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The best brain on the block

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Get a head start by giving your brain some love this winter. By Siobhan Jordan.

If you've just scraped through (as opposed to breezed through) another exam week or manic assignment month, or if you're finding just keeping on top of life's daily tasks a challenge, don't continue to go it alone.

Get some support for your brain and enhance your memory and concentration with a gift from nature – herbs. These herbs include ginkgo, brahmi (sometimes known as bacopa), lavender and rosemary. As well as assisting cognitive function, they often have an added bonus of alleviating other associated issues such as anxiety. It goes without saying that high stress and anxiety make it that much more difficult for our brains to perform well.  

Ginkgo – sharpen your mental capacity

In herbal medicine, ginkgo is considered a circulatory stimulant and cognitive enhancer and is widely prescribed to assist memory, concentration and general cognitive performance.

This plant is one of the oldest living tree species and can be traced back more than 200 million years.  

Brahmi – an ancient brain tonic

Outside of its strong traditional use, it has recently received some research attention and been found to improve memory consolidation, learning rate, visual information processing and also reduce anxiety.

This ancient Ayurvedic (Indian) herb is revered as a brain tonic and is traditionally used to enhance intelligence, memory and general performance. 

Rosemary - for remembering

Rosemary can also support cognition as an essential oil in a burner. A small study in 2002 found rosemary essential oil to enhance memory, concentration and mood.

My personal favourite for boosting brain power is the essential oil combination of rosemary, peppermint and lemon. It's a great brain pep up and has been getting me through study stress for nearly 10 years.

Used by the ancient Greeks to promote memory, Greek scholars wore rosemary garlands during exam time to improve cognitive function. Now, I can't picture the average teenager rocking up to the HSC exam hall with a crown of rosemary but given ancient Greece's brain power (think Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and so on) perhaps a more modern day application (think tablet) would still be good. 

Lavender – smell your way to better brain power 

In herbal medicine, lavender has been used both internally and also externally, again as an essential oil. In 2005, a study found exposure to lavender oil during breaks increased afternoon concentration levels at work. Might lavender become the new afternoon cuppa? Other studies have found lavender to reduce mental stress, improve happiness and even increase the speed and accuracy of mathematical calculations.