Western science is discovering the amazing effects of Bacopa (Bacopa monniera), an herb well known to the traditional Ayurvedic healthcare of India. In Ayurveda, Bacopa has long been used as a treatment for memory disorders, anxiety, and thyroid health. As a “medhya rasayana,” this small herb sharpens the intellect, with positive impacts on the mind and brain. According to Acharya Charaka, Ayurveda’s “father of medicine” (300 BCE), Rasayana therapy improves the nutritional status of the body, leading to the formation of better cells and tissue qualities that can sustain aging and stress.
It takes focus, memory skills, and great attention to memorize and recite great passages of lengthy Hindu sacred hymns and scriptures, and Bacopa may be the reason for the success of sages and students in accomplishing this feat through the ages. Bacopa is considered so esteemed that it is often referred to as Brahmi, after Brahma, the creator god of the Hindu pantheon.
Bacopa was mentioned around the 6th century AD in the Great Trilogy (Caraka Samhita, Sushrita Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya) and Atharva-Veda Sanskrit texts. The herb has been traditionally used in Hindu rituals to open the gates of knowledge for newborns. In India, scholars have noted, Brahmi has been treasured as a revitalizing herb used by Ayurvedic medical practitioners for at least three millennia.
Now, thousands of years later, researchers have categorized Bacopa as a nootropic — a substance recognized as improving cognitive function, including executive functions, memory, creativity, and motivation. Other herbs classified as nootropics include Gotu Kola, Ashwagandha, Tulsi, and more. Practitioners at the California College of Ayurvedic note that the entire Brahmi (Bacopa) plant has medicinal properties, not just the leaves or roots, as is the case with many herbal remedies.
Biomedical researcher Michelle D. Nemetchek, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Montana reported that as an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic health protocols, Bacopa is used for conditions such as memory loss, anxiety, poor cognition and loss of concentration. Ayurvedic doctors have also used the plant to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Scientifically, Bacopa is known to positively affect enzymes associated with causing inflammation in the brain. Thus, reported Nemetchek, Bacopa has been shown to limit inflammation in the CNS (central nervous system), “and offers a promising source of novel therapeutics for the treatment of many CNS disorders.”
Bacopa’s Versatility in the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia
Ayurvedic doctors laud Bacopa for its bitter and sweet taste (Rasa), cooling energy (Virya) and sweet post-digestive effect (Vipaka). The herb is used to balance all three Doshas and tissues (dhatus) — especially nerve, blood, and plasma. It also has an effect on the circulatory, digestive, nervous, excretory, muscular, reproductive, and other systems (srotas). Bacopa is among the best herbs for balancing and rejuvenating Pitta, while also reducing Kapha. The plant is said to enhance the quality of Sadhaka pitta that directly influences the nature of consciousness.
Bacopa may offer photochemical, pharmacological, and therapeutic properties useful in the treatment of neurological disorders caused by free radical damage. The plant also promotes fertility and is used for skin diseases; and it has been used as an antispasmodic, alterative, astringent, cardio tonic, diuretic, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic and antiepileptic agent.
Bacopa and Stress
Bacopa aids in the recovery from exhaustion, stress, debility, and aggravation of the Vata dosha. It helps in all conditions with a deficient “Majja dhatu.” Majja traditionally refers to bone marrow, yet the term has been expanded to refer to the nervous system encased within bone marrow. Hence, say researchers, it is used in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, insomnia, and depression.
Ayurvedic researchers note that Bacopa is also useful in managing addictions. Thus, it is a recovery aid used with alcoholism or drug abuse, as well as sugar habits. As a detox agent, the herb is used to cleanse the body by eliminating poisons. Bacopa may strengthen the immune system, and has been scientifically shown to also significantly benefit the kidneys and increase the support liver health.
Overall, Bacopa is a systemic stress-reducer. Therefore, it may lessen constipation due to stress, relax muscles, and reduce menstrual pain and disorders. It also has a cooling effect on the urinary system (Mutravaha srota) and diminishes Pitta to reduce the heat of cystitis and pain of dysuria.
Bacopa’s versatility is not atypical of plants in the legendary Ayurvedic medicine cabinet. This synergy between the plant kingdom and the human organism is treasured more today than ever before in a world of reductionism and isolated chemicals.