Podcast 139: Six Herbs for Cognitive Decline Prevention

Maintaining a sharp & healthy mind has always been one of the things people ask us about most often. Whether it’s a nagging difficulty recalling words, or a tendency to forget why you walked into a room – or more seriously, a relative showing early signs of dementia – lots of folks are wondering if there are herbs for cognitive decline prevention. And here’s the good news: there are!

When we’re trying to diminish the risk of dementia, herbs can help in a few different ways. For one, they can improve circulation to the brain, bringing in fresh oxygen and nutrients to keep the nerve cells well-fed. They can also protect those nerves and thus stave off senility, by reducing inflammation and improving nerve communications (both chemical and electrical).

But keeping your mind agile and avoiding Alzheimer’s isn’t something you can accomplish just by taking some supplements or drinking some tea – even with the best herbs in the world. You’ve got to feed your brain – get those omega-3s! And perhaps most importantly, you need good restful sleep, and plenty of it. Lack of sleep is probably the single biggest contributor to diminishing mental acuity; good quality sleep is the best guarantee of a healthy brain & mind. Herbs can help here, too – to ease the transition into sleep, to deepen sleep, and even to help you dream.

Herbs discussed in this episode include: rosemary, sage, tulsi, ginkgo, gotu kola, & lion’s mane.

Our Neurological & Emotional Health course includes more material about preventing cognitive decline, as well as a whole host of herbal and holistic strategies to support healthy nerves, brain, mind, and emotions. This self-paced online video course includes access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions so you can connect with Katja & Ryn directly. It includes a lengthy discussion of herbal pain management strategies, too!

Neurological & Emotional Health - online video course

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:01):
Hi. I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:15):
And we’re here in the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:18):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcasts. Yeah. Alright, well, so Hi!. It feels like we’re back, you know, in a way, because we had taken the last several weeks.

Katja (00:32):
Like 10 weeks to do the accessible herbalism project series.

Ryn (00:40):
Yeah. So stay tuned for more developing developments on that one. And just if you do not have any idea what we’re talking about, check out commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid to see the whole project in its current form.

Katja (00:53):
And this week we are back and we are talking about herbs for cognitive, uh…

Ryn (01:06):
Cognitive decline prevention.

Katja (01:08):
I just lost it there for a minute. I don’t know. I was thinking, and then it just flew right out of my head.

Ryn (01:14):
Oh, I see.

Katja (01:14):
Wouldn’t it be funny if…

Ryn (01:15):
Someone’s being clever, is what’s happening here.

Katja (01:16):
Wouldn’t it be funny if that were clever, but for a minute, I was like what exactly am I trying to say here?

Ryn (01:22):
Right. Yeah. And you know how it is with us. We try to avoid saying things like these are the herbs for fill in the blank, name of a problem. So you know, really this is secretly about cognitive agility maintenance. Let’s call it that.

Katja (01:38):
That’s so much.. That’s what I really… Yes. I like that. Maintenance of cognitive agility. I think that is beautiful. And even maintenance of, or preparation for cognitive longevity.

Ryn (01:52):
There we go.

Katja (01:52):
I would say, yeah, I like that too. Or support for cognitive longevity if you’re already there. Yeah. That’s what I like. I like that better than herbs for cognitive decline. Yeah.

Ryn (02:05):
Yeah. Right. Well, so before we jump in, let us give you our reclaimer like every week where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (02:16):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re going to talk about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:37):
Yeah. And we want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. And that means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. All right. So.

Katja (02:53):
Well, we should say that this is, all of this cognitive agility and cognitive longevity stuff is kind of top of mind right now, because we just filmed about an hour of material about Alzheimer’s and dementia and supporting our loved ones through those conditions holistically and with herbs. And that went into the neurological and emotional health course that we have online. So, for a much expanded version of this type of discussion, you can check that out. But between that being really on our mind lately, and then I think this came up in free clinic this week that people were talking about focus and mind clarity issues.

Ryn (03:48):
Definitely. Yeah. And I think kind of looking back, this has been an issue that we get a lot of interest about. We have a lot of people asking. A lot of times clients will come in and, you know, they’re concerned. I remember you had a run one year where it was like several clients in a row who all had worries, primarily, because maybe they had seen an elder family member was struggling with these kinds of issues or they otherwise knew it was kind of in the family. And they were worried about it in that term.

Katja (04:15):
You know, actually that year, it was really specific. That year really struck a particular cord for me, because this issue was so prominent. But it was women who were in their forties and fifties who were responsible for providing care for their aging parents while also caring for their children who were maturing. And they were watching their parents go through cognitive decline and becoming very frightened that it was going to happen to them. And, you know, sometimes things do just go in spurts like that. And I find that particularly fascinating. But also as a person who is practicing, when I get sort of groups of clients who are all on the same theme, then I try to take that as a lesson for myself. Like, oh, maybe this is something I should be paying attention to in my own life also. Yeah, it’s a very… It’s a hot issue. And I think it’s a hot issue because it is an issue that so many people are affected by, in their families, in their friend groups. And it’s not an easy issue. There are just no super easy answers for it.

Ryn (05:40):
Right. And we would like there to be, right? When someone comes to me and says, Hey, you know, I’m worried about this in my future or else I’m taking care of someone. And I would like, I would love it if you had an herb that I could give them. And it would help them to think more clearly or help them to stay more present or to be more focused. And the good news for all of us is that there are some herbs that can help in this way. So actually, let’s talk about a few of those. And you know, we like to think about herbs both as like they’re specific individuals, and the myriad of possibilities that each herb has. And then we also like to think about herbs in terms of categories or the kinds of actions or effects that we want. Because although each herb is unique in its own set of qualities and flavors and activities in the body, when we’re looking at one particular action or herbal action, like an herbal effect on humans, there’s no effect that only one single herb can give you, right? So what I mean by herbal action, in this regard, we’re thinking about things like improving circulation and especially improving circulation up into the brain, right? That’s an herbal action that we would really like when we’re trying to take care of the brain. Really, anytime you want to take care of a tissue in your body, it’s good to keep the river flowing. Keep the blood moving, keep the lymph moving, you know, all the different fluids need to keep circulating for tissues to stay healthy because that’s how they get nutrients. That’s how they eliminate wastes. And that’s just as true in your brain as it is anywhere else.

