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Traditional Brain Herbs – Ancient Nootropics with a Bright Future

By Dave Wright

Nootropic brain herbs are among the most popular and effective ingredients found in cognition-enhancing supplements. But that's just part of the story behind these brain-boosting botanicals.

Modern science is now validating some of the cognitive benefits associated with traditional brain herbs, while modern manufacturing techniques are making these botanicals more safe, pure and effective than ever before.

This guide discusses some of the leading brain herbs found in today's nootropic supplements, as well as detailing how one nootropic stack supplies several of the best brain herbs in a single formula.

What are Brain Herbs?

For this post, we are defining “Brain Herbs” as the plants (and fungi) themselves: Roots, seeds, stems, leaves, flowers and bark that naturally supply a myriad of active brain-boosting compounds.

In addition, we are including mushrooms as brain herbs -- not because they are plants, but because they have some of the longest histories in traditional herbalism and health practices.

To further sharpen our herbal nootropic definition, preference is given to herbs that have:

  1. Long history of traditional use in herbalism, including uses for cognition;
  2. Modern research that supports traditional herbal nootropic uses

Among the long list of nootropics, there are dozens of botanicals that influence the brain and may be considered as nootropic brain herbs.

This article focuses on a handful of the best nootropic supplement herbs known to science.

History of Nootropic Brain Herbs


De Materia Medica, Persian translation illustrating botanicals used for health including brain herbs. Folio from 16th century Persian translation of De Materia Medica. By Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos , via Wikimedia Commons

Herbs are humankind’s earliest health therapies.

Traditional Chinese herbalism has been dated back to 3,000 B.C., when Shen Nung’s Shennong Ben Cao Jing categorized and detailed over 200 botanicals that were used to support health.<1>

By 1550 B.C., hundreds of additional herbal remedies were outlined in the Ebers Papyrus of Ancient Egypt. In 512 A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides followed up with De Materia Medica, a 1,000-page text featuring over 400 full-color illustrations of herbs and their health-enhancing properties.

Our ancestors wisely turned to the plants around them to influence virtually every aspect of health -- especially brain function.

Whether by altering consciousness, connecting spirituality, strengthening mental fortitude or enhancing mind-body performance, plants have been used in traditional brain health practices since the dawn of humanity.

Modern Herbal Nootropic Advancements

In the past, brain herbs were taken in their most basic form: Raw, brewed into a tea, dried and pulverized into powder, etc. As a result, ancient herbal preparations were not consistent in their brain-boosting activity.

Today, modern manufacturing techniques can ensure that herbs are consistent in their nootropic activity from batch to batch, while also amplifying their nootropic activity for greater brain benefits. Modern advancements that enable this include:

  • Standardization: Supplies an exact level of an herb's active nootropic compounds in each capsule
  • Calibration: Identifies and guarantees a brain herb's specific nootropic constituents are present
  • Concentration: Distills herbs into highly potent extracts with greater brain-boosting activity

These advancements are improving the effectiveness of brain herbs while also enhancing their overall safety profile.

Let’s take a look at some nootropic herbs that qualify as the most legendary botanical mental performance-enhancers of all time.

Mind Lab Pro® Nootropic Brain Herbs

Some ancient brain herbs are increasingly validated by modern research that reveals a broad array of health-supportive bioactivities -- making these botanical brain-boosters an important part of any nootropic regimen.

Mind Lab Pro®, the Universal Nootropic™, includes some of the greatest traditional brain herbs in premium forms to best realize its mission of unlocking whole-brain health and 100% Brainpower™.

Mind Lab Pro® brain herbs include:

Bacopa Monnieri


By Marcia Stefani (Bacopa monnieriUploaded by berichard) <CC BY 2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Bacopa Monnieri, also known as water hyssop, Aindri or the “Herb of Grace”, is a nootropic plant with a long history in traditional herbalism.

In Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Bacopa monnieri was prized by the Maya, who called it ya'ax-cach (meaning "green place"). The Maya noted that wherever Bacopa monnieri grew, there was abundant water, and therefore, vibrant life -- and so the herb gained a life-enhancing reputation.

As a brain herb, Bacopa monnieri is most prominently associated, however, with India’s ancient Ayurvedic health system.<2> Here, Bacopa monnieri is a significant plant belonging to several Ayurvedic herbal classes including:

  • Brahmi, named after Brahma, the Hindu god of creative ability. The Sanskrit word Brahmi translates to "expansion of consciousness," reflecting these herbs' uses for creativity and higher order thinking;
  • Medhya rasayana, a set of eight traditional herbs that are used to enhance memory and cognitive function.
  • Rasayana, herbs that are used to promote youthful vitality, strengthen the mind and improve brain health


Statue of the Hindu God Brahma, after which Brahmi traditional brain herbs are named.

In general, Bacopa monnieri is regarded as a tonic herb for the brain and nervous system in Ayurveda -- a somewhat vague term for a substance that improves overall mental function in many ways.

Modern science in both animal and human research studies suggest that Bacopa monnieri does indeed appear to have tonic nootropic properties, with multi-tasking bioactivities that improve cerebral circulation, stress resistance, neurotransmitters, brain antioxidant defenses and more.<3>

Bacopa monnieri's bioactivities have been linked to cognitive performance enhancements for mood balance, memory, mental processing and healthy brain aging. Perhaps most significantly, Bacopa monnieri is associated learning -- with evidence suggesting it helps slow the rate at which we forget so we may retain new knowledge more effectively.

With its far-ranging science-backed benefits for overall cognitive performance, Bacopa monnieri lives up to its traditional reputation as a brain boosting tonic -- positioning itself as one of the most highly regarded botanical nootropics.

Mind Lab Pro® supplies Bacopa Monnieri as full-spectrum extract, standardized for min. 24% bacosides with 9 bioactives.

More on Mind Lab Pro® Bacopa Monnieri

L-Theanine (active nootropic in green tea)


By J. Miller, engraver , via Wikimedia Commons
The earliest use of steeping the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant in steaming water dates back to 2,700 B.C. Tea was later lovingly documented in Lu Yu’s year 600 A.D. writing, Cha Jing ("Classic of Tea") which detailed the herb's cultivation, brewing and consumption.

Far more than just a hot beverage, green tea is an important plant in Eastern herbalism, used to promote various aspects of health in the ancient traditions of China, Japan and Korea.

Green tea may, in fact, be the original nootropic herb -- first recognized as such by Buddhist monks of the Far East.

In Buddhist practices, sleeping and eating foods were shunned in favor of meditation to bring about higher states of consciousness -- but drinking beverages was allowed. Buddhist monks discovered that adding green tea to their morning rituals gave them a boost of alertness and greater mental clarity during their marathon meditation sessions. Many Buddhists became tea experts as a result.


This monk knows the score.

Tranquil, mind-clarifying tea ceremonies were incorporated into Eastern thought practices, and many monasteries started tea plantations that helped establish tea as a favored hot beverage among Buddhists and non-Buddhists throughout Asia.

Today, researchers suggest that two key organic constituents that account for green tea's legendary nootropic benefits:

  1. Caffeine. Green tea isn’t as loaded with caffeine as other boosters that supercharge energy levels to oblivion; instead green tea supplies just enough caffeine to give a gentle lift to alertness.
  2. L-Theanine: This versatile nootropic that cuts through brain fog to unlock a unique state of wakeful relaxation; also known for its elusive mind-expanding properties

Green tea’s Caffeine + L-Theanine is perhaps the most famous nootropic "stack." These compounds work well together, because caffeine increases alertness, while L-Theanine reduces caffeine’s jittery side effects.<4>

L-Theanine has additional nootropic activities, and is most prized for its science-backed ability to increase Alpha brainwaves. It should come as no surprise: Increased Alpha brainwaves reflect higher meditative states -- strengthening the centuries-old link between green tea and spiritual traditions that involve quieting the mind.

