How does it feel?
If you can find a leaf or other brahmi preparation one of the first things you could do is to dissolve a little in water and shake it. It will foam, just like soap or detergent! This is a property of plant constituents called saponins (from the latin word for soap) and brahmi has a lot of them. So when you taste it the first impression is a strong soap or detergent like almost acrid and slightly bitter taste. This dominates and lingers long on the palate, accompanied by a slight with a slight background sweetness. You can get a sense of the implications by clicking on the Sweet taste below. Saponins often taste sweet and the description is applicable to both.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts, and saponin-rich remedies, such as ginseng and licorice, were favourite tonics, used to support and balance various functions in the body. We would now point to the likely modulating effect on steroid hormones, such as produced by the adrenal cortex, ovaries and testes, as saponins have similar structures.
What can I use it for?
Think of brahmi as primarily a brain tonic! It has the dual effect of promoting the intellect and improving cognitive functioning and learning ability, whilst also protecting brain cells against degeneration. Its protective action upon the brain is likely to include a reduction in oxidative damage and inflammation that is associated with ageing and ill-health.
It is an important element in any convalescent plan, to help in recovery from illness, breakdown, injury or to get out from under a chronic fatigue condition.
Brahmi is also essentially calming as well as restorative, to be considered in anxiety and tension conditions, adapting to stress, with symptoms like palpitations IBS and muscle cramps. Definitely consider it for menstrual cramps too, and any painful spasmodic visceral condition. Research even suggests it may be helpful in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Into the heart of Brahmi
Brahmi rejuvenates the mind, lifting the spirits and improving cognitive functions. At least part of the effect may be in reducing ageing and other inflammatory deteriorations on brain function (early laboratory evidence points to benefits on internal antioxidant mechanisms such as Nrf2 pathways).
Brahmi is documented in ancient Indian texts as far back as the 6th Century being widely used to promote intellect and treat ‘dis’-eases of the mind. It was used in mental disorders, epilepsy (apasmara), mania and hysteria (unmada). It was seen specifically to enhance the quality of sadhaka pitta and this directly influence the nature of consciousness. It is widely used to aid recovery from exhaustion, stress and debility where there is aggravation of vata and is a specific herb for all conditions with a deficient majja dhatu.
What practitioners say
Cognitive functions: Brahmi improves memory, learning ability and concentration. It may be used as a component of a regime for dementia, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Stress and exhaustion: Brahmi has adaptogenic properties, being useful managing in anxiety and depression and is well suited to helping with insomnia.
It combines convalescent tonic properties (useful in the recovery from illness and exhaustion) with calming properties applicable to symptoms of nervous or muscle tension, including palpitations, IBS, and menstrual cramps.
Urinary: Brahmi can cool the heat of cystitis and pain of dysuria.
External application: As a medicated oil Brahmi is a neuralgic in joint pain. It is used as a head rub for headaches and to clear the mind. It is also used to encourage hair growth.
Most of the clinical research data has concluded that the most demonstrable benefit of brahmi on cognitive functions is on memory performance. An early double-blind randomized, placebo control study showed among adults aged between 40 and 65 years these benefits could be maintained up to 3 months after the study. A later review of clinical trial evidence for daily doses of 300-450 mg brahmi extract also concluded the main benefits were on memory recall although conclusions were compromised by the mixed quality of the evidence.
One study showed distinct benefits on memory performance in older persons, another demonstrated, compared to placebo a wider range of benefits including enhanced auditory verbal learning, word recall memory, the ability to ignore distractions, as well as depression and anxiety scores, and reducing heart rate. Another showed that 300mg per day of a brahmi product significantly improved working memory performance, especially spatial working memory accuracy. There were also benefits on visual information processing.
One systematic review concluded that there was preliminary promising benefits for Bacopa monnieri for improving elements of cognition, behaviour and attention-deficit domains in child and adolescent populations and that it was safe in this context.
Cognition and memory : Most of the clinical research data has concluded that the most demonstrable benefit of brahmi on cognitive functions is on memory performance. An early double-blind randomised, placebo control study showed among adults aged between 40 and 65 years these benefits could be maintained up to 3 months after the study (2).
A later review of clinical trial evidence for daily doses of 300-450 mg brahmi extract also concluded the main benefits were on memory recall although conclusions were compromised by the mixed quality of the evidence (3). One study showed distinct benefits on memory performance in older persons (4), another demonstrated, compared to placebo a wider range of benefits including enhanced auditory verbal learning, word recall memory, the ability to ignore distractions, as well as depression and anxiety scores, and reducing heart rate (5).
