“While, Nootropics are drugs, supplements, and other substances that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. Their herbal counterparts perform the same actions but without any side effects making them a safer consumer choice.” – Shamanic BioHacker
Traditional Brain Herbs – Ancient Nootropics with a Bright Future
Nootropic brain herbs are among the most popular and effective ingredients found in cognition-enhancing supplements. But that’s just part of the story behind these brain-boosting botanicals.
Modern science is now validating some of the cognitive benefits associated with traditional brain herbs, while modern manufacturing techniques are making these botanicals more safe, pure and effective than ever before.
This guide discusses some of the leading brain herbs found in today’s nootropic supplements, as well as detailing how one nootropic stack supplies several of the best brain herbs in a single formula.
What are Brain Herbs?
For this post, we are defining “Brain Herbs” as the plants (and fungi) themselves: Roots, seeds, stems, leaves, flowers and bark that naturally supply a myriad of active brain-boosting compounds.
In addition, we are including mushrooms as brain herbs — not because they are plants, but because they have some of the longest histories in traditional herbalism and health practices.
To further sharpen our herbal nootropic definition, preference is given to herbs that have:
- Long history of traditional use in herbalism, including uses for cognition;
- Modern research that supports traditional herbal nootropic uses
Among the long list of nootropics, there are dozens of botanicals that influence the brain and may be considered as nootropic brain herbs.
This article focuses on a handful of the best nootropic supplement herbs known to science.
History of Nootropic Brain Herbs
Folio from 16th century Persian translation of De Materia Medica. By Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos , via Wikimedia Commons
Herbs are humankind’s earliest health therapies.
Traditional Chinese herbalism has been dated back to 3,000 B.C., when Shen Nung’s Shennong Ben Cao Jing categorized and detailed over 200 botanicals that were used to support health.<1>
By 1550 B.C., hundreds of additional herbal remedies were outlined in the Ebers Papyrus of Ancient Egypt. In 512 A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides followed up with De Materia Medica, a 1,000-page text featuring over 400 full-color illustrations of herbs and their health-enhancing properties.
Our ancestors wisely turned to the plants around them to influence virtually every aspect of health — especially brain function.
Whether by altering consciousness, connecting spirituality, strengthening mental fortitude or enhancing mind-body performance, plants have been used in traditional brain health practices since the dawn of humanity.
Modern Herbal Nootropic Advancements
In the past, brain herbs were taken in their most basic form: Raw, brewed into a tea, dried and pulverized into powder, etc. As a result, ancient herbal preparations were not consistent in their brain-boosting activity.
Today, modern manufacturing techniques can ensure that herbs are consistent in their nootropic activity from batch to batch, while also amplifying their nootropic activity for greater brain benefits. Modern advancements that enable this include:
- Standardization: Supplies an exact level of an herb’s active nootropic compounds in each capsule
- Calibration: Identifies and guarantees a brain herb’s specific nootropic constituents are present
- Concentration: Distills herbs into highly potent extracts with greater brain-boosting activity
These advancements are improving the effectiveness of brain herbs while also enhancing their overall safety profile.
Conclusion on Brain Herbs
Herbs have been part of our wellness traditions for millennia, with various brain functions consistently and universally targeted by herbalists around the world. Remarkably, some of these herbs have withstood the test of time, and continue to be effectively used as cognitive enhancers.
Despite the long history of many of these botanicals, researchers are continuing to identify their active ingredients and learn the unique mechanisms of action that enable these plants to increase brain energy, lift mood, sharpen focus, promote memory and more.
- Jin R, et al. [Article in Chinese] [Classification of 365 Chinese medicines in Shennong’s Materia Medica Classic based on a semi-supervised incremental clustering method]. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2011 Jun;9(6):665-74.
- Stough C. Mechanisms, Efficacy, and Safety of Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) for Cognitive and Brain Enhancement. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 717605.
- Aguiar S. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313–326.
- Owen GN, et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Aug;11(4):193-8.
- Schmidt A, et al. Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014; 231(19): 3879–3888.
- Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2005;19(10):819–38.
- Li W., et al. Antioxidant and Anti-Osteoporotic Activities of Aromatic Compounds and Sterols from Hericium erinaceum. Molecules 2017, 22(1), 108
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