Growing Bacopa (Brahmi)
Bacopa monnieri – also known as brahmi — is a low-growing plant with thick leaves that thrives in swampy areas of India as well other tropical countries, including much of the southern United States. In Ayurveda, brahmi means “that which aids knowledge of Supreme Reality.” Other herbs, specifically gotu kola (Centella asiatica) can be called brahmi as well, but the bacopa is most often called by that spiritual name.
To confuse growers even more, bacopa is very large family of plants that includes flowering ornamentals sold at major nurseries. Those plants, however, may not have the same growing requirements as this medicinal herb. Typically, its water requirements are much higher than most of the ornamentals and it thrives in partly sunny locations as well as full sun.
In the southern U.S., Bacopa monnieri is a native plant known as water hyssop. It’s very fast-growing and easy to propagate because tiny roots spring from leaf nodes in good growing conditions. It has small bluish-white blooms for most of the year. While it’s a bog plant and grows happily in standing water (even aquariums), it also can be used in hanging baskets as long as it is watered often.
It does not tolerate freezing temperatures and does not seem to be affected by most pests or diseases. However, it is the larval food for the white peacock butterfly. If you grow outside, minimize the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer that produces lush new growth caterpillars prefer. It also is a fabulous houseplant — we had some growing in a kitchen window where it was easy to snip a piece. It has a bitter taste somewhat reminiscent of watercress and can be added to salad or a smoothie.
Most herbalists recommend eating about three to four grams of brahmi per day to see benefits. It also can be prepared as a tea and sweetened with stevia or honey. It’s known as “brain food” both for its traditional uses and more recent clinical studies that show it has a positive effect on learning and memory recall. A meta-analysis published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Ethnopharmacology “suggests that Bacopa monnieri has the potential to improve cognition, particularly speed of attention”. Like neem, it’s packed with antioxidants that help to combat the free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
As always, avoid using any herb if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to conceive a child without the specific advice of a healthcare professional.