Alpha states also ease anxiety and are associated with daydreaming, calm contemplation and creativity, reflecting more recent uses of green tea’s L-Theanine as a nootropic.

Today’s research is providing support for the beneficial effects known to monks, seekers and green tea drinkers over the centuries: A steaming mug of nootropic goodness might help to promote alertnesssharper mental performance under stress, enhanced learning and focus, relaxation responses and mood balance.<5>

Mind Lab Pro® supplies L-Theanine as premium Suntheanine®, a 100% pure L-isomer form of this nootropic supplement.

More on Mind Lab Pro® L-Theanine

Rhodiola Rosea


Rhodiola rosea is a mind-strengthening herb that thrives under harsh growing conditions.

Despite its reputation as a desolate destination for punitive exile, Siberia, Russia, blooms into a pristinely beautiful natural landscape in Spring and Summer, with thick forests, colorful wildflowers and abundant botanicals used in traditional herbalism practices for centuries.

When the brutal Siberian winter hits, however, only the strongest botanicals survive -- like Rhodiola rosea.

Also known as Golden Root, Rhodiola rosea has the remarkable ability to thrive in cold, harsh, high-altitude environments. Rhodiola's legendary robustness is mirrored by its place as one of the most powerful adaptogen (stress-fighting) plants in traditional herbalism -- valued for its ability to strengthen physical and mental performance, especially under extreme conditions.

In early applications, Rhodiola rosea was taken by Russian farmers to reinforce their stamina and focus during arduous workdays of harvest, when their bodies were weakened and minds dulled by cold climate, short daylight hours and high altitudes.

Later, Rhodiola rosea was used by Russian cosmonauts, soldiers and Olympic athletes to strengthen their brains: Helping them to maintain their composure and sharp mental clarity under stressful missions and competitions.


Cosmonauts of the former USSR reportedly used the brain herb Rhodiola rosea as a mood-enhancer to keep them happier while aboard cramped space stations on mentally demanding missions.

Modern evidence suggests Rhodiola rosea may work, in part, by optimizing the body's stress response centers in the endocrine system -- unlocking calm, focused mental clarity by modulating how the body reacts to both short-term and long-term stressors.<6> Rhodiola rosea has also exhibited brain antioxidant and neurotransmitter support that contribute to peak mental performance, as well as potentially easing depression.

Today, Rhodiola rosea's unique effects position it among leading performance-driven nootropic herbal supplements for enhancing brainpower during intense competition and stress -- similar to Rhodiola rosea's traditional productivity and performance applications in Russian and European herbalism.

Mind Lab Pro® supplies Rhodiola Rosea standardized to 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides.

More on Mind Lab Pro® Rhodiola Rosea

Lion’s Mane Mushroom


Lion's Mane Mushroom. By Richard Sullivan (enchplant) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images.<CC BY-SA 3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Traditional Asian Herbalism may be the most ancient of all herbalism practices. In this system we find our next herbal nootropic, a magnificent mushroom called Lion’s Mane.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), also known as yamabushitake, stands out as the only type of mushroom that has been shown to support brain health -- a significant designation, considering  mushrooms' diversity and importance in Asian herbal traditions.

Prized for centuries in Asia, Lion’s Mane Mushroom at one point was only accessible to royal families. In addition to its use as a food in the diet, ancient herbalists used Lion’s Mane as a tonic herb for overall health and vitality,<7> including support for sharp cognition and mental energy. Shaolin monks also reputedly ingested Lion’s Mane mushroom prior to meditation to support concentration.

In modern times, Japan has taken the lead on Lion's Mane Mushroom research for brain health applications, discovering that this remarkable fungal herb exhibits nerve-regenerating potential. In particular, Lion's Mane has been shown to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis.