Another showed that 300mg per day of a brahmi product significantly improved working memory performance, especially spatial working memory accuracy. There were also benefits on visual information processing (6).
Attention deficit disorder: One systematic review concluded that there was preliminary promising benefits for brahmi for improving elements of cognition, behaviour and attention-deficit domains in child and adolescent populations and that it was safe in this context (7).
Did you know?
Brahman is the Hindu name given to the universal consciousness and Brahma is the divinity responsible for all ‘creative’ forces in the world. Brahmi literally means the ‘energy’ or ‘shakti’ of Brahman.
Brahmi is a creeping annual plant that loves water and is often found spreading across river banks. It is a small, prostrate, glabrous and fleshy herb with particularly soft and succulent leaves. The stems of the plant are 10-30cm in length. Brahmi flowers are blue or white with purple veins and are often larger than the leaves. It can also be found in higher altitudes, up to 1300m.
- Brahmi (Sanskrit)
- Water hyssop
- Thyme-leafed gratiola
- Herb of grace
- Indian pennywort
- Herpestis (Eng)
- Jalabrahmi (Hindi)
No problems expected
- Dried herb
Dried herb: 2–6g/day dried leaves and aerial parts.
Juice: The fresh juice is popular in India at 3 tsp/day
Liquid extract (1:2): 4- 8ml daily
Plant parts used
Whole herb i.e. leaves, stems, flowers, rhizomes, seeds, roots are traditionally used, but modern preparations are most often extracts of the stem and leaves
- Triterpenoid saponins: bacosides A and B
- Triterpenes such as bacosine
- Alkaloids such as brahmine, herpestine
Several Brahmi constituents have been linked to protective effects against pathological causes of neurological diseases (1).
- Rasa (taste) Bitter, sweet
- Virya (action) Cooling
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet
- Guna (quality) Light, flowing (sara/laxative)
- Dosha effect: balances vata, pitta and kapha, in excess stimulates vata
- Dhatu (tissue) All tissues, especially plasma, blood, nerve
- Srotas (channels) Circulatory, digestive, nervous, excretory
Brahmi grows in freshwater or terrestrial inland waters, mostly in wet soil or shallow waters. It is native to the wetlands of southern and Eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants this species is assessed as ‘Least Concern’ as it is widespread with stable populations and does not face any major threats.
Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.
Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.
A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.
How to grow
Brahmi, also known as water hyssop is a very easy plant to grow provided it gets good warmth and plenty of water. Dry conditions do threaten this plant. Always keep in mind this plant’s habits for spreading, and be prepared to trim it back regularly to keep it under control.
Propagation from cuttings is the easiest method to grow this plant, and seed propagation is not recommended. The seeds are very small, and successful germination can be difficult to achieve. If attempting to propagate from seed- plant seeds close to the surface in a sunny location. The soil will need to be kept constantly moist as the seeds germinate and sprout. The seedlings are small and delicate, in order to transplant them they will need to be allowed considerable time to grow before hand.
Bacopa prefers wet soil or shallow water. It grows at an incredible range of altitudes, from sea level to 1350 m. It performs best in full sun to part shade in moist to wet soils. It tolerates waterlogged soil, brackish water, wind, and salt spray.
Needs regular moisture and will grow directly in fresh or slightly brackish water or along the banks of streams, ponds, or aquariums.
Soil quality for this species is best in acidic to neutral (5.0 to 7.0).
Please note: Water hyssop is regarded as a seriously invasive plant in many parts of the world. The root system is vast and spreads rapidly, and the plant has the potential for displacing native plants that serve important functions in a local ecosystem, such as providing food for native species of fish and other aquatic wildlife.
- Jeyasri R, Muthuramalingam P, Suba V, et al. (2020) Bacopa monnieri and Their Bioactive Compounds Inferred Multi- Target Treatment Strategy for Neurological Diseases: A Cheminformatics and System Pharmacology Approach. Biomolecules. 10(4):536
- Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, et al. (2002) Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 27(2): 279-281
- Pase MP, Kean J, Sarris J, et al. (2012) The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. J Altern Complement Med. 18(7): 647-652
- Morgan A, Stevens J. (2010) Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med. 16(7): 753-759
- Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M et al. (2008) Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 14(6): 707-713
- Stough C, Downey LA, Lloyd J, et al. (2008) Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res. 2008;22(12):1629- 1634
- Kean JD, Downey LA, Stough C. (2016) A systematic review of the Ayurvedic medicinal herb Bacopa monnieri in child and adolescent populations. Complement Ther Med. 29: 56-62