, and cannabinoid-like fatty acids that play a role in the endocannabinoid system of the brain.
Cacao trees are not easy to grow outside of their natural habitat. It’s essential to plant the tree in a spot that has good drainage and protection from strong winds and harsh sun. Mulch over the root area to help maintain adequate soil moisture. Water and fertilize the tree regularly. Cacao trees don’t have any serious issues with pests or diseases, however, insects including aphids, mealybugs, mirids, and borers, can damage the foliage. Cacao trees can grow in full sun to partial shade, and they need at least three hours of direct sunlight on most days. Some shade from the strong afternoon sun, helps prevent leaf scorching. These trees thrive in soil that is rich in organic matter. The soil also must have sharp drainage. They can tolerate a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil. Cacao trees prefer consistent soil moisture, however, be careful not to water so much that the soil remains soggy, as this can rot the tree’s roots. Water whenever the top inch of soil has dried out.
GINGKO: (Ginkgo biloba: Leaf: Ginkgo is the last remaining member of its plant family. These trees are sometimes described as living fossils, as they remain largely unchanged by evolution. Individual trees are also exceptionally long-lived, and may survive for up to 3,500 years. Gingko is a cool, dry, and bitter herb that is widely used for people with poor cerebral circulation and mild Alzheimer’s due to its neuroprotective, vasodilative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and circulatory stimulant actions. Ginkgo delays the progression of dementia, and has a mild anxiolytic activity to help with anxiety.
Also called the maidenhair tree, ginkgo trees are long living, drought and pest resistant, and incredibly strong; so strong in fact, they were the only trees to survive following the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack. These trees may grow to a height of 80 feet; however, they are slow growers and as such, will work well in many garden areas within USDA zones 4-9. Ginkgos have a gorgeous yellow fall color and a spreading habitat that varies, depending upon the cultivar. Autumn Gold is a male cultivar with good fall color, and both Fastigiata and Princeton Sentry are columnar male forms. Male forms of gingko trees are recommended, as the fruiting females tend to have an incredibly nasty odor.
GREEN TEA: (Camellia sinensis): Leaf: a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine is one of the most accessible herbal stimulants and one that many of us rely on daily. Green tea does have a modest amount of caffeine, but this familiar kitchen herb has much more to offer than just an afternoon pick-me-up! Green and white teas are usually highest in beneficial flavonoids and lower in caffeine than black and oolong teas. Green tea is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and is useful for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. Green tea consumption provides a protective effect against heart attack, stroke, hypertension, and atherosclerosis. Green tea also helps to improve insulin sensitivity, regulate blood glucose levels, prevent postprandial hyperglycemia, protect the brain from damage related to excessively high or low blood sugar, decrease risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and other forms of dementia.
Tea plants in the garden require well drained, slightly acidic soil. An acidic mulch, such as pine needles, will help retain the proper soil ph. Full or dappled sunlight is ideal, as are temperatures between 55 and 90 F. (13-32 C). Avoid full shade, as tea plants in sun are more robust. Otherwise, tea plant care isn’t complicated. Water plants frequently during the first two years, allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings, and saturate the root ball but don’t overwater. Once the plants are well established, continue to water as needed during hot, dry weather. Spray or mist the leaves lightly during dry periods, as tea plants are tropical plants that thrive in humidity. Pay close attention to tea plants grown in containers, and never allow the soil to become completely dry.
BRAIN FOOD & BRAIN BOOSTING RECIPES: One of the best parts of hands-on herbalism is that it allows experimentation with plants in all kinds of mediums, from the garden to the kitchen to the laboratory. Commercial extracts, capsules, and other prepared products can be useful and convenient ways to reap the benefits of herbal brain boosters, but playing around in the kitchen can offer a chance to get to know the herbs in a very different way—and it can be so much fun!
Teas and beverages: Making tea and other herb-infused beverages is a wonderful way to incorporate herbal properties into the daily routine, and many find that the simple ritual of making a special daily beverage can be beneficial in and of itself. Whether you’re craving a hot tea or a chilled smoothie, these options will help start the day or perk up an afternoon with a calm and focused mind.
