Herbs and spices are often delicious but they also come with a range of health benefits both physical and emotional. There are herbs that can improve your physical health by protecting against disease and combating inflammation and other herbs that are proven to help relax your mind.
But did you know that many herbs can also improve the health of your brain?
Studies suggest that the answer to many of the issues affecting our brain could be sitting in your pantry or growing in your garden right now. A number of studies have demonstrated that various herbs can help improve memory, focus and cognition while they may even help fight common degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
This article will examine the best herbs and spices for your brain’s health so you can make a more informed choice.
The Best Herbs for Brain Health
There is a growing body of research indicating that various herbs can have a very positive effect on the brain. Some can help boost cognition and memory while others can boost the level of antioxidants in the brain and protect the organ from disease. The following herbs and spices are some of the very best.
Ginseng is a powerful medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine. Recent research has added support to its uses including its benefits for brain health.
Researchers are especially interested in the actions of a unique compound found in the herb called ginsenosides. Ginseng has a number of benefits for the brain including its ability to reduce inflammation, reduce stress and improve overall cognitive function. Studies have even revealed that the herb can benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease.
One study, published in 2011 set out to examine the effects of the herb on patients with Alzheimer’s. Participants were divided into two groups and either given ginseng or a placebo for a period of 12 weeks. The result of the study were extremely promising.
Those given daily ginseng supplements at a dose of 4.5 grams showed a marked improvement in cognition. Once the use of the herb was stopped, the improvements in cognition dropped back to the same level as the control patients. Researchers concluded that ginseng was an effective supplementary treatment to improve cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. (1)
Gingko biloba is another herb with a very long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Studies into the effects of the herb on the brain have found that it has a number of benefits including the ability to improve memory and boost cognitive function.
In fact, the herb is the most widely studied for its cognitive health benefits and its effects in combating Alzheimer’s disease.
One study, published in 2014, looked at the effects of Ginkgo biloba as a supplementary treatment in Alzheimer’s patients already taking chlorinesterase inhibitors. The study involved over 800 patients who were followed for 12 months with the half being given Ginkgo biloba compared with the group taking only the prescription drugs.
The results of the study indicated that those who took the herb along with their prescription medication showed significant improvements in quality of life as well as certain cognitive functions. The researchers concluded that Ginkgo biloba in addition to regular treatment may provide additional cognitive benefits to Alzheimer’s patients (2)
Ashwagandha is another herb with a long history of use in Asia, especially in the system of Ayurveda. The herb has a number of potential benefits that you can read about in the article linked here. Benefits of Ashwagandha
Among its many benefits, are its anti-inflammatory and anti-stress and adaptogenic properties which can do wonders for the mind and the brain itself.
Animal studies have demonstrated that the herb may play a part in the battle against dementia. One study, published in 2012, found that ashwagandha helped support cognition and reverse memory loss in mice with Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that the animals were at first unable to retain new information but after 20 days of treatment with the herb, they demonstrated significant improvements. (3)
There is also evidence that the herb can relieve anxiety and depression as effectively as some prescription medications. One study showed that people given the herb for five days benefited as much as those given lorazepam for anxiety. It also demonstrated anti-depressant benefits on a par with imiprimine. (4)
Gotu kola, known scientifically as centella asiatica, is yet another herb that has been used in Asia for a very long time. Among its uses are its ability to ease anxiety and improve cognitive function and memory.
The herb contains powerful antioxidants and has long been used in Chinese medicine to boost cognition and improve memory. Several studies on the effects of the herb have demonstrated that it can boost learning and memory in rats. (5) (6)
Animal studies have also demonstrated that gotu kola can relieve anxiety naturally but there is also some limited evidence from human trials that gotu kola can have a positive impact. In one study, researchers found that volunteers taking the herb were less likely to be shocked or startled by sudden noises than those who had taken a placebo. This suggests that gotu kola may have an anti-anxiety effect on people. (7)
Rhodiola rosea is an herb which has long been linked with improved brain health in Chinese traditional medicine. A number of recent studies into its brain health potential have proved very promising.