Katja (07:09):
Yeah. We’re going to come back to that.

Ryn (07:11):
Oh, we are.

Katja (07:11):
Yes. There was a little bit of foreshadowing there. We’re going to come back to that in a little while.

Rosemary: Improving Circulation in the Brain

Ryn (07:15):
Yeah. but let’s say there are a couple of herbs that I’d really love to highlight that can improve circulation up into the brain. Several of the herbs we’re going to talk about today, that’s one of their key activities. So a very familiar herb that has this action is rosemary. And whenever I talk about rosemary, almost anytime, honestly, but especially when it’s about neurological health or about…

Katja (07:38):
Ya’ll, really, he does this every time. Every time.

Ryn (07:40):
About memory, right? So, you know, Hamlet. And then in Hamlet there’s this character Ophelia, and she has kind of a rough time. She gets a little stressed out. She gets a little disconnected from her reality. And she goes around handing out flowers to everybody. And this is like in a King’s court. And, you know, it’s all very fancy. And she’s just, like, wandering around.

Katja (07:58):
It’s very Shakespeare.

Ryn (07:59):
Leaves in her hair, you know, flowers and stuff. But she wants to give flowers to each person. And she walks up to someone and says, rosemary, that’s for remembrance. And she wants to hand that over. And I love that scene because it’s just demonstrates that there was this familiarity about herbs and about flowers and about their actions on many levels of society at that time, right? People in the pit, people in the seats there, they were like, yeah, rosemary’s for remembrance. We know that.

Katja (08:25):
Okay, listen, you know, when we think about that, we think, Oh, how different they were than we are today. Like, they just knew that rosemary was for memory. Who even knows that stuff, but what…

Ryn (08:38):
Is it like Advil for headaches?

Katja (08:41):
Yes. That’s my point. That’s where I was going with that. This is, Oh, sorry, people with headphones in. Maybe that was a little loud. I apologize. But it was very, very excited because that’s the thing. People were familiar with the tools they had available. And you know, I don’t love to talk about herbs as tools, but I’m going to do it for just this moment. People are familiar with the tools that are available to them. And so, just like we today are like, you know, oh man, I was carrying too many boxes. And your friend is like, ah, I got some ibuprofen. And like, and that’s the end of the story. Just like, oh, okay. I’ve got some ibuprofen. That’s what Ophelia was really saying. And it seems quite shocking to us today to think about, but it’s not. It’s utterly completely normal. And we do exactly the same thing. We just do it with different words.

Ryn (09:33):
Yeah. Right on. Well, it turns out it’s true, actually. Rosemary can help with memory and with mental acuity and focus and that sort of thing. And there’s lots of ways that you can look at that. Again, we kind of led in on this focusing with the blood moving effect. Rosemary is a circulatory stimulant, and it has an upward quality to it. How can you see that? Well, if you take somebody who has a pale face. Maybe they’ve got a headache from deficiency, we call it, where there’s not enough blood moving into the head or not enough tone in the blood vessels there. You can take an herb like rosemary and you can see the pale face become more ruddy

Katja (10:14):
Yeah. See color come back into there. Yeah.

Ryn (10:17):
Watch the color, move in. Yeah.

Katja (10:20):
That’s literally blood, by the way. That is literally the movement of blood that’s bringing that sort of pinkness that ruddiness.

Ryn (10:26):
Yeah, totally. And even in the scent of rosemary, you have that feeling or that movement happening as well. You know, anything with a strong smell to it, we might call aromatic, but there are like groups of the aromatics, you know. You’ve got your minty ones. You’ve got your, I don’t know, resin-y ones like myrrh or even like pine resin when you smell that. And then you have some like sage and rosemary and thyme and oregano where there’s like a pungency to it. There’s a little sharpness. But there’s definitely activity, there’s movement. You know, if you get a good batch of that herb and rub it up and take a smell of it, or if you work with the essential oil of these, you smell it and you feel that activation. I think, you know, the brands of essential oils in the market, they’ll have like one little word on the front, you know, like strengthening or…

Katja (11:18):

Ryn (11:18):
Activating or something like that. I don’t know, but on rosemary, it’s going to be something like activating or motivating or something like that.

Katja (11:27):

Ryn (11:27):
As opposed to lavender, like relaxing, soothing, you know? So, that movement, right, that’s coming in through the form of scent. But that’s acting on nerve nerve cells, right?

Katja (11:41):
Yeah. Like specifically activating nerve cells. Like the action that it’s taking is a very mobile kind of, and not just mobile, but upward. Boy, the cats are just all over the place today. They’re climbing all over my desk and the computers and everything over there. You can’t see that, because this is a podcast, but…

Ryn (12:01):
Yeah, if we momentarily lose our train of thought, it might be because the cat is about to push something on the shelf. Oh no. No, she’s fine.

Katja (12:08):
The cat’s are really, they’re all in here with us. And I think they’re all just really wanting to say hello to you. So is Elsie. All right. Well, that was a moment for the pets. But, rosemary really is… Maybe we need some rosemary to like stay right focused on track. Rosemary does. It really has that upward movement. And you may have ever experienced this also with a headache. If you have had the kind of headache where you feel drained. You know, the words that we use when we talk about these things are not a coincidence. If we say, oh, I feel drained. What are some of the symptoms of feeling drained? Brain fog. And what we are really talking about there is that all of the movement has dropped out of your head and you’re just left with a bunch of cobwebs in there. And a headache that has those types of feelings accompanying it is very well served by rosemary, because it is like whatever the opposite of drain is. It’s refilling, but refilling in a very upward, like if you took a garden hose and pointed it straight up.

