by Jordan Douglas, HHC

As we transition from summer into fall, September is a great month to check in with your cognitive health, regardless of whether or not you’re headed back to school. Whether you’re looking to improve focus and concentration, enhance memory or protect your brain from decline, herbal medicine has a lot to offer. Nootropics are an increasingly trendy topic, and for good reason. These are herbs or nutraceutical agents that help to improve memory, concentration, focus and learning while mitigating and protecting against cognitive decline. Nootropics also help to support mood, sleep and mental health. Below are five of my favorite nootropic herbs.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary is one of our top culinary herbs, but is also wonderfully medicinal and nourishing for the nervous and cerebrovascular systems. Rich in terpenes, phenolic acids and flavones, rosemary is strongly aromatic and a potent antioxidant. Energetically, it is warming and slightly bitter, making it a great herb to incorporate as we begin the transition into the cooler months. Rosemary supports cognition, memory and alertness, giving us that mental “on”feeling. There are many ways to incorporate rosemary into our daily routines. Rosemary essential oil can be diffused in the space (I love it with peppermint and a bit of lavender) or simply inhaled. In terms of culinary applications, rosemary can be used both fresh and dried, infused in olive oil or vinegar, or combined with salt for an herbal seasoning. Rosemary tea is quite delicious as an afternoon pick-me-up, and rosemary can be found as a tincture and capsule.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm is incredibly nutritive to the nervous system. It is calming and supports the mood while also increasing alertness. It helps to increase cognitive speed. Energetically lemon balm is cooling and helps us to recenter, ground and tune in. It is quite uplifting to the mood and helps to protect the aging brain. Lemon balm is delicious and magical in any way, shape or form — infusions, herbal syrups, tincture, cordial, capsule, fresh herb, etc.

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri)

Bacopa is also known as Brahmi and water hyssop. It is extremely bitter and energetically cooling. Ayurveda considers bacopa to be a rasayana, or a rejuvenating herb for vitality and longevity. Bacopa is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cerebral tonic, neuroprotective and nervine. Bacopa is a fantastic herb to use daily to support mental clarity, retention, problem solving and rate of learning. It is a great herb for those that might have trouble sitting and focusing on the task at hand to promote attention, or for those who are over-stimulated mentally to combat mental fatigue. Bacopa supports forgetfulness in the short term, and enhances memory in the long term. Bacopa grows low to the ground and likes wet soil conditions, rendering it more likely to be contaminated. It’s important to choose clean, good quality bacopa when supplementing (I like Gaia Herbs). Bacopa is best enjoyed as a capsule, tincture or dried herb.

Gingko (Gingko biloba)

Gingko is a powerful antioxidant, rich in flavonoids and proanthocyanidins. It is a vascular tonic and is neuroprotective. Energetically it is slightly bitter and cooling. Gingko is a classic example of the doctrine of signatures, wherein structure or appearance elucidates function: gingko leaves have a distinct bi-lobed symmetry reminiscent of the brain. As an antioxidant, it helps to protect the brain from oxidative stress and in the aging process. Gingko supports cerebrovascular health and helps to improve memory and concentration. Many high quality standardized extracts of gingko are available, as well as liquid extracts and dried powdered herb. Best results are seen when gingko is taken consistently for several months.

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu kola has a long history of use in Ayurveda, and is considered to be a rejuvenating tonic for vitality and memory. Energetically it is cooling and drying. Gotu kola also supports vascular health and can be used internally or topically to heal or rejuvenate hair, skin and nails. Gotu kola is also called brahmi (which can be a bit confusing! another great reason to learn/double check scientific names). It helps to improve memory and cognitive function. Gota kola can be consumed as a tincture, powder or capsule.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. Other excellent nootropic herbs include peppermint, saffron, sage, lion’s mane and holy basil. Curious to learn more about nootropics or other ways to support cognitive health? Email me at healthcoach@ellwoodthompsons.com to schedule a free 30-minute appointment!

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