Herbal medicines have been used for centuries to treat everything from common everyday ailments to chronic diseases. Despite today’s overreaching influence of Western medicine, plant medicine remains a popular means of supporting wellness for millions worldwide. Whatever ails you, there is an herbal medicine that can help. In this guide, we’ll focus specifically on herbs for brain power, concentration, memory, and mental wellbeing.
Herbs for Brain Health
Herbs are excellent for brain health. They promote healthy circulation, increase dopamine and serotonin levels, relieve anxiety, combat degenerative disease, improve memory, and even address specific symptoms of depression. We’ve selected five specific medicinal herbs – each containing vital compounds to promote wellbeing – whose ingredients target the brain. Accordingly, you can stay as healthy on the inside as you feel on the outside!
Ashwagandha is a plant named for its distinct, horse-like smell (ashva for ‘horse’ gandha for ‘smell’ in Sanskrit. Ashwagandha is one of the critical ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine, a type of holistic Indian medicine that incorporates plant medicines. In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is used to promote a ‘youthful’ and energetic state of mind and has been proven to improve mental sharpness and reflexes when taken regularly. Some individuals may experience increased mental clarity, reduced fatigue, and even stress relief when taking ashwagandha. In some cases, it may improve working memory.
Shimyrre Britt, herbalist and plant medicine specialist at Hawaiian wellness company Mana Artisan Botanics, offers a quick tip to incorporate ashwagandha into your daily routine. “To give your day a jump start and to set your brain up for success, try starting each morning with a mug of ashwagandha tea. Add 1 tsp. – 1 tbsp. (depending on strength preference) to a cup and cover with hot – not quite boiling – water. Consider brewing with your favorite herbal tea to rid the signature ‘horse’ scent, or add a squirt of lemon for an extra-refreshing finish.”
Turmeric root, commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cooking, is one of the world’s most popular plant medicines thanks to powerful anti-inflammatory properties, an impressive concentration of antioxidants, and various other benefits. Among the many reasons to take turmeric for your health, turmeric root can reduce your risk of developing degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Turmeric contains a chemical compound called curcumin, which increases growth hormone levels in the brain, otherwise known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF aids in multiplication of neurons, improving cognitive function, reducing stress and anxiety, and staving off degenerative disease. If you feel like you live in brain fog, are always forgetting things, or are struggling to work through problems you used to find easy, turmeric could help you get your brain-groove back.
In addition to its health benefits, turmeric root is gaining popularity thanks to its delicious and fragrant taste and aroma. When added to sweet or savory items, turmeric can create delightful complex layers of flavor, complimenting everything from salty meat dishes to light and airy desserts. To add turmeric to your diet, try mixing a few drops of turmeric hemp oil into your favorite treat or drink or taking CBD-enriched oil as is.
The Ginkgo Biloba tree is one of the world’s oldest living plants, known to have lived in harmony with nature for more than 200 million years. 30-50 feet tall and covered in bright green fan-shaped leaves, female Ginkgo Biloba trees produce a canary-yellow fruit that gives off a foul odor. Native to China but now found worldwide, Ginkgo Biloba has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since at least the 15th century.
Knowing to stimulate circulation, taking Ginkgo can increase blood flow to the brain, promote cognitive health, improve focus, reduce fatigue, and improve memory function. Because Ginkgo can help increase blood flow, it may be useful in treating degenerative conditions like dementia. Ginkgo leaf extract, which can be taken on its own or mixed with a drink of your choice, is the fastest and most direct way to enjoy the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba. However, some people may prefer to brew tea from the leaves.
Ginseng root is a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), used for centuries for various health benefits, including boosting mood, improving memory, and protecting the brain from free-radicals and toxins in the body. Ginsenosides and compound K, two ingredients found in ginseng, are known to actively combat the effects of free radicals, which can help create a state of homeostasis and mental wellbeing. Sometimes used to promote calmness or reduce aggressive behavior in people struggling with degenerative conditions, ginseng can also improve mental health or treat behavioral issues.
Ginseng root has a light, herbal flavor that pairs beautifully with tea, veggie dishes, or eaten independently and can be consumed raw or cooked. Most popular is ginseng tea, which can be brewed by pouring hot water over a few cleaned ginseng root slices. Add honey or brew with your favorite black or green tea for a dose of added caffeine.
Various sage types exist, but the type best used for everyday plant medicines is common garden sage. Savory, sharp, herbaceous, and refreshing, sage is both a common culinary herb and supports the gut, immune, and brain health. Sage is loaded with antioxidants, which help improve the body’s defenses, including in your brain. Sage also helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a messenger chemical that plays a vital role in preserving your memory. As we age, acetylcholine levels may begin to drop. Consequently, affecting a person’s susceptibility to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Add sage to your diet by cooking with it more regularly or by taking a sage supplement.
Your brain is an organ just like your heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver, and like your other organs, your brain needs help to stay happy and healthy. Whether you want to focus on maintaining brain health, treating a specific condition or ailment, or working to combat diseases and memory loss, taking brain-boosting herbal medicines can help you stay sharp, naturally.