The natural world is a crazy place. Just when you think it can’t get any weirder, it does.
Take nootropics, for instance. These are foods that increase the brain’s performance by doing things like reducing reaction times, improving memory, and helping you concentrate. Substances like this sound like science-fiction or as though they were cooked up in a lab somewhere from synthetic chemicals. But amazingly, the best nootropics we know about are natural substances, and most of them are probably in your pantry right now!
So what are the most promising nootropics? And how do they help you think better?
Rosemary is a herb that people have been consuming for generations. It first entered the cuisine several thousand years ago around the Mediterranean region and has been in constant use pretty much ever since.
The herb contains various flavones and terpenes, which give it its robust and waxy texture and flavor. It almost tastes a little bit like licorice, with its strong, bitter undertones and aniseed-like flavor if you eat it raw.
For years, researchers have suspected that rosemary has health benefits. For instance, long-lived communities in Sardinia use it throughout the year to season their cooking.
Now, though, there’s evidence that rosemary helps to improve cognition across the board. Studies suggest that it enhances alertness and memory, letting you slip into a state of “flow” where you work through your tasks effortlessly.
You can take rosemary in a variety of forms. The best is to simply include this delicious ingredient in as many dishes as you can. Other options include using rosemary-infused oil or vinegar or adding it to salt for additional seasoning.
Maca was virtually unknown in the west until recently. This tropical herb hails from the farthest reaches of the globe but offers substantial health benefits.
Maca uses include stress reduction and energy promotion. Interestingly, though, it is also helpful for cognitive support. Studies show, for instance, that it contains compounds that support your mood and helps to reduce symptoms in post-menopausal women.
What’s more, it’s completely natural food. It comes from a root that looks similar to a Jerusalem artichoke or swede and reduces inflammatory markers around the body, including IL-6, which can affect the brain.
Gotu kola is another herb we rarely encounter in the west. However, it has been used as a medicinal substance in Ayurveda for millennia, with practitioners touting its benefits for vitality and memory.
Researchers are still trying to figure out what makes Gotu kola so unique. Some claim that it indirectly enhances brain function by improving the blood supply to nerve cells. Others suggest that it contains factors that actively encourage the growth of new neurons, improving mental plasticity.
Whatever the case, Gotu kola is a safe and effective natural memory for sluggishness and brain fog. For nootropic purposes, you’ll want to use it internally, either by swallowing capsules via the mouth, or using it in your cooking if you’re feeling brave.
Remember, as with all Ayurvedic herbs; you don’t need a huge amount to see the effects. In many cases, smaller quantities are often better.
You may have heard about this herb because of its association with ginseng – a popular ingredient in herbals teas.
Gingko is classically bitter and has a cooling effect on the palate. Researchers think that it assists the brain by improving cerebrovascular blood flow. In other words, people who consume the plant can get more oxygen and other nutrients to their minds than those who don’t. The effect is improved memory and concentration, at least according to practitioners.
Gingko isn’t the type of herb that produces immediate results, though. Instead, it takes several months for the effects to play out, often because that’s how long it takes the arteries and veins in the brain to heal themselves.
Lemon balm is another substance that many of us love, but relatively few actually use on a day to day basis. Research shows that it may have powerful nootropic effects because of its ability to help people tune in and avoid negative self-talk.
Lemon balm comes in a variety of forms, including cordials, capsules, infusions, and tinctures. You can also use the herb fresh in some recipes. It has a kind of minty flavor – great for cooked meats and salads.
Sage is one of the most traditional herbs out there, famous for its umami flavor and ability to make just about any dish taste more home-cooked.
Evidence suggests that sage might improve cognition by directly assisting neurological function. Scientists claim it may help postpone or eliminate neurological conditions that tend to dog people as they get older, including Alzheimer’s disease.
You can include sage in a wide variety of delicious recipes, including butternut squash, turkey, stuffing, and white bean soup.
If you want to take it by itself, you can also get sage herbal tea infusions.
Turmeric is a bit of a wonder food because of its ability to target the energy-sensing apparatus in our cells, telling them to be healthier.
The famous yellow spice comes from a knobbly root that looks a bit like ginger. It helps the brain through both antioxidant and antiinflammatory channels and may prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques – the damage to the brain believed to lead to cognitive decline.
Turmeric may also work by inhibiting the age-related breakdown of nerve cells. People on large amounts of the stuff seem to have nerve networks that look more like those of people twenty or even thirty years younger.
While you can pop turmeric pills, it’s also the sort of spice you can include in all your cooking. You can put it in curries, middle-eastern dishes, stir-fries, soups, and much more.
If you want to improve turmeric absorption into your body, your best bet is to mix it with other herbs and spices plus fat. Indians typically use ghee, but healthier alternatives like nut butter or olive oil will suffice. Just consume it in culinary quantities—no need for more.