Schisandra and Rose Smoothie: By Sabrina Chu: This creamy beverage has more to offer than its cognition-enhancing properties! Schisandra is combined with licorice, rose, and coconut to cool excess inflammation and bolster immunity.
• 1½ cups coconut milk.
• ⅛ cup steamed beet, chopped.
• ½ tablespoon food-grade rosewater.
• 1 teaspoon Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) berry powder.
• ¼ teaspoon licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root powder.
• ¼ teaspoon cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) bark powder.
• Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.
Syrups, Sweets, and Treats: Sometimes, a little sweetness helps the “medicine” go down. This is especially true for many of the brain boosting herbs discussed in this program, which are quite bitter! Below, we’ve combined some of the less-than-delicious herbs and raw honey, because double yum is good, too, to make it that easier to take them daily.
Chocolate Bacopa Bark: By Laura Plumb: To incorporate bacopa into the daily routine, what better way than with a daily dose of chocolate? This recipe also works well with Bhringraj (Eclipta prostrata) by swapping out the bacopa for the same amount of Bhringraj powder. Note that in order to ingest 1 gram of bacopa or Bhringraj, eat about 15 pieces. That might be tempting, but if a very concentrated dose is desired, increase the amount of herb powder in this recipe.
• 4 tablespoon coconut oil.
• ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) bark powder.
• ⅛ teaspoon cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) seed powder.
• ⅛ teaspoon salt.
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
• 4 tablespoon maple syrup.
• 3 tablespoon raw cacao powder.
• ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds and/or pistachios.
• ¼ cup pitted dates, chopped.
• 1 teaspoon bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) aboveground parts powder.
• Melt the coconut oil in a pan over low heat.
• Add cinnamon, cardamom, salt, vanilla, and maple syrup. Stir to combine.
• Continue stirring for 2-3 minutes over low heat. If it starts to boil, remove from heat for a moment.
• Add cacao powder and stir to combine. Continue stirring for another 2-3 minutes.
• Add dates and seeds and/or nuts. Stir to combine.
• Add bacopa powder. Stir to combine, and remove from heat.
• Place a piece of parchment paper in a small baking pan. Pour the cacao mixture into the pan, making sure it reaches all edges of the pan.
• Refrigerate for 1-3 hours until hardened.
• Once hardened, lift the parchment paper out of the pan, allowing the chocolate to break into pieces. This chocolate can easily melt at room temperature, so it’s best stored in the refrigerator.
Seasonings: Herbs and spices have been tossed, pinched, and dashed into simmering pots and pans across the world. Although many kitchen spices have historically been added to meals to improve digestion or provide antimicrobial benefit, plenty of brain boosting herbs can add a special flare to our cooking!
Sage Salt: This gorgeous herbal salt can be made using fresh herbs from the garden bounty, or dried herbs if that’s what is available. Use it as a seasoning blend to augment all sorts of dishes, or even swap it one-to-one for table salt. A mega-dose of any individual herbs from this kind of kitchen preparation cannot be achieved from this salt, however, regular use of small culinary doses can be incredibly useful, especially when they’re part of the daily routine.
• ½ cup fresh or dried rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf.
• ½ cup fresh or dried sage (Salvia officinale) leaf.
• ½ cup fresh or dried nettle (Urtica dioica) leaf.
• ¼ cup dulse, kombu, or other seaweed.
• ¼ cup fresh or dried nettle (Urtica dioica) seed.
• 1 cup sea salt.
Directions: If using fresh herbs:
Chop all herbs and combine with salt, then mix well.
Spread the mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet.
Allow to dry for several days out of direct sunlight.
Once the herbs have dried, grind the herbal salt to a finer consistency.
If using dried herbs:
Grind or powder each herb.
Mix herbs and salt in a clean, dry bowl and stir well.
Give the mixture a final whirl in a food processor or grinder.
Label and store in a closed glass jar, hand mill, or salt grinder.