Ryn (13:25):
Yeah. It has that upward movement, for sure. So, you know, rosemary, we can work with it as tea, we can take it in tincture. Any format that’s going to really capture those aromatics is going to do the job for us. Okay. The other way that we, of course, could work with rosemary is as the essential oil. And if you’re interested, or if you always want to have studies to back up everything, that’s great. And you should like definitely look into rosemary for cognitive acuity and attention and focus and things like that.

Katja (13:56):
You can find a lot of those studies if you Google Alzheimer’s and essential oil. Because there were a whole group of studies done: some on lavender essential oils, some on rosemary essential oil. And they correspond actually energetically, even though in the United States, we don’t typically design scientific studies to correspond with energetic actions. And they weren’t doing that here on purpose. It just happened that they were, which is really cool.

Ryn (14:28):
It emerged.

Katja (14:29):
It emerged. It emerged because their motivation was around the action, even if they didn’t realize that. So what am I getting at here? That these studies, the ones in which they were working with rosemary, they were working to try to resolve symptoms of stagnation, so like cognitive stagnation. And the ones where they were working with lavender, they were working to try to resolve symptoms that were accompanied with aggravation. So they were trying to relax things. And they all have very positive effects. The essential oils were not taken internally. They were simply, you know, a drop on a cotton ball and then like pinned to the collar or something like that. So it was really aromatherapy. They were just smelling the oils. And yeah, the studies are very, very interesting. But all you need to find them is Alzheimer’s and essential oil in a Google scholar search.

Ryn (15:36):
Yeah. Really interesting stuff in there. I haven’t actually dug in too much to look, but I would love to see some studies around sage for similar purposes.

Katja (15:46):
I don’t know if there are any, but I think that I would love to see some done.

Sage: Decreasing Overwhelm & Agitation

Ryn (15:51):
Yeah. And, you know, I’ll check afterward. Maybe we’ll find a few, but sage is a definite candidate here. You know, it has a lot in common with rosemary, just in terms of its scent and flavor profile. They share a number of crossover constituents, you know, and that accounts for their similarity in activity. But sage, too, has a good longstanding, old time reputation being an herb for the brain and for the mind.

Katja (16:20):
Yes. Sage, and this doesn’t have to be an essential oil. This can be as tea also, even as tincture. Sage for me is particularly indicated when if we’re talking about somebody who’s experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia, and they are feeling overwhelmed by their state. Like maybe they aren’t able to access the present moment and they’re aware that they should be able to. And so they’re feeling very overwhelmed and a little agitated about not being able to be fully present, or feeling that lack of presence starting to come in or the ability to be present starting to slip away. That is where I really think about sage. And I think about sage in regular cognitive acuity that way as well. Like even when we’re not talking about Alzheimer’s and dementia, and we’re just talking about like Tuesday afternoon when you’re ready for a break.

Ryn (17:22):
Just a draggy, brain foggy day.

Katja (17:24):
Yeah, exactly.

Ryn (17:26):
It’s like you’re trying to focus on something and the sky is just not cooperating. It’s like gray and rainy and just like a nice lulling breeze. And you’re like nap, nap time? Which honestly, it’s probably better to follow that instinct if you have the space and capacity and work environment to do it, but Hey, who does? You know? So, sage tea is a great idea then.

Katja (17:46):
You know, for me, I would call on rosemary in that particular situation. For me, the sage is more like it’s afternoon. It’s like three, and you have a deadline for five and you’re not done yet. And like, Bob from accounting keeps calling you to ask questions or like sending you company chats or whatever to ask questions. And you’re like, Bob, can you please just wait because I have a deadline at five and I am not ready. And you do not want to say it as politely as that. And you’re really feeling the overwhelm of the deadline and some anger going along with it or some agitation going along with it. I really, when I think about sage, I think about overwhelm and agitation or overwhelm and anger. Anger specifically about the overwhelm. Like why didn’t Sue do her part so that I wouldn’t have to work so hard right now. You know, like whatever.

Ryn (18:44):
Which sometimes includes why didn’t I yesterday just take care of the thing and it wouldn’t have snowballed like this, you know? Yeah.

Katja (18:52):
Yes, absolutely. But so those kinds of feelings are really when I think about sage. And the reason that I feel so strongly about that is my own personal experience. I think that you can work with sage in many different types of ways, but because I have felt it in my own body so profoundly in this kind of a situation, and I will admit that I am pretty prone to that sort of an emotional profile. Like I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’m pretty angry about it too. That’s very typical for me. And so that is a way in which I’ve worked with sage a lot. And I experienced so much relief from that that when I started researching it to see like, wow, this is profound in my body. Why have I never heard anybody talking about this? And I went looking for other sources to see, like, is there any other herbalists talking about this? And sometimes there’s not, because herbalists are busy and we don’t have time to write everything down. So, just because you don’t see anybody else talking about it, it doesn’t mean that what you’re experiencing isn’t real.

Ryn (20:02):

Katja (20:02):
But finally I found a really old article by Kiva Rose who, you know, she’d just written like a paragraph about it somewhere. And that was pretty exciting. And it wasn’t until much later that somebody said, Oh, did you, maybe it was even you who said it, actually, you know, oh, did you, did you try the really old books? And then it was maybe Dioscorides or Hippocrates who was writing about sage for psychosis. And psychosis in that time did not have the same meaning that that word has today. But when I am feeling overwhelmed and angry about it, there’s a kind of psychosis happening there for sure. And so that was fascinating and led me to a whole rabbit hole of like, wow, let’s read a lot of other really old books about sage. You know, and I think as a tangent, that is just a little reminder that sometimes you’ll never find anything written about what you’ve experienced. And that doesn’t mean that what you’ve experienced is not happening. But sometimes you have to go way back and those really old texts are really fascinating.

