An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘neurological herbs’

Ginkgo biloba enhances brain and circulatory function

In the realm of long-lived trees, Ginkgo is among the oldest. Some Ginkgos in East Asia are more than 4,000 years old. This tree’s method of longevity provides answers for humanity’s alchemical anti-aging quest.

Ginkgo biloba's beautiful fan-shaped leaves turn canary-yellow in fall. The leaves turn from tip to stem.

Ginkgos’ abundance in antioxidant flavonoids can serve humans when they ingest them, but they are vital to the plant’s developed ability to protect itself from environmental stressors. Flavonoid compounds predominate in the surface of plants serving as an exterior structure, counteracting oxidative stress from pollutants and, more interestingly, acting as communication molecules, much like our own hormones, to warn the plant of threats.

Current research suggests plant flavonoid compounds can communicate with human hormone receptor-sites and actually lower cortisol, a primary hormone associated with stress.

Through multiple mechanisms Ginkgo enhances brain function. Ginkgo has been shown to actually support and enhance the function of neural tissue by protecting neurons from damage, and also regenerating neurons.

Ginkgo leaves protect the brain and cardivascular system from oxidative stress, and actually enhances brain function.

In a college town, many can identify with the consequences of burning the candle at both ends: forgetfulness, depression, general cerebral insufficiency. Ginkgo is used to restore brain function in generally healthy adults experiencing mental exhaustion or attention deficit.

Research shows Ginkgo has prevented beta-amyloid plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and has enhanced neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a significant memory area of the brain.

Ginkgo’s circulatory support enhances the blood flow by preventing damaging oxidation to lipids, or fats, in the arteries and capillaries. Studies show Ginkgo-treated red blood cells become more slippery and flexible, less sticky, which ultimately prevents atherosclerosis.

Ginkgo didn’t become internationally known for circulatory and brain support until German physician Dr. Willmar Schwabe studied its effect on circulation, oxidation and brain health. Schwabe’s extract is known as EGB761, and is the reason why Ginkgo is the most studied plant medicine in Europe.

Currently, controversial banter exists between one camp claiming the only therapeutic benefits from Ginkgo leaves can be obtained from laboratory-isolated compounds, and standardized extracts of 24 percent ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6 percent erpene lactones. The other camp states harvested young leaves from “wild” trees also are effective in supporting brain and circulatory health.

Traditional Chinese medicine utilized the seeds, which are more like nuts, more than the leaves, and each part offers different medicinal properties. The seeds are removed from the stinky flesh of the female fruit, then cooked, and utilized for lung ailments. A Chinese restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area serves Ginkgo seeds as a tasty appetizer.

Antioxidants within Ginkgos provide the power to withstand urban pollution, and grant them the approved status of acceptable trees for city streets. If they’re male, that is. Female fruits smell like rotting flesh in order to attract animals to serve as seed distributors. Although this works for the tree, it’s off-putting for the human olfactory senses.

Ginkgos offer a gloriously uniform, canary-yellow brilliance in the fall, which flutter down, covering the sidewalks, so that above and below is completely gold. During this mesmerizing phenomenon, it is the best week to be strolling through downtown Athens.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

Holy basil as an antistress adaptogen

The Restorative Peace Tea Formula: Holy Basil, Wood Betony, Skullcap, Passionflower, Hibiscus and Calendula

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), also called tulsi, has been used in India for over 3,000 years, and is rapidly increasing in popularity in America. Hindus grow the holy basil plant in a prominent place in their courtyard or home, and consider the herb to be sacred to the god Vishnu. During morning and evening prayers, holy basil, which is reputed to have cleansing energy, is used to bring health and spiritual purity to the one in prayer and his or her family.

When I lived in Maryland, I frequented an Indian grocery store where the owner grew a holy basil plant in his store for spiritual purposes. Being one who’s interested in people’s relationship to plants, I asked the owner about his plant. He told me it was for health and good luck.

Though some Americans carry on the Hindu spiritual tradition with holy basil, the herb’s medicinal popularity is mostly due to its qualities as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are a special class of herbs which, in addition to dietary and lifestyle practices, have the ability to help people cope with stress physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The individual herbs within the adaptogen class are not one-size-fits-all. Each herb has qualities suitable to certain individuals’ physical, emotional, mental and spiritual responses to stressors.

As an adaptogen, holy basil is being used internally for its antistress effects. Holy basil is used to protect neurons from the negative effects of stress, and also to reduce stress-related secretion of the hormone cortisol, which is a necessary hormone involved in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal cortex negative feedback loop, but sustained, high levels of cortisol release can cause health problems over time.

One of the responsibilities of cortisol is at the tail-end of an illness; cortisol levels will increase to signal to the immune system to “cease-fire”. During periods of stress, cortisol levels also go up. In the case of excess cortisol secretion during stressful times, the immune system is lowered, making one more susceptible to getting sick. Also, the reserves of energy we have to get us through stressful times becomes drained, or depleted, which needs to be restored in order to decelerate the aging process, and health problems associated with aging.

Holy basil has many other health-promoting uses. It contains antioxidants, and can protect against radiation. In a randomized placebo-controlled single blind clinical trial of people with non-insulin-dependent-diabetes-melitius (NIDDM), holy basil showed a hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) effect on fasting and postprandial (after eating) blood sugar levels, and suggests holy basil for adjunct therapy for NIDDM.

Holy basil has a wonderful, smooth flavor, and makes a really great tea, which is why it’s an ingredient in my Restorative Peace Tea formula. Though related to the culinary sweet basil and Thai basil, holy basil is less of a cooking herb–though you can cook with it, and there are recipes out there for it.

Last year I began growing holy basil from a couple of plants I bought. I saved the seeds over the winter, and sowed them this spring. Now I have 30 or 40 holy basil plants. It’s that easy. Hindus plant the the seeds in blessed soil, and water it with sacred water. I confess that I didn’t go through any added ritualistic measures with my holy basil plants, but I love them, and I think they know that. I sprinkle them with Espoma Plant-Tone fertilizer for organic gardening. They really respond to it.

A species of holy basil (Ocimum gratissium) is considered very invasive in some places, such as Hawaii, so be careful with which variety you get.

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