One of the most frightening health conditions a person can face is a decline in cognitive health. To some degree, mild forgetfulness is a natural part of the aging process. However, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can rob an individual of their quality of life and even their very identity.
While modern science is making progress towards finding a way to stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease, the right diet can also help with treatment of this condition. In fact, a number of natural herbs or herbal plants can be added to the daily diet to help support mental health and cognitive function.
In this guide, we will cover some of the most powerful herbs that you can grow at home to support mental health and wellness.
If you’ve never heard of yerba santa, you’re not alone. The name means “holy weed”, and was given to the plant by early Spanish priests who found Native Americans in what is today California using it as medicine. It was used to treat a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory problems, to heal bruises and wounds, and more. However, scientists today have discovered that the plant may also have healing properties make it an excellent treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The element in question is a flavonoid (compounds renowned for their antioxidant capabilities) called sterubin. This flavonoid seems to offer powerful anti-inflammatory action and also act as an iron chelator, which augments the neuroprotective activities of the flavonoid. However, note that patients taking lithium should not use yerba santa in any way, as it can impede the body’s elimination of lithium.
How to Use It
Using yerba santa is actually quite simple. The Native Americans simply chewed stalks of the plant. It reportedly begins quite bitter, but becomes sweeter over time. It can also be used to make teas. Individual leaves can be steeped to create a tea, as well. External/topical uses are also quite common, but these will have no impact on Alzheimer’s and are only useful for treating wounds and the like.
Growing yerba santa is relatively easy. It is a hearty plant that thrives even with little care. Seeds should be sown in the fall or early spring, and should be mixed with moist sand prior to planting. The herb can also be grown in hydroponics systems.
Another herbal plant that can be used as a treatment for cognitive decline is Gingko Biloba. Chances are good that you’re pretty familiar with this herb, as it’s become a widespread health support in alternative medicine in Western society.
Gingko biloba has been used for thousands of years as a treatment and a herbal remedy for a wide variety of health concerns. However, today, it is showing some promise in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Traditional uses for this herbal plant include treating blood disorders, eye health, heart health, and more.
It should be noted that there are mixed results concerning gingko biloba’s effectiveness as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. One large study found that patients saw no more benefits with this herb than they did with a placebo. However, several other studies have found that patients do benefit from using it, with the study authors noting, “Gingko biloba is potentially beneficial for the improvement of cognitive function, activities of daily living, and local clinical assessment in patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.”
However, note that ginkgo biloba is a blood thinner, so patients already taking a blood thinner should not use it.
How to Use It
The most common way to use gingko biloba is as a diet supplement in capsule form. However, it can also be added to your daily diet in a wide range of ways. For instance, the leaves can be used to make tea, or they can be eaten on their own, as well. They can also be dried and added to dishes much like seasoning herbs.
How to Grow It
Growing ginkgo biloba is not very difficult, but it is different from other herbs. Note that this a tree, not an annual or perennial herb. They can be grown as bonsai in a hydroponics system, but do better when planted in sandy soil in a garden. Note that while these trees grow very slowly, they can eventually reach 100 feet in height.
Other Potential Herbal Treatment Options
The two herbs discussed above are just two of the options that have traditionally been used to help treat cognitive health problems. Many others have been used in traditional medicine, and others are currently being studied by the medical community.
For instance, kami-untan-to, a Japanese herb, has been shown to help regrow nerve cells in the brain during animal testing. Choto-san, an 11-herb mixture, has been found to help improve memory in patients with cognitive decline.
Ginseng has also been used for many years to help improve health outcomes for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, although there is little scientific evidence that the root offers lasting benefits.
Other herbs that play a role in traditional medicine include the following:
- Gotu kola
- Lemon balm
Are All Herbs Safe to Use?
While herbs are all natural and are usually safe, this is not always the case for every person. All herbal plants have side effects and can interact with medications that you or a loved one might be taking. It is always wise to discuss any herbal treatment you are considering with your doctor and to research any medications that you might be taking for side effects of contraindications. It is also important to note that herbal supplements can and should play a role in supporting the health of patients with Alzheimer’s, but these should not take the place of actual medical supervision and treatment.