Nootropic herbs in Ayurveda & TCM

Nootropic herbs in Ayurveda & TCM

Nootropic herbs are COGNITIVE ENHANCERS

Medhya Rasayanas are group of medicinal plants described in Ayurveda (Indian system of medicine) with multi-fold benefits, specifically to improve memory and intellect by specific action (Prabhava).

  • Medha means intellect and/or retention and
  • Rasayana means therapeutic procedure or preparation that on regular practice will boost nourishment, health, memory, intellect, immunity and hence longevity. 

Medhya Rasayana is a group of 4 medicinal plants that can be used singly or in combinations.

They are:


  • Mandukaparni  (Gotu Kola) (Jie Xue Cao) In TCM: Herbs that Clear Heat and Purge Fire: Herbs that Clear Heat and Remove Toxicity, Bitter, Acrid, Cold, Liver, Spleen, Kidney, Bladder, Lung, Small Intestine, Large Intestine. Gotu Kola is used for therapeutic purposes as a cognitive enhancer,  it inhibits the memory impairment induced by scopolamine through the inhibition of AChE, and Gotu Kola also exhibited DNA damage protection activity. 

  • Yastimadhu  ( (Licorice root) (Gan Cao) In TCM: Herbs that Tonify Qi, Sweet, Neutral, Warm, Heart, Lung, Spleen, Stomach, All twelve channels. In India, a fine powder of the dried root is used internally with milk for cognitive purposes.  Licorice root is an efficient brain tonic; it increases the circulation into the CNS system and balance the sugar levels in the blood. Licorice has significant action on memory enhancing activity in dementia, it significantly improved learning and memory on scopolamine induced dementia.

  • Guduchi  (Tinospora root) (Jin Guo Lan) Herbs that Clear Heat and Eliminate Toxins, Bitter, Acrid, Mild, Lung, Large Intestine, Heart, Stomach, In India the juice of whole plant is used for cognitive function, and it is also used in the form of decoctions, powders.  It is used for anti stress,  neuroprotective properties, is a  rich source of zinc and Copper, it increases the blood profile and it enhances learning and memory.

  • Shankhapushpi  (Butterfly Pea)  In TCM: Purgative herbs that drain downward, Cold, Bitter, acrid, Large intestine, liver. Butterfly Pea makes big claims in Asia, for example, it is said to stop certain lung cancer cell lines, and it has anti tumor, properties, but in the west, this claims have to be more researched. In India is used as a fine paste of the whole plant and is considered an “intellect promoter”. An herbal formula containing Butterfly Pea significantly reversed social isolation stress. It is said to be reported be effective on Manasa-mandata (mental disability) and Chittodvega (anxiety disorders)

(I have added the TCM properties in italics.)

In practice a few more herbs are used with same aim of cognitive enhancement, but are mentioned elsewhere in the Ayurveda classical textbooks.

They are: 

Aindri (Moneywort) Jin Qian Cao. In India  macerated whole plant juice is used. Its  nootropic properties are said to be tranquilizing, sedative, and cognitive enhancing. It is also hepatoprotective, memory enhancing and antioxidant.

Jyothishmati (black oil plant) Deng You Teng. In India the seed oil is used, and it is used for its cognitive enhancing effects as well as its anti-arthritic properties.

Kushmanda (Wax gourd) Dong Gua Zi. Wax Gourd is cultivated throughout the plains of India as a vegetable. It has a tissue protective preventive effect on colchicine induced Alzheimer’s disease, according to some studies and it has shown significant results in the management of anxiety disorders.

Vacha (Calmus) Shi Chang Pu. Calmus has been used in Indian and Chinese system of medicine for hundreds of years to treat diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Traditionally it has been used for its analgesic and anticonvulsant, hepatoprotective, antioxidant, antimutagenic, sedative and hypothermic and anti psychotic effects.

Jatamamsi (Spikenard) Gan Song.  Spikenard belongs to Valerianaceae (Valerian) family. Its rhizome is used for medicinal purposes as it is to relieve psychiatric problems and and for its cognitive enhancing (nootropic) functions. The decoction of the herb is also used in neurological disorders, insomnia and disorders of cardiovascular system, and it is used to improve learning and memory.

Medhya Rasayana herbs are usually used in herbal formulas, but can be used alone too.

Available research so far supports the cognitive activities the Medhya Rasayana (nootropic) herbs, displaying antioxidant properties, apoptogenic and nootropic properties, and essential trace elements. More research needs to be done to evaluate how these herbs act on neurotransmitters, and to what extent they improve memory and intellect .

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