The Benefits of Bacopa
Bacopa, or Bacopa monnieri, is an incredible rejuvenating herb traditionally used to support the brain and nervous system. This small, creeping perennial plant is one of two powerful herbs often referred to as brahmi and has been used for centuries to promote memory, intelligence, and concentration.
Considered a nootropic, bacopa benefits the physical function of the brain and nervous system, while also promoting mental clarity, awareness, and emotional equanimity.
In this article:
- Characteristics of the Bacopa Plant
- Understanding the Name: Bacopa and Brahmi
- Bacopa Monnieri Uses and Benefits
- Bacopa and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
- How to Take Bacopa
- Modern Research and Bacopa Studies
- Is Bacopa Safe?
- Growing and Harvesting Bacopa
Bacopa is a perennial creeping herb that grows in damp soils and marshes throughout the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, as well as other warm, tropical parts of the world such as Madagascar, the Caribbean, South America, and Hawaii.
The bacopa plant has small, succulent green leaves with beautiful white flowers. It grows in a low, sprawling pattern along the ground, similar to the way the nervous system spreads in endless branching tendrils throughout the body. This “doctrine of signatures” speaks to bacopa’s powerful benefits for the health of the brain and nervous system.
In Sanskrit, bacopa is known as jalabrahmi, which means “water brahmi,” referring to its preference for growing in wet, boggy environments. 1 For the same reason, it is also known in English as water hyssop.
Speaking of bacopa’s various names, there can often be some confusion for those seeking the herb brahmi. “Brahmi” has been used to describe two distinct Ayurvedic herbs—Centella asiatica and Bacopa monnieri—and brahmi is a fitting name for both.
In Vedic philosophy, Brahman is the Sanskrit name for the universal consciousness and brahmi is a derivation of Brahman that literally means "energy of universal consciousness."2 Both of the herbs that bear the name brahmi are thought to promote subtle awareness and sattva (the pure essence of consciousness).
Both herbs are also highly revered for their mind-enhancing properties and for their support of the nervous system. The fact that these two herbs have very similar qualities and actions only adds to the confusion that exists around them. But both herbs can correctly and appropriately be referred to as brahmi.
To some extent, the dual use of the name brahmi can be understood by simple geography: in southern India, “brahmi” refers to Bacopa monnieri, and in Northern India, it is Centella asiatica that is commonly known as “brahmi.”3
In the west, Centella asiatica is also widely known by its Singhalese name, “gotu kola.”4 To make matters even more complicated, each of these herbs has two Latin binomial names: Centella asiatica is synonymous with Hydrocotyle asiatica and Bacopa monnieri is synonymous with Herpestes monniera.
While it’s true that the names of these two herbs vary between teachers and geographic regions, the founders of Banyan Botanicals were educated in a tradition that reserves the name “brahmi” for gotu kola (Centella asiatica). For the sake of clarity and simplicity, we therefore offer this herb as “brahmi/gotu kola” and refer to Bacopa monnieri simply as “bacopa.”
To learn more about the other herb known as “brahmi” and how it can support your health, check out our article on brahmi/gotu kola benefits and uses.
Overall, bacopa offers an impressive list of benefits for the body, mind, and emotions. While best known for supporting the mind and nervous system, bacopa also has a strong affinity for the lymph, blood, skin, and joints, as well as the circulatory and digestive systems. 5
Here are a few more benefits this incredible herb has to offer:
- Mental Strength and Fortitude. Bacopa has been revered for ages as one of the top brain tonics in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia. It has been used for centuries in Ayurveda to strengthen memory and intellect while supporting focus and concentration. 6
- A Calm Mind and Nervous System. Balancing and rejuvenating for the nervous system, bacopa can help ease occasional anxiousness while supporting awareness, emotional stability, and an internal state of calm. 7
- Stable Energy and Sound Sleep. As one of Ayurveda’s beloved adaptogenic herbs, bacopa can adapt to what the body needs, improving daytime alertness and focus while reducing stress throughout the system and improving the quality of sleep at night. 8
- Healthy Blood, Hair, Skin, and Joints. Bacopa is energetically cooling (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), meaning that it can promote comfortable joint movement, healthy blood, lustrous hair, and a clear complexion. 9
Bacopa has a strong affinity for balancing pitta dosha, which often manifests as excess heat in the body (and particularly the blood). Calming and soothing to pitta, bacopa’s sweet elements can further bring strength, tone, and rejuvenation to several areas of the body, including the blood, hair, joints, and skin. 10
Bacopa for the Mind
As you may be gathering by now, bacopa is a no-brainer when it comes to brain health! It is said to improve the quality of sadhaka pitta, which is closely related to the intellect, and, as a tonic for the mind, it is indicated in a broad range of mental imbalances—both behavioral and developmental. 12
But bacopa’s sattvic nature extends beyond just the physical benefits of enhanced memory and brain function. It supports and nourishes the entire channel of the mind—directly influencing the quality of consciousness and promoting calm, subtle awareness.
For this reason, bacopa is often used to support meditation, increase clarity, and connect to a sense of spirit beyond just the physical realm. And because Ayurveda illuminates an intimate connection between the heart and the mind, bacopa also serves as a nourishing tonic for the heart.
