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 curb pesky brain fog and boost your mental clarity. If you’re new to Ayurvedic healing, or just need a refresher course, there are a myriad of time-tested herbs that rank high on the list of mind-supporting plants. For thousands for years, people have used herbs to support mental clarity and cognitive function, and modern research continues to reinforce the efficacy of these time-tested remedies.

Finding Herbs to Support 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, support concentration, and mediate a greater sense of motivation. Modern-day science has terms for these types of herbs that help support mental clarity — 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 herbs that assist in 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, but without deleterious side effects. Regular use of Tulsi, can help support nervous system function, clarity of mind, memory and nervous tension.

Cup of Tulsi tea for mental clarity with steam rising on a table with glasses and laptop.

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, memory and focus. 

3. Ashwagandha

Other studies have shown that the herb Ashwagandha may be beneficial for supporting memory and overall brain function. The plant is believed 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 support concentration. You can absorb the benefits of Ashwagandha in the form of daily supplements, or you can even brew a cup of Ashwagandha tea for stress relief.

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 stress, while also increasing energy, is Bacopa (Brahmi).

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, wrote that, as a nootropic, Bacopa supports brain function, especially memory and cognitive processing. She wrote, “Bacopa may [support] 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 Bacopa may be of value as natural stress-relief and mood supplements.

5. Turmeric

Although most westerners view Turmeric as best befitting the kitchen spice cabinet, the plant is primarily used as a bioactive substance in Ayurveda, especially for supporting a healthy inflammatory response. It also addresses what is commonly called brain fog, a condition of diminished memory or focus. With brain fog you don’t feel like yourself and you are unable to think clearly. Researchers report that Turmeric may improve neurological function and combat mental fatigue.

Two clear mugs to the brim with frothy pumpkin turmeric latte with cinnamon sticks on white table.

6. Shankhpushpi

Next on the list of adaptogenic herbs 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 aid and brain tonic that works to support intelligence, central nervous system function, and brain function.

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

7. Guduchi

The herb Guduchi, 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 mental, physical and environmental stress. Scientists reporting to the National Institutes of Health that Guduchi has had a significant response in children in terms of focus, learning, and cognitive function.

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 cognitive function. Scientists have also discovered that vitamin C supports healing following traumatic brain damage.

Amla growing from a tree for cognitive support.

The great thing about these herbs for mental clarity is that many of them can be consumed easily in the form of herbal teas. Tulsi tea, for example, comes in a variety of spicy or floral flavors that delight the taste buds while working to support mental alertness and function.

When considering herbs to support mental clarity and cognitive function, the first course of action is to use a product that is natural. Although many herbal 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.