Do you find yourself misplacing your car keys, wondering where your cell phone is, or forgetting what you entered a room for? Slip-ups in memory are very common, especially in this busy day and age. Luckily, research suggests that there are a number of herbs and spices that can help boost brain function. Using herbs to improve memory can give you positive results while boosting your health and overall wellbeing. Some herbs have been tested against Alzheimer’s disease, while others can improve overall cognition, such as remembering, learning and understanding.
In a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior in 2003, the effects of Spanish sage ( Salvia lavandulaefolia) on memory were tested. During the study, healthy volunteers were given an essential oil extract of Spanish sage or a placebo, and researchers assessed immediate and delayed word recall. The results showed that the sage extract significantly improved word recall! 1
Sage is also thought to be a beneficial herb for Alzheimer’s patients. Research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine lists common sage ( Salvia officinalis), along with lemon balm and two Chinese herbs as potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. 2
Sage can be brewed in a tea, or added to roasted vegetables, meats and soups.
Ginseng is widely used in alternative medicines for its ability to increase vitality, alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. Ginseng is also thought to help improve focus and provide cognitive benefits to those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research tested the effects of Korean red ginseng on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This 24-week study found that those who were treated with Korean red ginseng showed improved cognitive function. These same patients were re-evaluated two years later and continued to show improved cognitive function. These results suggest that Korean red ginseng can be a long-term treatment of Alzheimer’s. 3
A study published in 2010 tested the effects of American ginseng on neurocognitive function. The results showed that volunteers who took a dose of American ginseng showed a significant improvement in working memory. Reaction time, immediate and delayed word recall and visual information processing were all improved, while feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression decreased! 4
Ginseng can be taken in the form of an herbal tea or supplement.
Turmeric is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine and is thought to help repair damaged brain cells, boost memory and improve mood. A 2018 study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry studied the effects of curcumin (the main constituent of turmeric) on cognition of non-demented adults. This 18-month study found that daily doses of curcumin led to significant benefits for both memory and attention. Those who took curcumin exhibited a 28% improvement in memory tests over the course of the study, compared to those in the placebo group. 5
Curcumin has also been shown to improve cognition in those with Alzheimer’s disease, partly due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 6
Turmeric can be added to a healing tea, taken in supplement form, or sprinkled onto roasted vegetables, soups and smoothies.
Lemon balm is commonly drunk as a tea, and can be used to help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety and improve the quality of sleep. It has also been known to improve cognitive function, especially in those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry in 2003, Alzheimer’s patients took lemon balm extract or a placebo for four months. The results of the study showed that those who were given the lemon balm extract showed a significantly greater improvement in overall cognitive function than those given the placebo. 7
Lemon balm can be brewed into a soothing herbal tea, added to salads or blended into dressings. Lemon balm essential oil can be diffused throughout a room to soothe the mind.
Gotu kola is native to Asia and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. It is often used by students for its ability to sharpen the mind and improve memory. Gotu kola is can be used to ease feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and has been linked to longevity.
Gotu kola can stimulate the growth of brain cells and can help boost brain plasticity and communication between neurons. It is known to protect your brain from oxidative stress, can regulate mood swings and reduce the frequency of migraines. It can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and enhance memory, cognition, and mood! 8
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the effects of gotu kola were tested on 28 healthy elderly volunteers. The results showed that those who received the extract of gotu kola exhibited an improvement in both working memory and mood! 9
Gotu kola is more commonly found in Eastern cultures but can be taken as an herbal supplement.
Ashwagandha is an ancient herb that is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve mood, boost cognitive function and support longevity. Studies have found that ashwagandha can improve memory, increase visual memory, prevent nerve cell degeneration and decrease oxidative brain stress!
In a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, researchers found that a daily supplement of ashwagandha root extract enhanced logical memory, attention, executive function, and information processing speed. 10
Ashwagandha has also been researched in relation to the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases. This exotic herb can be taken in supplement form.
If you feel as though you need a bit of a cognitive boost, there are plenty of herbs and spices that can improve brain function without the risk of negative side effects. While more exotic herbs such as ashwagandha and gotu kola are more easily found in supplement form, common herbs such as lemon balm and sage can be grown right in your own backyard! Whether you’re taking these herbs in a capsule, brewing them into a tea or sprinkling them onto your favorite meal, you can easily benefit from the brain-boosting properties of them all.
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