Nerve Growth Factor plays a role in protecting brain cells, is necessary for the organization of brain cells, and promotes the brain plasticity that underlies memory, new learning and brain training benefits. In addition, as the name suggests, NGF helps to optimize neurogenesis: The creation and growth of fresh new brain cells.

Some early clinical research conducted in Japan has suggested that Lion's Mane Mushroom's brain regenerative bioactivities may be helpful for countering the effects of age-related cognitive decline, as well as potentially maintaining healthy emotions and optimal memory function throughout the aging process.

Mind Lab Pro® Lion's Mane Mushroom is presented as a full-spectrum extract, guaranteed to supply its active nootropic Hericenones and erinacines.

More on Mind Lab Pro® Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Maritime Pine Bark Extract

Maritime Pine Bark Extract is one of the best brain herbs due to its multifaceted nootropic activity.

Pine bark has been used traditionally as a food and a wellness herb for centuries. Modern research has focused on the Maritime Pine species for therapeutic potential because these coastal trees contend with harsh environments that have led them to develop powerful antioxidant compounds in their bark.

  • Maritime Pine Bark supplies a complex of potent antioxidants that are capable of crossing the blood brain barrier, so their neuroprotective and anti-aging activities can protect and benefit the brain.

Maritime Pine Bark extract appears to have great nootropic potential because of its unique benefits for brain health:

  1. Its complex of natural antioxidants are powerful, estimated to be 20X as strong as vitamin E and 50X as strong as vitamin C. This makes Maritime Pine Bark Extract potentially superior at protecting the brain.
  2. Pine bark extract stimulates Nitric Oxide (NO), which in turn relaxes blood vessels to encourage robust circulation to the brain
  3. It appears to support growth factors that are important for brain regeneration and overall brain health, including Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

These advantages combine to make Maritime Pine Bark Extract not just one of the best brain herbs, but perhaps the best antioxidant nootropic overall.

Mind Lab Pro® Maritime Pine Bark Extract is standardized to a level of 95% active nootropic proanthocyanidins, making it the strongest pine bark extract on the market.

More on Mind Lab Pro® Maritime Pine Bark Extract


Some Additional Benefits of Nootropic Herbs: Long history of safe, effective use, dating back centuries in some cases; Some form “natural stacks” due to multiple active nootropic compounds in one plant; More available choices in form of use (tea, capsule, food, powdered extract, spices); Often have fewer side effects than their synthetic counterparts.


Conclusion on Brain Herbs

Mind Lab Pro® supplies history's greatest nootropic brain herbs in an advanced formula that amplifies their brain-boosting benefits.

Herbs have been part of our wellness traditions for millennia, with various brain functions consistently and universally targeted by herbalists around the world. Remarkably, some of these herbs have withstood the test of time, and continue to be effectively used as cognitive enhancers.

Despite the long history of many of these botanicals, researchers are continuing to identify their active ingredients and learn the unique mechanisms of action that enable these plants to increase brain energy, lift mood, sharpen focus, promote memory and more.

Mind Lab Pro® applies advanced formulation practices to amplify the natural power of mother earth's greatest, safest and most evidence-backed brain-boosting botanicals -- taking age-old herbal wisdom to an even brighter nootropic future.



  1. Jin R, et al. [Article in Chinese] [Classification of 365 Chinese medicines in Shennong's Materia Medica Classic based on a semi-supervised incremental clustering method]. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2011 Jun;9(6):665-74.
  2. Stough C. Mechanisms, Efficacy, and Safety of Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) for Cognitive and Brain Enhancement. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 717605.
  3. Aguiar S. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313–326.
  4. Owen GN, et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Aug;11(4):193-8.
  5. Schmidt A, et al. Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014; 231(19): 3879–3888.
  6. Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2005;19(10):819–38.
  7. Li W., et al. Antioxidant and Anti-Osteoporotic Activities of Aromatic Compounds and Sterols from Hericium erinaceum. Molecules 2017, 22(1), 108

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article is an opinion and explanation of current research given by the author. It is not an expression of a medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on as such.

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