Tulsi: Helping With Stress & Stuck Emotions

Ryn (21:15):
Yeah. Cool. So sage is one to consider. And then, you know, talking about overwhelm kind of naturally leads into Tulsi. Because Tulsi is another really excellent herbs for when you’re feeling overwhelmed for when you’re feeling agitated, even angry. I find that Tulsi can help with that sort of pallet of emotional experience. And this is another one that has an aromatic quality to it. It’s less sharp then, you know, the sage and the rosemary. Kind of moving further away from the thyme and oregano side of that group.

Katja (21:50):
Yeah. It’s definitely smoother, gentler.

Ryn (21:54):
Yeah. Tulsi has some florality to it to me.

Katja (21:57):
Yeah. I mean, when I say gentler, it’s profoundly active and potent, but the mechanism itself is just a little smoother.

Ryn (22:10):
Yeah. So tulsi is also called holy basil, and it’s a worldwide traveler. You know, Tulsi is a very popular plant, which is good for all of us because that makes it easy to find. There are even some pretty good quality teabags available at the markets of Tulsi. So, that’s handy. And I think it’s great because I’d like lots of people to have this herb and, you know, have that in their lives for a long time. Because that’s the best way to work with any of these plants for maintaining mental agility.

Katja (22:42):
Yes. This is not like a one cup of tea and you’re done sort of a situation. Although, you know, if it is three o’clock in the afternoon and you’ve got a five o’clock deadline and you are wanting to pull all your hair out and you just can’t focus or whatever else. Sure. Just have a cup of tea right then. But, like if this is a pattern for you, then the herbs also need to become a pattern for you.

Ryn (23:04):
Yeah, exactly. One thing I really love about Tulsi is that it’s so versatile. It’s so easy to work with in different formats. And that means that it can play well together with a lot of other herbs. And that’s true both in terms of flavor, but also like medicinal preparations that are useful or are effective. So Tulsi is a flavor that blends really well. You could put tulsi with peppermint, you could put it with chamomile, you can put it with sage, you could put it…

Katja (23:32):
You can put it with rosemary, you can put it with lavender. You can literally, the whole group here.

Ryn (23:36):
It’s hard to think of some things that don’t taste nice together with tulsi. And it’s usually the other herb that’s not tasting so good. But yeah, so that’s very flexible that way. And you can take it as tea, tincture, powder forms. You know, there’s decent supplement versions and everything. But it tastes so good that tea is, I think, the best way. And it’s just appealing, you know, easy to go. So tulsi has some special powers here as well. In addition to being an aromatic and having an upward motion and circulating blood and moving that around, tulsi is also what we call an adaptogen, an herb that helps us to cope with stress.

Katja (24:17):
Yeah. And you know, when you go back to the old books for a moment, when you look at old books about tulsi, one of the things that you find very frequently is that it helps with stuck emotions. You’ll see that over and over again. And so what does that, like, what does that mean if we sort of translate that to our current vocabulary. And, you know, that is stuff that you’re ruminating on, stuff that you can’t get past in your mind, it just won’t let go of you, that you can’t put it away. And I think that when we are thinking about cognitive agility, what we’re really thinking about is I want to be able to process things efficiently, effectively in my mind. And so when we think about tulsi from the perspective of stuck emotions, what we’re really thinking about is that we’re not effectively processing our experiences. We’re not effectively processing our emotions, our feelings, whatever. And Tulsi can help to speed that up. But the beautiful thing about herbs is that it’s very rare that herbs have laser focus. You know, so when we say that tulsi can help with stuck emotions, it doesn’t mean like, well, it only helps the part of your brain that thinks about emotions and no other part of your brain is involved. So the part that’s thinking about spreadsheets is not going to be improved by tulsi. That’s just not how it works.

Ryn (25:52):
Yeah. It’s not about finding your emotional stuckness center in the brain. There have been some cool studies looking at tulsi acting on particular structures in the brain, right, like helping to quiet an overactive amygdala, which is where a lot of your fight and flight and freak out kind of responses come from. Perception of threat, right, so, if that’s too stimulated then everything seems scary. So tulsi can kind of…

Katja (26:18):
I mean, by the way, also when that’s too stimulated, it’s also hard to think clearly.

Ryn (26:21):
Yeah, totally. So tulsi helps to quiet that down. Tulsi can also help to protect the place in the brain called the hippocampus, which is where the horses go to college.

Katja (26:30):
Yes. That’s right.

Ryn (26:30):
It’s a Latin joke, but don’t pay attention.

Katja (26:36):
Do pay attention? Come for the herbal interesting tidbits and stay for the Latin puns.

Ryn (26:44):
All right. we’ll help this one stick, because you’re interested in herbs. So hippo, horses, what are you even talking about? A hippopotamus is the river horse, right? And hippo cast, hippacastinus.

Katja (26:57):
Is the seahorse?

Ryn (26:57):
No it’s… Hippocastanum is the horse chestnut, horse Chestnut.

Katja (27:04):
Oh, okay.

Ryn (27:06):
Yeah, so castaneis is chestnuts. And then hippocastanum is the horse chestnut.

Katja (27:08):
But if you just happen to have the sea horse taxonomy right off the top of your head.

Ryn (27:12):
I don’t, but I…

Katja (27:12):
Boy, would I be impressed.

Ryn (27:16):
Hippocuan? I don’t know. Let’s not make it up.

Katja (27:18):
The reason that the sea horse is important is because that’s actually why it’s called the hippocampus, because it’s like shaped a little bit like a sea horse.

Ryn (27:25):
Nice, nice. See, we’re learning. All right. Cool. I mean, hey, it is good to try to learn other languages and to do other mental challenges to keep your brain fresh.

Katja (27:36):
To keep your brain fresh, to keep it moving. Yes. So, right. So, regardless of whether we’re talking about keeping your thoughts moving, keeping them effective and efficient or your emotions, all of that is happening in there. And tulsi is improving your ability to to do all of that work.

