This week we have a guest article from Medical Herbalist, Hannah Charman to complete our series on brain inflammation and why stress and trauma are silent health assassins.

Hannah came to Herbal Medicine following her recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in her early teens. She qualified with an Honours Degree in Western Herbal Medicine in 1999 and has run a busy herbal practice ever since, specialising in chronic fatigue conditions. She works online from her home in south Shropshire where she lives with her partner and son.


We now know that we can alter the terrain within our bodies through dietary and lifestyle changes, steering ourselves away from chronic inflammation. It’s much better to do this before it starts to develop into a known health condition, so the sooner we start, the safer we’ll be. Besides optimising our nutrition, staying active, reducing our stress levels and making sure we get enough good sleep, we can use herbs to help protect ourselves, but first we need to understand a little about how herbs work.

How Herbal Medicines Work

In very simple terms, herbs work by nudging the body back towards health when it’s strayed into imbalance for whatever reason. They are our original and oldest source of medicine, and as effective today as they’ve always been. Each herb is an excellent multi-tasker, having several different actions on the body at the same time. Medical Herbalists categorise herbs into groups according to their main actions, whilst remembering their lesser ones, and when working with patients, we blend several herbs together depending on what’s needed at the time. But whilst it’s always best to look at the bigger picture when it comes to our health, it doesn’t always have to be that complicated! Here are a few herbs you could take at home to help protect yourself against brain inflammation.


Nervine herbs have a direct stimulating or relaxing action upon the nervous system. Whilst not all help directly to calm inflammation, they can be used indirectly, or to reduce the effects. German chamomile is one example you’ve probably heard of, traditionally used as a mild sedative and to aid restful sleep. More recently one study has found it useful in the long term treatment of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), helping to lower blood pressure and reduce weight at the same time. Another has found it effective in aiding sleep in older people,  and getting enough quality sleep we know is key in controlling inflammation in the brain.

Oats have been used for centuries to fortify and sustain us through times of stress. They help to balance blood sugar and were a staple food for Scottish clansmen and miners, both of whom needed considerable stamina. In herbal practice we often use green oats to treat those with nervous exhaustion and chronic stress, steering them back from that point where they simply can’t cope anymore. One 2015 trial found oats to significantly improve cognitive function in middle aged adults, so that working memory and word recall became much easier.  Oats are also high in beta glucans, a type of polysaccharide which helps to regulate immune function and reduce inflammation.

Rosemary has traditionally been associated with remembrance and memory, and in parts of Scotland a sprig is still placed on the coffin at funerals. It’s difficult not to feel uplifted after sniffing a Rosemary plant, or some essential oil, and one study has found that it improved memory, performance, anxiety and sleep quality in students. Rosemary is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to scavenge free radicals involved in the inflammatory process.  


Adaptogens work hand in hand with nervines, but in a more generic way. They’re characterised by their ability to help the body out of its stress response, even when a stressful situation is still ongoing. Since chronic stress creates the perfect storm for inflammation, it makes sense to use adaptogens to help buffer the effects. Obviously, using adaptogens is only part of the story, and if you can do anything else to make your life easier at the same time, do.

Holy Basil or Tulsi is a sacred and highly revered plant in India. As well as being a powerful adaptogen, it has some antiviral and antibacterial properties which are especially useful for inflammation resulting from infection. It has a long tradition of use with improving brain fog and cognitive function in Asia, and to aid recovery from head trauma. One 2013 study found it had a significant protective effect on human nerve cells, backing its traditional use.

Liquorice root is no longer so easy to find in sweet shops (sorry – Liquorice Allsorts don’t count!), but still readily available in many herbal teas. It conserves cortisol, the stress hormone which puts us on ‘high alert’ and tends to remain at high levels during chronic stress. By doing this, it helps to maintain better blood sugar balance, maintain a healthy weight and modulate immune function. It’s a key herb in most traditions of herbal medicine, but long term use should be avoided where there’s high blood pressure. Like tulsi, it has some neuroprotective action, helping to improve motor function following brain damage.

Anti Inflammatories

These work in a variety of ways, and are an obvious choice when trying to reduce inflammation. Perhaps one of the best known home remedies is turmeric. It works largely as an antioxidant, helping to scavenge free radicals and slow the effects of aging upon the brain. It’s long been used as a treatment for dementia, helping to improve nerve connectivity in the brain. Whilst it is effective, turmeric isn’t very bioavailable unless it’s consumed with oil and black pepper. It can be added to food or drink, or taken in higher doses as a supplement. Take care with turmeric if you already have quite a hot constitution, or you’re on blood thinning drugs.

Ginger also has a long history of use in Asian traditions as an anti-aging medicine, useful for treating arthritis, rheumatism, aches and pains, high blood pressure and constipation amongst others. It’s a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, with studies showing that it helps to protect the brain in those with diabetes. It can also reduce the build up of amyloid plaques we see in some forms of degenerative brain disease including Alzheimers Disease and Parkinsons.

Sage is traditionally associated with wisdom (we even use the term ‘Sage’ to describe a wise person!). Common sage, the type that you might use in your cooking, has been shown in one 2003 study to help manage mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Its neuroprotective properties were known about even in the Middle Ages. Medieval Herbalist, Thomas Culpeper, wrote in his book ‘Culpeper’s Herbal’ that sage " of excellent use to help the memory, warming and quickening the senses"Sage is also a powerful phytosterol, which helps to reduce the build up of amyloid plaques.

Other common garden and wild plants are also showing promising results as treatments for degenerative brain disease. Both Meadowsweet and Lady’s Mantle have proven antioxidant effects, helping to improve levels of tyrosine and acetylcholine which help to maintain good mental health in various ways.  

The Bigger Picture

If you’re worried that you’re already noticing early signs of brain inflammation, you could consider getting yourself properly assessed and treated by a Medical Herbalist. By doing that, you’ll be able to tackle all the underlying causes of any inflammation at the same time, not only with herbs, but with sound advice on nutrition and lifestyle changes too. Chronic inflammation can be linked to stress, leaky gut, lack of sleep, ongoing infection and many other factors, all of which can be helped by herbal medicine. Working with a Medical Herbalist can also help to ensure that you only take herbs which are safe and suitable for you.


>>> You can find out more about Hannah at, or via her Facebook page, PhysicHealthConsulting

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