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If I Only Had a Brain

by Kathleen Gould and Madalyn Johnson

What if we told you that the answers to many of the imbalances affecting your brain might be sitting right in your pantry or in your garden? Things like memory loss, muddled thinking, focus and even Alzheimer’s disease may be helped by the following simple yet profound herbs.

The first herb that seems to come to people’s minds with regard to brain health is Ginkgo biloba, and rightly so. It has a very long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has shown a number of benefits in supporting and healing brain function and health. Ginkgo is the most widely studied for its cognitive health benefits and its effects in combating Alzheimer’s disease. So much so that it is called the “herb of longevity.” Ginkgo increases blood flow, glucose and oxygen to the brain, so it has been used for depression, tinnitus and memory loss.

Gotu kola is another herb that has been used throughout Asia for a very long time. It contains powerful antioxidants and has long been used by the Chinese to improve memory. In addition, it helps to ease anxiety and improve cognitive function.

Another amazing herb, this time from Ayurveda, is Bacopa monnieri, which is used for its ability to support brain health, improve memory, and help those with declining brain function. To get the benefits of the herb, studies suggest it needs to be taken continuously for at least six weeks.

Rosemary is another herb that is popular in kitchens around the world and may also help support brain health. It has long been used to boost memory and cognition in aromatherapy, and has been dubbed the “herb of remembrance.” Rosemary relaxes the blood vessels open, so it helps the constituents of other herbs, like ginkgo and gotu kola, move more quickly to the head area and brain.

Ashwagandha has the ability to rejuvenate the brain. This herb assists in removing certain proteins that are responsible for forming plaque, which has bad effects on cognitive function. It also helps to decrease oxidative brain stress, improve memory, and reduce nerve cell degeneration.

Now, what if we were to mix these healing herbs together to get the benefit of all their constituents? Maybe the tea blend would look something like this: 

2 oz ginkgo

2 oz gotu kola

1 oz bacopa

1 oz ashwagandha

½ oz rosemary

Use one teaspoon in one cup hot water, steep for 20 minutes, strain and enjoy!

One of the hottest topics in the herbal world when it comes to brain health is lion’s mane mushroom. It is a large, shaggy mushroom that looks much like a lion’s mane when fully grown, and sometimes like a brain. It has been used for culinary delight (great sliced and sautéed on pizza) or for medicinal uses. As a medicine, it can be used dried, powdered or in an extract form. Lion’s mane studies are relatively new, but the news is promising. Some studies have shown it appears to boost mental function by stimulating the growth of new brain cells, possibly easing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, depression and anxiety. 

Lion’s mane seems to be good for the gut as well, supporting the link between gut health and brain health. Studies are being done to see if it might help inhibit the growth of H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) infection, inflammation and tissue damage in the gut. Although more studies need to be done, it looks promising. 

We love our herbal teas that help keep us sharp, but let’s not forget a few other things we can do to keep that brain alive: get plenty of sleep; stay hydrated (don’t we hear this over and over, especially in Arizona?); wear a seat belt and buckle in those little ones; wear a helmet; and eat brain-healthy foods, like blueberries. Some of the antioxidants in blueberries accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells, which improves memory and may delay brain aging. Blueberries are a nice addition to your morning smoothie or oatmeal, and just a handful every day could make a big difference. The very popular turmeric, with many active compounds, has a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. Turmeric can be found fresh in the grocery store, or in a dried, powdered or extract form. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, have loads of omega-3 fatty acids, a major building block of the brain. Your brain is made up of about 60% fat, with much of that coming from omega-3s, which keeps your memory sharp and improves mood. If you aren’t a fish fan, or good fresh fish is difficult to find, there are many supplements available.

With so many options to keep your brain sharp and your mood lifted, try a few and see which help you. Most are affordable, readily available, and very effective.

Madalyn Johnson (left) and Kathleen Gould (right)

 Kathleen Gould, registered herbalist, and Madalyn Johnson are proprietors of SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place. Gould has been an herbalist for 30-plus years and has extensive experience in herbal medicine. For more information, call 480-694-9931, or visit or