A voice for
herbal medicine

We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Brahmi is a great support for the stresses and strains of modern life

Brahmi

Bacopa monnieri Plantaginaceae

The mind enhancing and nerve soothing effects of this plant are legendary.

  • 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).

  • Traditional uses

    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.

  • Research

    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.

Additional information

  • Safety

    No problems expected

  • Preparation

    • Dried herb
    • Tincture
    • Capsule
  • Dosage

    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

  • Constituents

    • Triterpenoid saponins: bacosides A and B
    • Triterpenes such as bacosine
    • Flavonoids
    • Alkaloids such as brahmine, herpestine

    Several Brahmi constituents have been linked to protective effects against pathological causes of neurological diseases (1).

  • Traditional energetics

    • 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
  • Habitat

    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.

  • Sustainability

    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.

  • Quality control

    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.

  • References

    1. 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
    2. Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, et al. (2002) Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 27(2): 279-281
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. 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
    6. 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
    7. 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
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.

Sign up to our newsletter