Ryn (27:56):
Yeah. Oh, you know, bringing up the hippocampus, the idea was like, this is a part where you’re doing a lot of your processing of, like you were saying, processing, right, of turning experience into memory or into knowledge, right? And so again, tulsi is helping that happen, but it’s not just these two specific places. It’s your whole brain. It’s your nervous system generally. And because of that adaptogenic effect, it’s really even broader than just the nerves. It’s like communications in the body, including nerves, but also hormonal activity or neurotransmitters, which are basically the same thing in a different place.

Katja (28:29):
Right. Although in this case the full spectrum matters. So one of the things that we talked about a lot in the video we just did for the neurological and emotional health course was about the impact of blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and also inflammation levels on the brain in specific regard to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So this is, again, like, even in that way, it’s not just the neurotransmitters that are hormonal, that are benefited by the endocrine effects of tulsi, but also the actual hormones that are hormonal that are benefited by the endocrine effects of tulsi. And all of that is helping your brain to stay more focused.

Ryn (29:15):
Yeah. I’m really glad you brought up that aspect about blood sugar maintenance or blood sugar regulation and how that can impact cognitive health. You know, there’s a number of folks who will talk about Alzheimer’s disease as a kind of type three diabetes, another expression of a serious problem with blood sugar regulation and leading to those plaques or that kind of literal gumming up the works in the brain that kind of typifies that disease state. So tulsi, in addition to all these other benefits like we’ve been saying, it has this effect to improve blood sugar regulation, to prevent your blood sugar from spiking too high or staying elevated for too long. So that too is really protective of the nervous tissue, of the brain, and everything that depends on it. Yeah. Tulsi, you know, you can’t say enough about it, no matter how long you talk.

Katja (30:09):
It’s really true.

Ginkgo: Nourishing & Fueling Your Nerve Cells

Ryn (30:10):
Yeah. But let’s move on though. And talk about gingko. And ginkgo, you may have been expecting. You’ve been like, all right, come on cognitive herbs, it’s got to be ginkgo. Ginkgo’s super famous for this activity and it’s for good reason.

Katja (30:25):
Okay. So just like you always talk about rosemary for remembrance and Shakespeare, which I have to say, I find quite endearing. You always, when we talk about ginkgo, you have another little thing that you always say. And now I literally can’t even hear the word ginkgo without saying it in my head. And part of the reason is because we teach. So, when we talk about ginkgo, the first thing we have to do is tell people how to spell it, because for some reason everybody wants to flip the G and the K.

Ryn (31:04):
Yeah, what is that, a glottal stop?

Katja (31:06):
Both G and K make a glottal stop. And so, it is actually linguistically quite natural for people to switch those two. And now when we have them right next to each other, it makes it more complicated. But anyway, boy, we are getting all of our past knowledge into this, literature and language and everything. But the thing about ginkgo is that it is actually, gink go. And the way that you can remember, it’s very hard to say that, but that is how it’s spelled. And the way that you can remember it is that ginkgo makes your brain go. And he says it all the time, but it’s so cute. And now like, literally whenever I say ginkgo in my head, I think it makes your brain go.

Ryn (31:51):
Yeah. And, you know, and the other way around wouldn’t work, because that’d be G I N G K O, and a KO is a knockout. And ginkgo does not knock you out. Right? It doesn’t knock you out. Ginkgo makes your brain go. So there you are.

Katja (32:05):
You know, and a big part of the reason that ginkgo makes your brain go is because ginkgo is delivering fuel. Ginkgo brings more oxygen to your brain. A part of that is by circulatory stimulation. And again, like ,if your brain is well-nourished, if it has plenty of fuel, if it has what it needs to make all of its calculations. You know, like when your laptop gives you that low battery warning, like you have to plug it in in five minutes or you’re going to lose all your work. And you’re like, ahhhh, right? It’s like, that’s what we’re talking about here. Ginkgo is like plugging in your brain.

Ryn (32:43):
Yeah, for sure. So it has that circulatory movement activity to it. But you know, ginkgo is different from the sage, the rosemary, the tulsi. It doesn’t have that aromatic quality in a strong way. If you open a jar of ginkgo and smell, it has a smell, but it’s not like whoosh.

Katja (33:00):

Ryn (33:00):
So it’s a little subtler on that level. It’s a little less hot herb than those others in that way. But ginkgo has another aspect to it where it’s got a strong neuroprotective effect. So, I’m kind of shifting over into a different group here. Neuroprotective herbs are ones that, well, they they do what they say. They protect the nerve tissue, the individual nerve cells that make up your brain and your spine and central nervous system as a whole. So, these herbs, they are often working by reducing inflammation and protecting those cells from getting damaged by an excessive inflammatory response. And it’s also certainly got to do again with that movement of fluids. So, yeah, with ginkgo, a couple of things worth noting. If you look into a lot of the science on ginkgo, most of it has been done on concentrated extracts. So, you get the ginkgo leaf and you make an extract of it. You concentrate it down. Oftentimes supplement products you’ll find in the marketplace are standardized to a certain percentage of these compounds called ginkgolides and a couple of other chemicals that have been proven to be effective. And that’s all well and good. You know, especially, I would say, if you’re dealing with a case that is more advanced or has progressed a little further down the road towards dementia or other states like it, then those supplements of ginkgo are probably going to be the best way to work on that, to try to halt the progression and maintain where you are. So, when it’s a more acute case like that, then I’d say go ahead and work with the supplements. Work them into your routine. You can make sure you’re always swallowing your supplement with your sage and rosemary tea. That should make it work a lot better in my experience. The other way that we’ll work with ginkgo, though, is in a tea blend, but always in formula. I don’t find ginkgo on its own to really have enough motivation to do the job that we want. So I always like to combine it together with some tulsi or with some sage or rosemary, something like that. And I find like that’s a lot more effective. So don’t write off tea entirely or tinctures. But when you’re really trying to get more movement, or when the problem has progressed a bit further, then it’s probably a good idea to include a supplement version of ginkgo as well.

