Although the term nootropics was only coined during the early 1970s, plant-based nootropics have been in existence since the dawn of time. These natural nootropics have long been used as a brain boosting supplement from ancient Ayurveda medicine to Chinese medicinal treatment and even the Mayan civilization has recorded the use of these natural nootropics.
With the advent of modern medicine, clinical research on these plant-based nootropics has backed its efficacy with the science of explaining which compounds are responsible for what effects and its mechanism of action. In addition, modern advances have enabled the efficient processing of these natural nootropics to retain its potency and consistency.
With these developments, it’s high time that nootropic medicinal plants are given more attention as supplements that can also effectively boost brain functions. Here are some that top the list:
BENEFITS: Increased learning capacity; mental processing
In traditional medicine, Bacopa monnieri has been extensively used by the Mayan civilization and in Ayurvedic medicine. It is known for enhancing memory, creativity, high order thinking, and promoting overall brain health.
Today, with research studies conducted on Bacopa, its cognitive-enhancing benefits have been proven. This natural nootropic has shown promising results in various aspects of cognitive enhancement, with emphasis on learning. In a study, it has shown properties that slow down the rate of forgetting, enabling faster acquisition of new information.
BENEFITS: Improved mental clarity and calm focus
Rhodiola rosea or rhodiola has many names. It’s more commonly known as golden root as its most potent power as a natural nootropic is from this part. Rhodiola’s roots are effective adaptogens, substances with stress-fighting properties. Rhodiola both stimulates physical and mental performance, but it is in the latter that it has made its mark.
Through time, rhodiola has been used chiefly as a nootropic that incites focus even in the most stressful conditions, which proved effective as evidenced by the Russians prolific use of this nootropic. Because of this extensive use, modern medicine tried to unlock this natural nootropic’s mechanism of action. It was seen that rhodiola partially works on increasing the stress response center, thereby eliciting improved mental clarity with calm focus.
BENEFITS: Enhanced mood; reduces stress and anxiety
In traditional Indian medicine specifically Ayurveda, Ashwagandha plays a valuable role in the treatment of various health conditions. As a tonic, it is believed to rejuvenate the nervous system and as an adaptogen, it regulates physiological function.
Ashwagandha has been known to reduce stress, and its mechanism of action involves producing a calming effect, which in turn relaxes the body. Over the years, several medical research has backed up the cognitive benefits of ashwagandha. For example, a 2000 research on the effects of ashwagandha has shown that the herb has a similar effect to lorazepam, a kind of anti-anxiety medication. Further studies have shown that as an adaptogenic, ashwagandha protects against neuronal degeneration due to stress and supports better stress tolerance.
BENEFITS: alertness; improved mental clarity
You might be familiar with L-theanine as the active ingredient in most green teas, but did you know that L-theanine has been used as far back as the 2000 BC? L-theanine is used in herbal medication in many Eastern countries especially in China, Korea, and Japan, where tea has become a daily staple. Buddhists use tea to keep them awake and alert while meditating.
L-theanine is indeed a potent ingredient of green tea, because it promotes alertness and mental clarity according to numerous scientific research. Its mechanism of action relies on its ability to increase alpha waves, which in turn, create a number of positive effects.
Today, L-theanine combined with caffeine is one of the most popular natural nootropic stacks used to boost cognitive functions without the associated side effects.
BENEFITS: Improved cognitive performance; prevent anxiety
Ginkgo biloba is known as the living fossil as it is said to have survived extinction occurrences, having been in existence for more than 100 million years ago. Its earliest recorded use was in Ancient China as a cognitive enhancer, among other uses.
Through time and with extensive research, ginkgo biloba has proven to be a potent brain-enhancing herb. As far as benefits confirmed by research, its ability to improve blood circulation in the brain is proven. In a different research, ginkgo biloba taken by individuals with anxiety has shown to experience slightly better relief than those who didn’t.
Natural nootropics are not new, it has long been in existence for over hundreds or thousands of years even. And with the advent of medical science and technology, its efficacy in various areas of cognitive and neuronal benefits are clinically proven or are in the process of being proven.
While synthetic nootropics are effective, natural nootropics also provide, more or less, the same benefits with lesser side effects. In addition, these natural nootropics are not limited to providing brain-boosting effects only, but it encompasses a whole range of benefits that promote total well-being.
My name is Sarah Burgess and I’m a health and nutrition specialist and enthusiast. I did my PhD at the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University and finished in 2015 and now I’ve been writing for Slowfoodnation since 2017. Apart from writing on blogs about health, superfood and nutrition, I love to exercise, running and pilates are two of my true addictions! I believe we create our own luck and everyone have the potential to reach true potential and be the best version of ourselves.