Bacopa for the Nervous System
Calming and stabilizing to the system as a whole, it is also gently stimulating and energizing thanks to its adaptogenic properties, which help the body and mind cope with external stressors. 14
Bacopa can be used both internally and externally, or even enjoyed fresh from the garden. Whether you are seeking to increase your mental acuity and concentration or looking for a way to relax and calm your nerves, there are many ways to incorporate this supportive herb into your routine.
How to Take Bacopa Internally
Bacopa Powder. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the most traditional way to take the herb is by taking Bacopa powder with a carrier substance or anupan such as water, milk, or ghee. This method of consumption allows you to experience the taste of the herb, which can support the biomechanical process of digestion and absorption.
Bacopa Liquid Extract. Liquid extracts provide a convenient and fast-acting way to take herbs, as this concentrated preparation requires less digestive effort and moves quickly and efficiently into the bloodstream. Our Bacopa extract is easy to carry with you for the moments that you need a little extra boost of clarity and calm.
Focus Liquid Extract. Combining bacopa with other brain-boosting herbs like brahmi/gotu kola, gingko, and shankhapushpi, Focus liquid extract offers a powerful way to enhance cognitive function, promote concentration, and keep your mind centered and clear.
Mental Clarity Tablets. This ready-made, easy-to-take herbal formula helps sharpen the mind and improve mental performance. Bacopa is just one of many herbs in Mental Clarity traditionally used to support optimal function of the brain and nervous system.
Elevated Adaptogens. A powdered blend of adaptogenic herbs and superfoods, Elevated Adaptogens supports the entire body with rejuvenation and balanced energy. The bacopa in the formula specifically targets the tissues of the brain and nervous system.
How to Take Bacopa Externally
Brahmi Oil. This traditional Ayurvedic oil blend features bacopa and brahmi/gotu kola and is an excellent way to absorb the many benefits of both herbs through massage. Both of Banyan's varieties of Brahmi Oil can make terrific additions to your daily abhyanga (self-massage with oil) to calm and soothe the nervous system.
- Brahmi Sesame Oil features a nutrient-rich and moisturizing base of sesame oil. It is great for all doshas, especially vata and kapha.
- Brahmi Coconut Oil is more cooling than the sesame version, making it an ideal choice for pitta dosha.
Both oils also provide a nourishing way to take bacopa at night, supporting deep and restful sleep when massaged and worked into the scalp before bedtime.
How to Eat Bacopa
While bacopa may not be common in every household garden, it can certainly be cultivated and grown to eat in a variety of ways. As long as it gets lots of water, it will grow well in most warm and humid climates.
Bacopa’s benefits for the brain and nervous system have been garnering attention in recent years, even beyond the world of Ayurveda. Below are a few studies highlighting this herb’s effects:
- “The effectiveness of Bacopa monnieri (Linn.) Wettst. as a Nootropic...” Scientific Reports. PubMed Extract. January 2021. 16
- “Neuroprotection with Bacopa monnieri—A Review of Experimental Evidence.” Molecular Biology Reports. PubMed Abstract. March 2021. 17
- “Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa Monnieri.” Rejuvenation Research. PubMed Extract. August 2013. 18
- “The Neurocognitive Effects of Bacopa Monnieri and Cognitive Training on Markers of Brain Microstructure in Healthy Older Adults.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Feb 2021. 19
- “Meta-Analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. ScienceDirect. January 2014. 20
As a plant that is nourishing and rejuvenating for the brain and nervous system, bacopa is generally considered safe and beneficial. Due to its bitter and cooling properties, it may aggravate vata if used in excess.
Bacopa is not recommended for those who are pregnant or nursing. If you are taking medications, we recommend speaking to your doctor or Ayurvedic practitioner before taking bacopa. Avoid this herb if there are known allergies to Bacopa monnieri or other members of the Figwort family. 21
Bacopa Side Effects
While bacopa is generally considered quite safe, uncommon adverse effects may include dry mouth, fatigue, nausea, indigestion, and increased regularity of bowel movements. 22
Is Bacopa Safe for Kids?
Like many Ayurvedic herbs, bacopa can be used by healthy children above the age of two who occasionally need a little extra support. However, we always recommend working with a practitioner to determine whether bacopa is appropriate for your child.
Banyan’s organic bacopa is grown in partnership with a small farm in Gujarat, India, where our farm team works with a local farmer to plant, cultivate, and harvest this water-loving plant.
Though the farm owner was originally skeptical about growing bacopa, when he saw the prolific growth of the plant within a few months, he was keen to continue growing and supplying this herb to Banyan.
Grown and harvested year-round, bacopa is gathered using a manual hand sickle technique and then dried out in the open air. At Banyan, we use the leaf of the plant. Once the leaves are fully dried, they are packaged in bags and outsourced from the farm to be milled into powder.
Traditionally collected from the wild, Banyan’s team has worked with local farmers to create farm-grown, sustainable cultivation of bacopa, ensuring that it is grown in organic soils and irrigated with the purest water.
Luckily, bacopa is not in danger of overharvesting or extinction at this time. But as a part of the larger conversation regarding the sustainability of Ayurvedic herbs, it is important to understand where and how plants are grown and harvested.
As a general practice, we ensure sustainability by sourcing the botanicals used in our products from privately owned farms where each plant has been cultivated or harvested from legal wild-craft sourcing.
Our herbs and ingredient-producing plants are harvested at optimal times, using environmentally sustainable practices that take into account the long-term health of the plants.