Katja (35:36):
Yeah. But if you are, you know, just trying to get through your work week. Maybe you’ve given up caffeine and you’re looking for some strategies to help you stay focused with that. Or, you know, it’s 2020, so maybe you’re just overwhelmed with all the crazy that’s going on, and it’s hard for you to focus. In those kinds of ways or if you’re thinking ahead and you are thinking about, you know, longevity support. And you’re thinking, all right, well, you know, hey, I’m 40 something. Maybe I should start thinking about planning ahead for cognitive agility. In those ways, then just incorporating ginkgo into your daily tea routine is a fine way to work with it.

Gotu Kola: Maintaining Healthy Brain Tissue

Ryn (36:22):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, you know, I had mentioned some other herbs that I like to put with ginkgo, but probably its closest friend, at least in the way that I’ve been working with this herb, is another plant called gotu kola. And there are local versions of that. We actually have some growing in our land in Royalston. They’re referred to as pennywort as well. So, we have like the American pennywort growing over there. But usually we’re talking about an Asian species. This is called Centella asiatica. And gotu kola is, I think of it as one of the more more powerful neuroprotective herbs that I’ve spent a lot of time with, especially in the form of plants you can take in tea, right? Gotu kola makes a really excellent tea. And it does have some circulatory activity to it. You can see that in some of its other applications. One of them is actually as a topical preparation for infected skin and infected tissue, even including things as serious as leprosy if you look in the historical documents on that.

Katja (37:29):
Yeah, a long tradition, a traditional tradition. Yeah.

Ryn (37:37):
Right. Yeah. And so like there is some blood moving aspect to that to protect tissue there and presumably some antimicrobial quality as well. But a lot of it seems to be about maintaining healthy tissue. And when you drink it a lot of that effect moves up toward the, toward the brain, especially if you pair it with ginkgo.

Katja (37:57):
Yes. Gotu kola lives in water or right next to water. But we were walking up the creek one day and there was this beautiful gotu kola that was just anchored to a rock in the middle of the creek. And it was like, wow. Like it was so beautiful. And that also kind of makes me think a lot about gotu kola. Sometimes it’s nice to get like a little bit poetic about looking at the way that the plant lives, and then thinking about how it can work with you, and the habits that that plant has, and then how it can help you build what you need. And so thinking about that, this is a plant that can manage water. It can be around water. It can manage fluids and I’m thinking, oh, okay, well that’s all really good.

Ryn (38:51):
And it likes to be in the flow.

Katja (38:53):
It likes to be in the flow yeah.

Lion’s Mane: Stimulating Nerve Growth Factor

Ryn (38:55):
In the moving water. Yeah. So we think about bringing that kind of quality internally. Keep that moving. Keep your mind fluid. Yeah. All right. So we promised six herbs for cognitive decline in our title here. So, last one with this particular focus is going to be lion’s mane, and this is a mushroom.

Katja (39:15):
And it’s delicious.

Ryn (39:18):
It is pretty tasty. So, all of these others we talked about, you could make them into a tea formula, right? You could have your rosemary, sage tulsi, ginkgo, gotu kola. Have that as a tea. Drink that all the time on a regular basis. Take care of your brain. Take care of your nerves, a bunch of other things as well. So that would all be great. But you wouldn’t want to throw lion’s mane into an infusion tea like that.

Katja (39:37):
No, I don’t think it would be delicious, and it would be wasted anyway, because it’s so delicious in dinner. Another wonderful thing about lion’s mane is that it looks like a hedgehog, like a little albino hedgehog. And that makes me very happy.

Ryn (39:51):
Yeah, it’s pretty cute. So you’re talking about dinner, and we actually just had some lion’s mane mushroom in some bone broth.

Katja (39:57):
Yes, which is a great way to work with your lion’s mane mushroom. So lion’s mane, what’s going on here is that it can stimulate — it can do many things, but one of the things that it can do that’s particularly relevant to cognitive agility is that — it can stimulate nerve growth factor. And, you know, that is a thing that we didn’t even admit was possible. Like in fact, we actively, you know, like the science world actively said that it was impossible until like 10 or 15 years ago. And then they were like, oh, check this out, nerve growth factor. You can actually grow your nerves back. Okay, you can’t grow all nerves back, but some repair is possible. And so it turns out that lion’s mane stimulates that ability towards repair. And one of the reasons that I think that having the lion’s mane in the bone broth is so particularly elegant is that another thing that you really need for your nerves and your brain and the interchange between your nerves and your brain, that exchange of information to work properly, is minerals. You’ve got to have all the different minerals, but really especially magnesium, some potassium, and a few others for those messages to be able to be exchanged appropriately, accurately, efficiently. And so a perfect way to package it all up is to put your lion’s mane in your bone broth. You get all the minerals, you get the nerve growth factor stimulation all in one package.

Ryn (41:39):
Yeah. Plus you can get some healthy fats too, right, which is also going to be a thing that’s really important for building healthy brain tissue. A lot of your brain is made out of lipids, fatty constituents, you know. So, you’ve got to have that.

Katja (41:55):
Plus it helps keep the myelin sheath healthy. And every single one of your nerves has one of those. So that’s pretty important too.

Ryn (42:03):
Yeah. So broth is fantastic, otherwise you can make decoctions with lion’s mane, right? So you could have the mushroom, chop it all up, and make a nice decoction and cook that in maybe with some other medicinal mushrooms while you’re at it, and get a good combination going. So that’s a great way to take it. You can work with supplements. There’s a number of a lion’s mane supplements out there in the world now freely roaming.

Katja (42:27):
Free range lion’s mane supplement. Well, you know, you said six herbs for cognitive agility support

Ryn (42:38):
Yeah. We did it.

Katja (42:38):
But I would like to add a seventh.

Ryn (42:42):
Oh really?

