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Throughout the ages, herbs have been recognized as wonderful healing plants, but it may be overwhelming to figure out which herb to use if you want to boost your mental clarity and brain power. If you’re new to Ayurvedic healing, or just need a refresher course, there are myriad time-tested herbs thank rank high on the list of mind-supporting plants. 

Finding an Herb for Supporting Mental Clarity and Cognitive Function

There are many trustworthy herbs in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia that have stood the test of millennia for their ability to deal with stress, reduce anxiety, increase concentration levels, and produce a greater sense of happiness. Modern-day science has terms for these types of herbs — specifically, nootropics and adaptogens. These two categories have overlapping qualities and other positive effects that help the body resist stressors and improve cognitive function. 

1. Tulsi

When it comes to mental clarity, the most reliable herb in the Ayurvedic plant cabinet is Tulsi — also known as Holy Basil, Queen of the Herbs. It’s holiness stems from the fact that Hindus regard it as a manifestation of the goddess Tulsi/Vrinda, the avatar of Lakshmi, and the consort of the god Vishnu. Tulsi is used to bless homes all across India and is found prominently placed near entrance ways. 

Tulsi is one of several Ayurvedic adaptogenic and nootropic herbs. Deb Soule of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association wrote that Tulsi has antioxidant properties, lowers cortisol levels and influences brain neurochemistry, much like antidepressant medications do, but without the deleterious side effects. Regular use of Tulsi, she wrote, “strengthens nerve tissue, promotes clarity of mind, increases memory and eases nervous tension.”

2. Gotu Kola

Another highly praised herb for mental clarity is Gotu Kola, which has been shown to fight oxidative stress. Recent studies have elucidated the herb’s value for supporting cognitive function in patients struggling with memory disorders. 

3. Ashwagandha

Other studies have shown that the herb Ashwagandha may be beneficial for those faced with memory disorders, as well as those who need a brain boost. The plant is believe to inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are hard, insoluble accumulations of proteins that clump together between nerve cells (neurons). Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic doctors to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration.

4. Bacopa

Ayurvedic doctors equate the inability to focus with an issue of stress-affected energy levels. Traditionally, one of the more notable plants that support memory, mood, and focus, as well as that reduce anxiety, while also increasing energy, is Bacopa (Brahmi).

One of this plant’s many values is in boosting serotonin, commonly thought of as “the happiness hormone” in the brain. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, wrote that, as a nootropic, Bacopa supports brain function, especially memory and cognitive processing. She wrote, “Bacopa may increase the effects of key neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and acetylcholine, which calm the CNS [central nervous system] and support mood balancing.” Research indicates that Barcopa may be of value as natural anxiety supplements for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Bacopa is also believed to improves memory, focus, and learning capacity even when impacted by mental health issues.

5. Turmeric

Although most westerners view Turmeric as best befitting the kitchen spice cabinet, the plant is primarily used as a healing substance in Ayurveda, especially for inflammation and infections. It also addresses what is commonly called brain fog, a condition of diminished memory or focus. With brain fog you don’t feel like you’re yourself and you’re unable to think clearly. Researchers report that Turmeric may improve neurological conditions and such maladies as migraine headaches, and depression — all known causes of mental fatigue.

6. Shankhpushpi

Next on the list of adaptogens for the brain is an exotic plant with an equally exotic name. It’s called Shankhpushpi, owing to its shankh (or conch-shaped) flowers. The plant is a reliably potent memory booster and brain tonic that works to improve intelligence, act upon the central nervous system, and increase brain function.

In Ayurvedic tradition, Shankhpushpi  has been used to improve the intellect. The research team of Pawan Jalwal, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Baba Mastnath University, India, reported that the herb may enhance memory power, rejuvenate nervous functions, and is a natural tonic for childhood mental development. Jawal notes that herbalists believe that Shankhpushpi calms the nerves by regulating the body’s production of the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. 

7. Gudichi

The herb Gudichi, also known as Amrit, is a highly valued herb in Ayurveda. Vedic myth teaches that when the ancient gods churned the primordial ocean, they produced a heavenly elixir that has saved celestial beings from old age and kept them eternally young. The nectar was named Amrit, meaning “imperishable.” Guduchi, a plant with distinctive heart-shaped leaves, is an adaptogen and thus offers resistance to stress, anxiety, and illness. Scientists reporting to the National Institutes of Health that Guduchi has had a significant response in children with moderate degree of behavior disorders and mental deficit, along with improvement in IQ levels.

8. Amla

Amla is best known to the West for its superior supply of natural Vitamin C. A hundred grams of Amla berries — depending on the yield of the fruit — provide between 10 to 30 times the Vitamin C content of an orange. An Australian study confirmed that there is a link between Vitamin C and cognitive functions such as memory, lingual skills, calculation, and orientation. Vitamin C is important for brain health and possibly for preventing cognitive impairment and dementia. Scientists have also discovered that vitamin C supports healing following traumatic brain damage.

When considering what to take to boost brain power, increase focus and mental clarity, and lower stress, the first course of action is to use a product that is natural. Although many supplements are called “natural” these days, consider this word in relation to the holism of life and whether the product is laboratory-made or created in nature, in rich soil under the sun. The healing capacity of herbs, according to Ayurvedic philosophy, has to do with their qualities and interactions with the human mind, body, and spirit. None of these benefits can be derived by artificial means. Herbs are integral to the web of life.