Is This Common Herb the Perfect Food for Your Brain?

Is This Common Herb the Perfect Food for Your BrainHerbs are great for adding zest and flavor to foods. But one herb in particular—sage—also has health value as a brain food, which makes it a great addition to anti-aging nutrition plans. Sage leaves have traditionally been used medicinally to soothe swelling from sprains and other joint pain. It has also been used in aromatherapy to help ease aches, calm the nervous system, and relieve anxiety.

In addition to its many healing powers, sage is great brain food because of the natural oils that it contains. Researchers in the U.K. put it to the test by evaluating the effect it had on the cognitive abilities of 36 healthy adults. Each participant was given either sage in the form of a capsule or a placebo, before completing a series of mental tests. It turned out that the group who took the sage capsule performed better than the placebo group—the greatest improvement was seen only an hour after taking the brain food. If that isn’t enough to convince you that sage is a brain food, here’s some more evidence. Essential oils made from sage have been proven to reduce fatigue and increase alertness.

Sage, particularly the essential oil derived from it, makes for good brain food because its primary component is terpenoids, the organic compounds that give the herb its pungent aroma. Terpenoids are pretty much brain food in their own right because of the reactions they produce in your body.

Here’s how it works. We have a neurotransmitter in our nervous system called acetylcholine, which helps with important cognitive functions like memory and judgment—for example, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have less acetylcholine. There are also certain enzymes that break down the acetylcholine, thus reducing the level of this important neurotransmitter in your body. Terpenoids are brain food because they step in and actually inhibit the release of these enzymes. So, in effect, eating more sage gives you more acetylcholine, and more acetylcholine means stronger mental function—the perfect brain food equation.

The good thing about brain food like sage is that it’s easily accessible. Sage essential oil is usually what draws the most nutritional value out of the brain food, although it couldn’t hurt to sprinkle some of the fresh herb on your next meal. The oil can be found in many local health stores. Another option is to steep tea using fresh sage leaves—just boil them, strain, and sip. From brain food to brain juice, sage tea can help clear your mind and relieve nerves.