Bacopa monnieri, also known as water hyssop, water purslane or Brahmi, is a perennial herb used in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India, to treat a variety of ailments. The succulent plant grows natively in damp, marshy areas of India, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Taiwan, tropical South America and southern areas of the United States. In some areas, the plant is cultivated for its medicinal uses and gardeners in warm climates sometimes grow it as a ground cover for its attractive foliage and creeping growth habit.
The plant produces small, light-green, fleshy leaves and long-lasting white flowers striped in lavender, pink or blue nearly year round. As it is very adaptable, the plant can tolerate light foot traffic and even grows in water, which makes it a popular specimen for aquariums or ponds. In its native habitat, Bacopa monnieri often grows in meadows flooded with water up to 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) deep, where it creates thick masses and obscures the water's surface. The entire plant is used medicinally, including leaves, flowers and fruit.
According to Ayurveda, Bacopa monnieri possesses bitter, pungent, emetic, laxative and heating qualities, which make the herb useful for treating ulcers, tumors, indigestion, inflammation, anemia, parasites, blood disorders, diarrhea and fevers. Other common medicinal uses include treating asthma, epilepsy, memory loss, eczema, psoriasis, constipation, hair loss, bronchitis and rheumatism. The plant is also a powerful antioxidant and is believed to have anti-anxiety effects, likely because of its well-known sedative and tranquilizing properties.
Traditionally, Bacopa monnieri was used as an overall brain tonic to enhance learning, memory, mental clarity and concentration. Many modern over-the-counter memory enhancement supplements use the herb as their primary ingredient. It is used by students around the world to help improve study habits, as it increases natural memory capacity and motor learning ability. In India, the plant is used to consecrate newborn children in the hopes that it will increase their intelligence.
While there is no standard dosage of Bacopa monnieri for adults, tradition dictates that approximately ½ teaspoon to 1 ½ teaspoons (2.46 to 7.39 milliliters) of liquid extract per day is safe for adults over the age of 12. Based on traditional use, children over age 6 may benefit from taking around ½ teaspoon (2.46 milliliters) of liquid extract per day. No safe dosage has been indicated for children under the age of 6. Another method of consuming Bacopa monnieri is to take 3 to 5 grams (0.11 to 0.18 ounces) per day of the powdered herb in capsule form.
Bacopa monnieri should not be taken by individuals taking thyroid drugs, calcium channel blockers, sedatives or drugs metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes, as negative interactions could occur. Women who are pregnant or nursing should also avoid taking the herb, as possible effects are currently unknown. Mild and rare side effects of taking Bacopa monnieri may include nausea, dry mouth, thirst and fatigue. Irregular heartbeats have also been reported, so patients with heart conditions should take the herb with caution.