In the context of managing stress, gingko has been found to normalize stress hormone levels during periods of severe anxiety. (2) Gingko generally stimulates blood flow, including to the brain. (3) The results of other research into gingko’s effects on people with various forms of dementia are mixed. (4)
Antioxidants in gingko include flavonoids and terpenes that prevent oxidative stress in brain tissue. (5) They also moderate cholesterol and can, therefore, reduce plaque build-up in arteries, preventing cardiovascular disease (a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease). Additionally, these antioxidants protect against oxidative damage in the eyes, a common occurrence as we age.
“In aging processes, EGb 761 [gingko extract]…protects the brain by facilitating the uptake of neurotransmitters and by reducing ischemia-reperfusion episodes and level of apoptosis [cell death],” writes one study. (6)
Gingko cannot cure dementia but it goes a long way to preventing the conditions that often precede it.
In North America, there are two varieties of root that are commonly referred to as “ginseng” and used for their medicinal properties: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Each has distinct qualities and chemical make-up. American ginseng has been found to significantly enhance working memory, better than its Asian cousin. A particular study of American ginseng on cognition and mood found “treatment-related improvements in cognitive performance and increased calmness in healthy young adults…There was a single effect of treatment on mood. The Treatment x Time interaction on self-rated calmness was significant.” (7)
Researchers concede that they don’t fully understand precisely why this occurs. They suggest complementary effects via different mechanisms in the body. What they do know is that ginseng shows remarkable antioxidant activity and neuroprotection and promotes feelings of contentedness.
3. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint is a wondrous, fragrant, nutritious, easy-to-grow, and remarkably medicinal plant. It’s known to aid digestion; relieve pain, including a headache and migraine; freshen breath; clear nasal congestion; and enhance athletic performance, among other things. (8)
Peppermint’s effect on the brain is significant upon ingestion, enhancing and arousing mood and cognition, improving short- and long-term memory and alertness. (9) In addition, aromatherapy with peppermint oil has been proven to reduce feelings of depression. (10)
4. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
The aroma of rosemary needles is known to trigger memory. Something as simple as sniffing a stalk of this herb can improve the working memory of school-age children, enhancing scholastic performance. (11) Moreover, the antioxidant activity of rosemary extract has shown neuroprotective effects after injury. (12)
The mechanisms behind why this happens are complex. Cineole is a terpene antioxidant found in rosemary and other thick-leaf plants such as eucalyptus. When this phytochemical is inhaled, it’s absorbed into the blood, affecting not only memory and physical performance but promoting a positive state of mind via different neurochemical processes.
“Terpenes are small organic molecules which can easily cross the blood–brain barrier and therefore may have direct effects in the brain by acting on receptor sites or enzyme systems… contentedness possessed a significant relationship with 1,8-cineole levels, and interestingly to some of the cognitive performance outcomes, leading to the intriguing proposal that positive mood can improve performance whereas aroused mood cannot.” (13)
Occasional stress and anxiety are common and should be short-lived. There’s no shame in seeking support if you need it. And by all means, use what nature has to offer to support and nourish your mind and body.