If you want to give your brain a boost, consider your spice rack. When it comes to brain health, herbs and spices are showing great promise for enhancing memory, and even protecting against serious brain disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are my picks for the top brain-healing, memory-enhancing herbs and spices:
Because brain diseases (like countless other illnesses) are linked to inflammation, it is no surprise that anti-inflammatory spices like ginger can be helpful. Research published in the medical journal Neurology found that ginger reduces the inflammation linked to brain disease and may therefore be helpful in the prevention or treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s. Additionally, research published in the journal Neurochemical Research found that ginger also prevents the reduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine involved in Parkinson’s disease.
How to use: Coarsely chop a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger and add to a pot with one quart of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and allow to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain. Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
While juniper berries are primarily known for their ability to fight urinary tract infections and give the UTI system a boost, these lovely blue berries from the coniferous bushes and trees are demonstrating their ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. According to research, juniper berries are potent antioxidants that inhibit an enzyme linked to the brain disease, thereby showing promise in the prevention or treatment of the condition. Another study in the journal Neurochemical Research found that even regularly inhaling the essential oil could inhibit the enzyme involved in brain diseases, suggesting that the plant may also hold promise against Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
How to use: Use one teaspoon of dried juniper berries per cup of boiling water. Allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Strain. Drink one cup 3 times daily. Do not use for the long-term or in high doses. Avoid if you have kidney disease or while pregnant or lactating. Choose Juniperus communis.
This herb that doubles as an amazing holiday meal flavoring has a long-time reputation for enhancing memory. This reputation likely stems from its ability to increase blood flow to the brain. In studies, rosemary demonstrates the ability to slow the degradation of the brain messenger chemical known as acetylcholine, which is in part linked to the formation of new memories, which likely accounts for its brain-boosting and memory enhancing abilities.
How to use: Add 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary needles to a cup of water and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain. Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
There’s a reason we’ve come to associate this herb with those who hold wisdom in their later years. The plant has a lengthy history of use to prevent and treat memory disorders and brain diseases. In research a range of beneficial effects on cognition were noted with the sage species Salvia lavandulifolia, including improvements in word recall, mood, and overall cognition. The researchers concluded that its effects are likely attributable to inhibiting the breakdown of neurotransmitter linked to brain health. Sage also improved brain-muscle coordination and the formation of new memories. Since the brain messenger, known as acetylcholine, also tends to be depleted in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, sage may hold promise in the treatment of the condition.
How to use: Add one teaspoon of the dried herb to one cup of hot water and allow to steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain. Drink two to three times daily.
St. John’s Wort
When you think of St. John’s Wort, you probably think of depression, which the herb is indeed helpful for, but Swiss researchers also found that the herb has a protective effect against the beta-amyloid plaques linked with Alzheimer’s disease. While the research for this application is still in its infancy, it is exciting to think that this already-proven brain-healing herb could be a treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some pharmaceutical drugs interact with St. John’s wort so be sure to check with your pharmacist or doctor if you are taking medications.
In a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology researchers found that just one hour after taking a supplement containing one of turmeric’s active ingredients, curcumin, study participants had a significant improvement in memory and attention tasks compared to the placebo group.
How to use: Add the spice turmeric to your soups, smoothies, stews and curries. Or use higher concentrations in a standardized extract of curcumin. Follow package directions.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty Cooking.