Sleep: Supporting the Glymphatic System

Katja (42:42):
Yes. The seventh herb is sleep. So, I suppose under that category would be every herb that can help you get to sleep. And here’s the thing. So, as I was uploading all the different parts of the Alzheimer’s and dementia information into the neurological and emotional health course, I was uploading a bunch of studies, because we were talking about the effect of sleep on the glymphatic system and the effect of the glymphatic system on your cognitive abilities. And I just can’t talk about herbs for cognitive agility without mentioning this stuff, because it is so fascinating. I’m really on about it these days. So the glymphatic system is your lymphatic system specifically in your brain. And this is another thing that they thought didn’t exist until about 10 or 15 years ago. And it’s just because we didn’t have the right kind of dye to help the structures show up under a microscope. So we couldn’t see that it existed. And now we can. So we couldn’t see that existed. So we said it didn’t exist. And now we can see that it exists. So we say, oh, look, it does exist after all. And there’s probably a lesson in there. So, anyway, your glymphatic system does exactly the same thing that your lymphatic system does. It removes the trash from the extracellular fluid in your brain. So fresh blood comes into your brain, delivers oxygen, delivers nutrients and immune responders and whatever else. And then that blood washes through all the cells and there’s a transfer. In goes all the food and everything else. Out comes the cellular poop basically, all of the metabolic waste from each individual cell. And that’s going to be removed by the glymphatic system, by a mechanism of convection, which is sort of like waves going through the brain. But just like your lymphatic system throughout your whole body, it doesn’t have a pump. So, your lymph moves through your body only when your skeletal muscles expand and contract and they push the lymph through the lymphatic vessels, which have many valves so that it gets up to a certain valve and then it can’t go down. It can only go up some more. So, in your brain you might be thinking Katja, what on earth muscles do you have in your brain that are supposed to move your lymph around? How is that even supposed to work? Are you ready for this? It’s really exciting. The muscles that are going to do this work in your brain are your eyeballs. And so when you’re sleeping, and you’ve never necessarily experienced this because you’re asleep when it happens. But if you’ve ever watched a dog sleeping, and their little paws twitch, and their little tail twitches, and like maybe they like make a little woof noise because they just saw a squirrel in their dream or whatever. But when you watch them, what else is happening is that their eyes are twitching like crazy. Did I just crack you up a little?

Ryn (46:03):
A little woof noise?

Katja (46:05):
Yes. Like the little woof noise. So, but the other thing that’s happening is that their eyes are twitching like crazy. And maybe you don’t have a dog, but you’ve ever watched your husband do this. And he makes a little woof noise and his paws shake and his eyes are twitching like crazy.

Ryn (46:21):
You know how it is.

Katja (46:21):
Because he dreamt about a squirrel.

Ryn (46:24):

Katja (46:24):
Yeah, exactly. So anyway, it’s that dream state, that REM sleep state when your eyelids and your eye movement, you’re getting that rapid eye movement. And so that movement is what’s responsible for like powering these convection waves that clear out the trash and move it to this little interstitial space around the veins so that it can be sucked up and removed from the brain. Okay. Why is that important? Because if that trash is not removed from the brain and collected, that is a big part of what becomes the cause of Alzheimer’s and also plays a big role in dementia as well, the degradation that happens in dementia. So we have to make sure that we are taking the trash out of the brain, or we’re just accumulating it. It’s going to accumulate in these plaques. And the only way to do that, you can’t do it while you’re awake. It happens while you’re asleep in these REM phases. Part of the reason it can’t happen while you’re awake is that when you are awake and you’re using your brain, your brain is like turned on. So you switch your brain on, and like everything kind of expands a little bit. And everything sort of fills up with plumpness a little bit. And I’m sort of remembering like, you know, back when it used to be, you turned your computer off at night. And then in the morning you would turn it back on and you have to wait for it to start up and you’d hear the fan, like you could really hear the fan. You turn it on and the fan would start buzzing and the things would start beeping. And it’s like, oh, like the whole thing is puffing up and starting to function. That’s what’s going on in your brain. And there’s this like extra fluids that are in there and expansion in your brain so that you can do all the brainy things you have to do during the day. When you go to sleep, that stuff all shrinks back down again, which makes more space for the fluid to move out if you actually are able to move it out, right? You have to like, there’s these two parameters. We’re going to make the space in order for things to move freely. And now we also need to have that eye movement so that the movement is going to be stimulated, like triggered. That’s going to kick off the whole movement cascade. Well, if you don’t get enough sleep, what I’m trying to say here is you don’t clear out the trash. If you don’t clear out the trash, you can’t think clearly. Therefore, ergo, she said, all the herbs that help you with sleep are now the seventh herb in our list of six herbs for cognitive acuity.

Ryn (49:10):
Yeah. That seems real.

Katja (49:15):
We did a whole class on sleep. And I bet that you know off the top of your head, some podcast episodes that we did on sleep too, because you seem to have the entire catalog of a hundred and however many episodes just in your head all the time.

Ryn (49:29):
I dont’ know. Maybe I should have taken more ginkgo. Today I can’t call out the numbers for you one by one, but I will say we have talked about sleep at least three or four times on this podcast. Sleep, dreaming, difficulty falling asleep, strategies for helping you stay asleep. So, just use the search bar on our website commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (49:50):
I don’t know if you knew that, but you can search for podcast episodes on the website. So, yeah.

Ryn (49:57):
Yeah. So try that, check some of that out. And if you want the real deep dive, check out our course Holistic Help for Better Sleep, where we talk a lot about the whole day and how all of the various points in the day contribute to what happens when you lay down at the end of the day at nighttime. We talk about sleep hygiene, talk about habits that can improve sleep. We’ve got some special tips and tricks from a difficult sleep situation for somebody who really, really needs a lot of it, but can’t always find it easy to get.

Katja (50:28):
I can’t always find it. Yeah. And then of course, a kabillion gillion herbs custom suited for each different type of issue with sleep.

