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5 Brain-Boosting Herbs

5 Brain-Boosting Herbs

By: Andrea Lewis

There are a number of herbs that have been shown to improve memory and cognitive function and also protect against mental decline and injury. Two of these brain-boosting herbs are so absurdly commonplace chances are at least one of them is sitting in your kitchen cupboard right now. The others are also readily available, but not so commonplace. In no particular order....

My 5 Favorite Brain-Boosting Herbs

1. Green tea

2. Rosemary

3. Gotu kola

4. Ashwagandha

5. Ginkgo

Green tea (Camellia Sinensis)

Multiple research studies (both human and animal) have demonstrated green tea’s ability to protect against mental decline and injury, and also improve working memory and cognitive function. Researchers concluded that the compound EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), found in green tea, is responsible for the herb’s brain-boosting ability. And last year, a study published in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology further validated those previous studies.

Brain scans of the study participants revealed that EGCG altered the way brain cells connected with one another. The researchers concluded that this was why green tea improved memory, speaking, and behavior in people with Down’s syndrome. Test scores of the participants also improved in only one year.

 “According to the researchers, their study represents the first time a treatment has shown some improvement in cognitive skills for people with Down syndrome.” 1

Green tea and EGCG are, obviously, not a cure for Down’s syndrome, but it can be used as a tool to significantly improve the quality of life for those living with the syndrome.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)

Rosemary has been recognized for its ability to improve memory for hundreds of years. In 1652, the English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that rosemary essential oil helped a weak memory and quickened the senses. Modern research studies have verified Culpeper’s claims. And in 2012, researchers at Northumbria University (in the UK) uncovered how rosemary was able to sharpen mental faculties. Based on the findings, credit for rosemary’s brain-boosting abilities belongs to a component of rosemary essential oil called 1,8-cineole.

Twenty human subjects were exposed to varying levels of rosemary oil vapor, and then their speed and accuracy in mathematical tasks were measured.

“[The] results indicate that the concentration of 1,8-cineole in the blood is related to an individual’s cognitive performance – with higher concentrations resulting in improved performance. The researchers stress that both speed and accuracy were improved, suggesting that the relationship is not describing a speed-accuracy trade-off. They carefully designed their study to eliminate any effect of expectation, or of the perceived aroma.” 2

However, in a previous study (2003) conducted by the same researchers, with 144 subjects, the rosemary group had significantly improved recall (memory) but their speed did not improve. The main difference between the 2003 and 2016 studies were the tasks the subjects performed. This suggests that while the inhalation of rosemary oil improves accuracy in any type of mental endeavor speed is only improved in mathematical calculation.

Gotu kola (Centella Asiatica)

Gotu kola’s health benefits are legendary. This Ayurvedic herb is believed to have helped extend the life of herbalist and martial arts master Li Ching-Yuen to around 200 years. Despite gotu kola’s reputation as a rejuvenator for mind and body, the story of Li Ching-Yuen is most likely fiction. Traditionally, gotu kola has been used to treat mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, memory loss, and insomnia.

Modern scientists have determined that gotu kola activates the release of BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), a protein that acts like fertilizer for the brain, encouraging new brain cell formation. A group of scientists measured the expression of BDNF in the brain and published the results in the Journal of Biomedical Research.

“[BDNF] acts on certain neurons of the central and peripheral nervous systems, helps support survival of existing neurons, and encourages growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses. In the brain, BDNF is vital to learning, long-term memory, and higher thinking.” 3

Gotu kola also increases NGF (nerve growth factor), which stimulates the growth of new nerve cells and safeguards old ones. This is very important for preserving brain health as we age.

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)

Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia to treat anxiety and depression. This is important for brain health, beyond the obvious. Chronic stress damages the mind and body and ashwagandha can lessen the effects of stress. In addition, ashwagandha has been shown to promote the growth of nerve cells.

“Recent research has proven ashwagandha is more than a stress reliever, it also protects the brain from degeneration and improves symptoms of alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety. … One of the main reasons ashwagandha is so effective at healing the brain has to do with its powerful antioxidants that destroy free radicals that cause aging.” 4

An animal study, using mice with Alzheimer’s, proved that ashwagandha is able to reduce amyloid plaques (which causes degradation of the brain) and allowed the subjects to retain what they learned, after only 20 days of treatment.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba)

Ginkgo improves blood circulation throughout the body, particularly in the head, which helps improve brain function. According to WebMD, ginkgo is used to treat conditions that seem to be due to reduced blood flow in the brain, especially in older people.

“These conditions include memory loss, headache, ringing in the ears, vertigo, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and hearing disorders. … Ginkgo leaf is also used for thinking disorders related to Lyme disease, chemotherapy, and depression.” 5

Research studies have also shown that ginkgo extract protects hippocampal neurons against damage caused by beta-amyloid.  Beta-amyloid proteins are chemically sticky and, in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, accumulate between the nerve cells (neurons) building up into brain-damaging plaques.

There are other brain-boosting herbs

I chose the aforementioned five herbs because they are among the safest, easiest to find, and inexpensive herbs on the market. I have used all of these herbs at one time or another. I suggest trying them all to determine which one (or two) is right for you.


1 - Whiteman, Honor. “Green Tea Compound Could Help Treat Down Syndrome”. Medical News Today, June 7, 2016. Web. August 2017

2 - Tisserand, Robert. “Rosemary Boosts Brain Pwer!” Robert Tisserand, March 1, 2012. Web. August 2017

3 - H Kim, JT Hong and MH Park. “Centella asiatica enhances neurogenesis and protects neuronal cells against H2O2-induced oxidative injury.” Journal of Biomedical Research, vol. 16 no. 3. Web. August 2017

4 - Axe, Josh. “Ashwagandha Benefits Thyroid and Adrenals”. Dr. Axe, n.d. Web. August 2017

5 - “Gingko: Uses, Side Effects, Interaction and Warnings”. WebMD, n.d. Web. August 2017

“Alzheimer’s Brain Plaques”. Alzheimer’s Association, n.d. Web. August 2017

Gunnars, Kris, Bsc. “10 Proven Benefits of Green Tea”. Healthline, August 18, 2016. Web. August 2017

Lewis, Andrea. “Green Tea for a Better Brain”. Holistic Health & Living, September 6, 2016. Web. August 2017

Clinical trial opens new avenues for pharmacological therapy in Down’s Syndrome”. Centre for Genomic Regulation, July 6, 2016. Web. August 2017

SuperFoodsEvolution. ”Gotu Kola Benefits for the Brain, the Nerves and Varicose Veins”. YouTube, October 5, 2014. Video. August 2017

Alban, Deane. “How Gotu Kola Benefits Your Brain, Mood and Memory”. Be Brain Fit, n.d. Web. August 2017

Kiefer, Dale. “Ashwagandha Stress Reduction, Neural Protection, and a Lot More from an Ancient Herb”. Life Extension Magazine, June 2006. Web. August 2017

About the Author

Andrea Lewis is a freelance writer, blogger, and amateur herbalist who specializes in alternative and holistic health topics. She is the writer, editor and content manager for the blog Holistic Health & Living, and the sole writer, narrator and animator for the Holistic Health & Living YouTube channel

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