You don't have to do much in order to reap the incredible benefits of healing herbs—sometimes just smelling them is enough. Here are a few of herbalist and aromatherapist Kathi Keville's favorite aromatic herbs to overcome brain fog. Add a few to your garden to create the ultimate brain-boosting backyard.
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Basil’s spicy clove scent, with its hint of mint and pepper, makes it delightfully sweet, hot, and sharp all at the same time. Basil’s uplifting fragrance improves mental work and decision making but also reduces stress. Researchers have found that the aroma stimulates the brain’s beta waves, which increases alertness. Aromatherapists also suggest basil for those who tend to be tense and hold in anger.
Sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard said it “taketh away sorrowfulness.” A popular basil-scented hand and face wash from that era doubled as a mood-enhancing cologne.
Aromatherapists suggest rubbing sweet basil massage oil into overworked muscles to ease tightness, mental tension, and headaches.
Crush a peppermint leaf and the powerful, fresh scent makes your nose tingle. Peppermint sharpens attention, focus, and memory without producing caffeine jitters because it works through the mind instead of the adrenal glands. Numerous studies show that inhaling peppermint for 30 seconds every five minutes improves memory and mood.
Roman scholar Pliny advised wearing mint crowns to improve concentration and “exhilarate” the mind. The leaves were strewn about Roman banquet halls and rubbed on tables to inspire good appetite and conversation. Pharmacies used to sell menthol cones that evaporated into the air to make headaches disappear.
Chewing a leaf is the best way to experience peppermint as the aroma goes to the back of the throat and up into the nose. Roll a leaf of peppermint and stick it in your mouth. A tiny drop of peppermint essential oil placed on each temple works just as well.
The pungent, peppery scent of juniper is somewhat smoky. Its berries have the sweetest woody aroma while the needles lean more toward sharp turpentine. The scent of juniper is a natural wake-up call to counter mental fatigue and physical debility.
Rosemary leaves have a powerful, herby, sharp, and slightly woody fragrance. Its aroma improves mental perception and memory and is said to instill confidence. Researchers have found that rosemary helps relieve fatigue, tension, anxiety, and confusion. Another study found that it enhanced alertness by stimulating the brain’s beta waves and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Wearing sprigs in the hair and inhaling smoke from the burning leaves was once recommended to prevent brain “weakness.” Rosemary is also associated with remembering vows. Anne of Cleves wore a golden circlet of precious stones that was “full with twigs of rosemary” when she married Henry VIII of England. The fragrant sprigs remain a part of bridal crowns, presented to wedding guests, and, where old traditions survive, slipped into wine or Champagne before toasting to good health.
Medical researchers say that rosemary is a perfect candidate to help treat and perhaps even help prevent forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cineole, the main compound in rosemary, prevents an enzyme from breaking down a brain neurotransmitter involved in memory and other mental processes.
The fragrance of culinary sage leaves is sharp, herby, and spicy combined with some muskiness. This is the delicious aroma of freshly toasted sage bread and the traditional turkey dressing that fills the house at Thanksgiving. It also makes the garden aromatic on a hot day.
The aroma of culinary sage increases memory and alertness. It helps in recovery from nervous or physical exhaustion and long-term stress. The 16th-century herbalist John Gerard said, “It is singularly good for the head, brain ... it quickeneth the senses, memory.” It was also recommended to heal grief.
Compounds in the essential oil may inhibit an enzyme that is involved in Alzheimer’s disease, according to research from London’s King’s College.
Adapted from an excerpt from The Aromatherapy Garden© Copyright 2016 by Kathi Keville, photographs by Karen Callahan. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.