Movement Breaks: Boosting the Brain

Ryn (50:35):
Yeah. So dig in on that one. And, you know, we could also say just really briefly that the more stress we experience, the more that’s going to throw things off in our internal environment. That can lead to problems with mental focus, especially in the context of trying to maintain productive focus on something. The more stressed you are, the more difficult that becomes. Your animal brain is like, this is not the time to sit quietly and look at numbers. This is the time to run or to fight or to do something, you know?

Katja (51:05):
And I think that having some compassion around that, especially in such a stressful time. I remember, so, back in the early nineties I was a software engineer and I worked for this startup company and we all worked really long hours. But we also had a rec room in the company with a ping pong table and a foosball table and hacky sack circles on the floor. And sometimes when I would tell people who weren’t in the software industry about that, they were like, wow, your life’s pretty cushy. But actually the reason that those things were there — oh, and also trunks of Nerf guns.

Ryn (51:45):
This is secretly the dark legacy of the coffee break.

Katja (51:49):
Is it? No, it’s better. I think it’s better than a coffee break, though. Because what would happen is that when we couldn’t figure out a problem, we were trying to create a thing and it wasn’t working, instead of banging our heads against it, we would go play ping pong or we’d go play foosball or hacky sack or whatever. And, you know, first you would just be like frustrated and blowing off steam and playing ping pong. And then after a few rounds, you’d be like, okay, but what if we did this? And then somebody else would be like no, we could do it like that, and sort of work it through. And after a few rounds of ping-pong like, hey look, we have an answer. All right, we can go back to work now.

Ryn (52:29):
Yeah, you’re right. In that way it’s much more like creativity inducing. The coffee break, what I was talking about is just like, you know, capitalism caught on to coffee real early and figured out very soon after it was popularized that if we give this to all the people in our factory they’ll work harder and we can get more out of them, you know?

Katja (52:50):
Yeah, well, that’s definitely true.

Ryn (52:52):
What you’re talking about is different though.

Katja (52:53):
It is different.

Ryn (52:53):
It’s more like just recognizing that humans aren’t really built to sit down and bang their head against the computer screen until it makes the thing work, right? Like moving your physical body, I think, is a big part of it.

Katja (53:04):
Yeah. And like using different parts of your brain. There comes a point where like, just like you can only pick up a box so many times before your muscles are like, we’re not doing that anymore today. If accessing a particular part of the brain, you can only do it for so long before your brain is like, we’re not doing it anymore today. And so, getting up and using a completely different part of your brain takes the pressure off. And you might be like, well, I don’t have time for that, but your brain is still working on that other problem in the background.

Ryn (53:36):
Right. Same with sleep, honestly. I mean, like, when you have a big problem and you can’t quite get through it, if you can get a restful nap or a night’s sleep, then usually it feels different. Like you see the problem differently in the morning. With movement, thought, there’s also been a number of good investigations that have looked at things like, well, if we just take some people with cognitive decline and we give them strength training, right? Which, their weights aren’t going to be big, but you’re still moving weights around. That, that improves mental acuity. That improves attention. That improves focus. And that’s not just true in the case of somebody in a nursing home, although certainly there it’s been shown. But for all of us, like when you’re doing something physical, it’s not like you’re not using your brain. You’re, like you said, using a different part of your brain or drawing on different faculties, and that’s important, right? When we had mentioned earlier, like learning a language or doing like cognitively interesting things or exciting things to keep your mind fresh. And that’s good, but don’t think of that only in the context of like, another cool app I can put on my phone that has like brain twisters or whatever on it. When I think about movement and I think about teaching somebody, you know, the good form for a deadlift, or like how to do a crawl or like, let’s look at this forest environment and what can I see? Like how many different ways can I run from here to there, you know, and jump over this and climb under that and whatever else. That’s using, like a lot of your mental capacity. And a lot of things that we, as a culture, don’t really engage with very much, but that evolution spent a lot of time on and would really like us to to keep that polished.

Katja (55:12):
No, I think that this kind of stuff is particularly relevant right now because although tech startups in the early nineties were thinking in this sort of a way, like accounting firms do not have ping pong tables for the most part, you know? This is not something that caught on in the mainstream, this concept that sometimes you do need to take a break. Sometimes you need to just play for a little while in order to be able to work better. And now, especially in this COVID world where so many people are like working from home, plus your kids are schooled from home and everything is like, you’re trying to focus all the time. And it’s kind of like never working. And we feel this pressure. I saw some statistics that people are actually working more than an hour more a day than they used to, even though we’re working from home. And I think a lot of that is sort of this feeling of pressure. Like they won’t believe that I do the work if I’m not always at the computer and responding very quickly to everything, kind of this punitive behavior of management towards employees. And you’re going to do the work. You’ll do the work. It’s all right. But also, just the acknowledgement that people don’t need to be micromanaged. You’ll get the work done, but you might need to get up and stand on your head for a few minutes in order to like, see the problem differently. Or you might need to practice juggling for a few, actually physically juggling so that you can then go back to your job and juggle metaphorically a little better. And I would really like to see more acknowledgement of this in the workplace.

Ryn (57:01):
Yeah. That’d be great.

Katja (57:03):
That and tea, more tea available, instead of only coffee.

Ryn (57:07):
Yeah. Right on. Cool. All right. Well, so those are some ideas to get you going. And again, if you wanted to dig in further into this topic and others related to nervous health, mental health, emotional health, because it’s all parts of a whole there.

Katja (57:23):
It’s all tied together.

Ryn (57:23):
Then check out our course on neurological and emotional health. You can sign up for it anytime. But we are still adding some material.

Katja (57:31):
Yes. Really exciting, really exciting stuff is still coming. Every couple of days I upload some new stuff there. So that’s pretty exciting. And you will find that at commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (57:45):
That’s what. All right. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with some more holistic herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

Katja (57:54):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (57:54):
Drink some tea, and we’ll talk to you again next week.

Katja (58:20):
Bye bye.


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