Rhodiola rosea may help boost cognitive function by reducing mental fatigue. One study tested the effects of the herb on night shift staff that were prone to fatigue. After two weeks of treatment with Rhodiola rosea, the participants demonstrated significant improvements in focus and speed of perception both visual and audio. (8)
Other studies have demonstrated similar results with those taking the herb benefiting in terms of cognitive function and less mental fatigue. (9) (10)
However, results from other studies have been mixed and a review by the EFSA in 2012 stated that more research was necessary on the effects of the herb. (11)
Popular in Ayurveda, Bacopa monnieri is an herb linked with improved cognitive function and overall brain health. The herb has been extensively studied for its ability to support brain health with a number of excellent results.
Studies have showed that the herb can improve memory and thinking skills in elderly people suffering with brain function decline as well as healthy young people. (12) (13) (14)
To get the benefits of the herb, studies suggest it needs to be taken continuously for at least 6 weeks. Studies have also showed that the herb can cause certain side effects including upset stomach and diarrhea.
Research done so far suggests that turmeric might help improve the brain’s health and may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease. It may help clear a protein fragment called beta-amyloid which is known to form brain plaques linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sage is a delicious herb that most of you are familiar with. However, fewer people may be aware of its potential impact on memory and cognition.
According to one small scale study published in 2003, sage may actually help enhance memory in young, healthy adults. (15)
Another study looked at the impact of sage combined with lemon balm and two lesser-known Chinese herbs. The researchers found that it could help improve cognitive function and relaxation in patients with Alzheimer’s. (16)
Despite these findings, a lot more work needs to be done to establish whether sage alone can have a positive impact on the brain.
You can add sage to many of your cooked meals and it can also be drunk in the form of a healthy tea.
Lemon balm, known scientifically as Melissa officinalis, is a popular herb that is often used to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders like insomnia. There is also some evidence that lemon balm can help boost brain health and cognitive function.
One study, published in 2003, looked at the effects of lemon balm on patients suffering from mild or moderate forms of Alzheimer’s disease. The 42 patients were divided into two groups and either treated with lemon balm extract or given a placebo for a four month period.
The results of the study were promising with those who were treated with lemon balm showing significant improvements in cognitive function compared to the control group. (17)
Like sage, rosemary is another herb that is popular in kitchens around the world. And like sage, it may also help support the brain’s health. It has long been used to boost memory and cognition in aromatherapy and has been dubbed ‘herb of remembrance’.
Rosemary contains a compound called 1.8-cineole which may help boost mental clarity and is especially powerful when it is used as an essential oil.
One study demonstrated that those who had inhaled rosemary scored higher on accuracy and speed in certain mental tasks. (18)
Frequently Asked Questions
What herbs improve memory?
We could all do with better memories, whether you are studying for exams or simply trying to remember to pay your bills. Studies suggest that a number of herbs can have a positive impact on cognitive skills and memory. Some of the best herbs to boost memory include Ginkgo biloba, Gotu kola, Ashwagandha, lemon balm and Bacopa monnieri.
What herbs are good for focus?
As well as boosting memory, the herbs mentioned above are also good for improving your focus and concentration. According to studies, other excellent herbs for improved focus include sage and rosemary.
Is green tea good for your brain?
It certainly is. green tea is loaded with antioxidants and is one of the healthiest drinks you can consume. Among its many benefits are the reduced risk of disease and its ability to boost cognitive function. When consumed regularly, it may also help reduce the risk of brain disease.
It goes without saying that taking care of our brain throughout our lives will lead to better quality of life overall. As we age, the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s become very real. Even during our youth, many people will suffer from lack pf focus, mental fatigue and poor memory.
A number of herbs can help boost the brain’s health, protect against oxidative stress and improve cognitive function and memory.
Herbs have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Modern research is now lending its support to this traditional use.
Among the most studied herbs for their brain health benefits are Bacopa monnieri, Gotu kola, Ginkgo biloba and Rhodiola rosea. These herbs are all readily available in supplementary form and most can be drunk in the form of a healthy tea.
Before using any herbal medicine, you should speak to a doctor. This is especially true of you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffering from any pre-existing conditions.