Unlike most of the body, the brain does not produce pain when inflamed. Instead, it responds with brain fog—a condition that slows down the conduction between neurons, leaving you feeling spaced out, disconnected, and slow to think and react. Having a sluggish neurological system also impairs our ability to produce cellular energy, meaning that we fatigue easily and lose ability to focus for long periods of time. No wonder the average attention span nowadays is about 10 seconds!
Thankfully, advances in holistic health coupled with a widespread desire for plant-based nutrition has helped us rediscover the power of ancient ways and medicines. Essentials like good sleep, proper diet, and exercise have been known to contribute to mental wellness for decades, and now modern science has, in fact, verified that herbs can have extraordinary brain-boosting effects, too. Here are a few of my favorites from around the world.
Herbs that can ease brain fog
1. Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
A medicinal mushroom known for its extraordinary capacity to stimulate the synthesis of NGF (nerve growth factor), a bioprotein that plays a critical role in the maintenance, health, and regeneration of neurons in the brain and body. NGF is the primary protein nutrient responsible for enhancing and repairing neurological disorders and literally rebuilding the nerve network in the brain and the body from the inside out. A lack of NGF is considered one of the major causes of Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain diseases. The various compounds found in the lion's mane mushroom mycelium are some of the most powerful NGF inducers of all natural compounds known to man! These compounds allow the NGF in lion's mane to actually pass through the blood-brain barrier to encourage the production of new neurons within the brain itself.
2. Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Folk traditions in India say that elephants have gotu kola, a staple green in their diet, to thank for their excellent memories and long life spans. The herb has been revered by yogis for thousands of years as an essential longevity staple. Gotu kola has been shown in animal and human studies to increase the neural axonal density of the brain, which has been correlated with increased intelligence and psychic ability.
Studies of children fed gotu kola over long periods of time showed measurable changes in IQ and general intelligence markers. There have also been studies on how the chemistry of the herb can activate both brain hemispheres, stimulating creativity and positive brain-wave states (alpha, theta, and gamma, in particular) we use in lucid dreaming. Many monks have also used this herb because it enhances a state of profound meditation and facilitates a deeper connection to "oneness consciousness." Throw this delicious leaf into your salad and prepare to be enlightened!
3. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
One of the oldest and strongest trees ever studied, the ginkgo tree has been traced back 300 million years. Ginkgo extract has been shown to boost stem-cell production in the brain, enhance memory and cognition, and promote repair to damaged brain cells.
Due to its capacity to help rejuvenate, it has been effectively used to treat brain-related conditions like depression, confusion, memory loss, concentration issues, anxiety, tinnitus, and headaches. Ginkgo is a general tonic that can also be used for symptoms like low libido and chronic fatigue. I see ginkgo as an apothecary within itself—one of the most essential and respected herbs.
4. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
One of the most revered medicinal plants in Ayurveda, brahmi is often placed in altars and temple entryways beside its fellow functional plant, tulsi. It has been shown to stimulate synaptic communication and lower inflammation within brain cells. It is legendary for its ability to boost serotonin and dopamine production, providing a powerful mood-boosting, hormone-regulating effect. It is also often used for its blissful qualities, as it significantly lowers anxiety and just makes you feel good. The popular supplement tryptophan was primarily synthesized from this plant, which is often used in lucid dreaming as well, due to its ability to help recall factual information.
A Bulletproof Brain Tonic
I love taking these herbs together by making a tincture out of the freshly dried leaves. When combined, they create a synergistic formula for daily brain health. Here's a fun way you can make your own bulletproof brain tonic to get your brain juices flowing and ready for the day! By adding essential fats to the mix, you'll avoid an adrenal crash and feel uplifted versus fatigued.
Makes one glass
- ½ teaspoon lion's mane powder
- ½ teaspoon gotu kola powder
- ¼ teaspoon ginkgo powder
- 1 teaspoon raw coconut oil (or ghee)
- 1 teaspoon matcha powder*
- 2½ cups hot water
- Plant-based milk of your choosing
- Low-glycemic sugar of your choosing (I recommend stevia or coconut sugar)
*For those who do not want caffeine, substitute with a noncaffeinated chai.
1. Heat your water until just before it boils.
2. Add the matcha and whisk until no powdery clumps remain.
3. In a blender, combine the matcha tea with the ghee or coconut oil and herbs. Place a towel over the top of the blender (in case any hot liquid seeps out) and blend for 30 to 45 seconds on high. The ghee or oil will dissolve, and the high speed will incorporate some air, giving you a little foam on top (like a latte). Serve hot.
When shopping for herbs, be sure to purchase from a small company that actually has sustainable values. First off, check if it's organic or wildcrafted and look for place of cultivation. See whether it's fresh or dried. I personally love freshly extracted herbs due to their potency. Powdered herbs are also excellent, but you just have to be sure to simmer and infuse them wisely to harness their potency.
I love Zack Woods Farm and Pacific Botanicals for fresh and dried herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs for organic and wildcrafted dried herbs, Banyan Botanicals Ayurvedic's herbal powders, and, of course, my company Anima Mundi Herbals for rainforest herbal powders, tonics, and elixirs.