A Comprehensive Guide to Herbal Nootropics

A Comprehensive Guide to Herbal Nootropics

Are you looking for a natural way to boost your brainpower? Herbal nootropics have become popular among those seeking a cognitive edge without resorting to synthetic compounds. 

Derived from the Greek nous (“mind”) and trepin (“to turn” or “to bend”), the term “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by Romanian chemist and psychologist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea. According to Dr. Giurgea, “mind-bending” nootropics are substances that enhance learning and memory, have neuroprotective effects and low toxicity, increase cognition under stress, and promote intercellular communication in the brain (Giurgea & Salama, 1977).

There is a range of herbs and mushrooms that possess increasingly researched nootropic properties: they enhance memory and cognitive function, improve blood flow to the brain, and protect against degenerative effects. In this blog post, we'll delve into five of these fascinating herbs and mushrooms with brain-boosting properties, all supported by scientific research:

  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – one of the most well-known herbal nootropics, being primarily used to support healthy memory and to enhance cognition
  • Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) – the revitalizing “herb of grace” in Ayurveda has been used for its cognitive enhancing properties for ages
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) – this “golden root” boosts endurance and stamina, both physical and mental
  • Ashwaghandha (Withania somnifera) – this potent Ayurvedic adaptogen relieves stress and helps enhance clarity and focus 
  • Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) – a unique mushroom which has gained popularity for its neuroprotective and brain-boosting effects 

Ginkgo biloba: The Time-Tested Brain Booster

Ginkgo biloba, often called a "living fossil" because it has survived mostly unchanged for close to 150 million years, has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for cognitive enhancement. It may have even have been saved from extinction by the Chinese, who revered the tree and planted it around their temples. Today, science backs up the plant’s benefits for memory and concentration, its neuroprotective effects and its ability to improve microvascular circulation in the brain, concentration, and overall cognitive function. A 1999 clinical study showed pronounced effects of ginkgo administration on memory and cognition with participants experiencing a significant increase in speed of attention tasks (Rigney et al., 1999). In 2011, another trial with 410 dementia patients showed significantly improved cognitive test results for patients that took ginkgo compared to those who received a placebo (Ihl et al., 2010). 

Brahmi: The Ancient Ayurvedic Memory Enhancer

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), a central herb in Ayurvedic medicine, has been relied upon for millennia for its memory-enhancing properties – among a host of other benefits. In 2001, a clinical trial demonstrated that Bacopa monnieri supplementation led to improvements in memory, learning, and cognitive performance in healthy individuals. Interestingly, the effects were more pronounced after 12 weeks of supplementation, suggesting that the benefits might build up over time (Stough et al., 2001).

Rhodiola: The Stress Warrior for Mental Stamina

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a powerful adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stress. This wonder herb boasts potential benefits for mental stamina and resilience. A 2003 randomized controlled trial among 161 participants found that Rhodiola could alleviate mental fatigue and improve cognitive function under stress. Participants experienced a significant reduction in fatigue and an increase in mental performance during stress-inducing tasks (Shevtsov et al., 2003).

Ashwagandha: The Versatile Herb for Stress Relief and Cognitive Health

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is another adaptogenic herb with a broad range of potential cognitive benefits – particularly by improving resilience to stress, which can impair mental clarity, alertness and focus. A systematic review of scientific literature has shown that ashwagandha administration can lead to significant improvements in anxiety or stress levels (Pratte et al., 2014). Research conducted by Chandrasekhar and colleagues showed that Ashwagandha supplementation could reduce stress, anxiety, and improve cognitive performance in adults experiencing chronic stress. Participants reported a 44% reduction in perceived stress after taking ashwagandha for 60 days (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012).

Read more: What's So Amazing About Ashwagandha?

Lion's Mane Mushroom: The Brain-Boosting Fungi with Neuroprotective Powers

Lion's Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) stands out as a unique natural nootropic with potential neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing properties. A 2009 clinical trial found that Lion's Mane supplementation could stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production, supporting overall brain health. Notably, the study participants with mild cognitive impairment experienced improvements in cognitive function after taking Lion's Mane for 16 weeks (Mori et al., 2009).

Safety First: The Golden Rule of Herbal Nootropics

Before embarking on your herbal nootropic adventure, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional. Keep an eye out for potential side effects, interactions, and precautions when using these natural cognitive enhancers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to speak with one of our medical herbalists

Empower Your Brain, Naturally!

Now that you're armed with the knowledge of these remarkable herbal nootropics, you're all set to explore their brain-boosting potential. Just remember to prioritise safety and responsible use when trying any natural cognitive enhancers. Here’s to a healthier, sharper mind!

Zen Maitri’s Cognitive Health Products

Discover the brain-boosting power of nootropics for yourself in some of our expertly crafted products designed to naturally empower your mind: 


Empower your mind, improve memory retention, and sharpen your focus with our expertly formulated and all-natural products

Nootropics like those included in our Focus & Memory collection, in our Lion’s mane concentrate capsules, our Balance tincture or in our Mushroom Superblend can provide a powerful, holistic approach to supporting cognitive health and overall wellbeing. Incorporating these natural products into your daily routine can help you to experience elevated cognitive performance, sharpened focus, and enhanced memory retention, all while fortifying your nervous system and promoting overall brain health. Unlock your brain's true potential through the power of nature!



Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255-262. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022

Giurgea, C. & Salama, M. (1977). Nootropic drugs. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology, 1(3-4), 235-247. https://doi.org/10.1016/0364-7722(77)90046-7

Ihl, R., Bachinskaya, N., Korczyn, A. D., Vakhapova, V., Tribanek, M., Hoerr, R., Napryeyenko, O., & GOTADAY Study Group. (2011). Efficacy and safety of a once-daily formulation of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26(11), 1186-1194. https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.2662

Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 23(3), 367-372. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.2634

Pratte, M. A., Nanavati, K. B., Young, V. & Morley, C. P. (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(12). https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2014.0177  

Rigney, U., Kimber, S., & Hindmarch, I. (1999). The effects of acute doses of standardized Ginkgo biloba extract on memory and psychomotor performance in volunteers. Phytotherapy Research, 13(5), 408-415.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10441781/ 

Shevtsov, V. A., Zholus, B. I., Shervarly, V. I., Vol'skij, V. B., Korovin, Y. P., Khristich, M. P., Roslyakova, N. A., & Wikman, G. (2003). A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine, 10(2-3), 95-105. https://doi.org/10.1078/094471103321659780

Spinella, M. (2001). The psychopharmacology of herbal medicine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Stough, C., Lloyd, J., Clarke, J., Downey, L. A., Hutchison, C. W., Rodgers, T., & Nathan, P. J. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology, 156(4), 481-484. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002130100815

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