Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri, Brahmi)

Water Hyssop - Background and History

The water hyssop is a perennial plant that is typically seen in very moist environments. Commonly considered a native of the Americas, water hyssop has also been found throughout the majority of the Asiatic continent, and even in large tracts of the African plains. Often taking on annual characteristics despite its perennial nature, the water hyssop can be a very hardy plant, and is able to survive in tropical and subtropical conditions, provided that they are given a good, constant source of water. Water hyssops are also highly prolific plants, and as such, it is considered a weed by some cultures. Unfortunately, getting rid of water hyssop is highly difficult, as they tend to spring up again despite protracted efforts at removal. The discarded parts itself, when not burnt or placed in a dry or arid place that lacks moisture, may readily thrive where it is dumped, especially if (mistakenly) thrown into shallow pools. Water hyssops are semi-aquatic to aquatic in nature, and a variety of species are now largely cultivated for its use as aquarium plants.

The nomenclature of the water hyssop can prove to be somewhat confusing from many individuals, especially those who have very little knowledge when it comes to botany. Despite the fact that it is referred to as the 'water hyssop' it is, in every respect, only related to the hyssop by appearance. Its Indian nomenclature 'brahmi' may cause further confusion, especially since it is not the only Ayurvedic plant which goes by that name - with more than five to six different plants (each of their own distinct species) that is called 'brahmi' by the locals.

True water hyssop regardless of the minor variances in its own genus is typically characterized by small to medium-sized leaves of a distinctly tough, leather to plastic-like quality that retains a slightly waxy exterior coat. While the majority of water hyssops are aquatic plants preferring to thrive in areas that are near large bodies of water (if not within the body of water itself), some varieties of water hyssop can survive partially well in well-landed areas, provided that they are planted in the shade and the soil be kept relatively moist. Other varieties of water hyssop are fully-aquatic plants in much the same vein as water lilies, which is why they are sought-after by aquarium hobbyists and landscape artists, as they make for the perfect hiding place for fishes and are non-toxic when nibbled upon. The water hyssop is further characterized by the presence of a singular white flower that grows from the middle of the axils of its tiny leaves. This flower, depending on the variety, may or may not have any discernable fragrance however those that are imbued with scent are the most prized medicinally as it is often employed in the creation of cosmetics. [1] The water hyssop is employed medicinally by a number of Asiatic countries, and, with its introduction into the West via the medium of Ayurvedic medicine, a decent following has also sprung up within the western practice of herbalism. Initially of Indian 'origin' in spite of being a native to the New World, it is typically employed whole, with the leaves, flowers, and roots of the plant being powdered and employed medicinally, either intermixed or separately (as each part has a distinct, albeit very subtle therapeutic property).

Common / Popular Uses

The water hyssop is commonly employed in Ayurvedic medicine, which in fact can be credited for its growing following in the West. Water hyssop (called 'brahmi'; not to be confused with other Ayurvedic herbs sharing the same moniker; i. e. gotu kola [Centella asiatica]) is typically called the 'king of all herbs'. Among the most common uses of water hyssop in Indian herbalism is as a hair tonic, said to encourage the growth of thicker and more lustrous hair, as well as in preventing premature greying. The creation of said hair tonic involves the often time-consuming drying and infusing of whole water hyssop leaves and flower petals in a large amount of coconut or almond oil. It is usually left to infuse for several weeks to up to a month, and then strained afterwards and re-bottled for use. This infused oil is beneficial not only for a healthy scalp and head of hair, but may be further employed to heal minor cuts and abrasions, as water hyssop has traditionally been considered a perfect remedy for all topical ailments. The oil or liniment made from a slow infusion of water hyssop can also be used to hasten the healing and prevent the possible scarification of more serious injuries. [2]

When employed fresh, the leaves may be pounded and applied directly to wounds and open ulcerations to stave off infection and facilitate in faster healing. Its highly astringent juice, when extracted through forceful maceration with a mortar and pestle and subsequently strained through a muslin cloth may be given to individuals as a safe (albeit gross-tasting) purgative. This juice may even be employed to induce vomiting and can prove helpful in the event of accidental poisoning (although extreme care should be taken when employing the plant for this purpose).

The whole dried part of the plant, when powdered and encapsulated may be employed as a quick remedy for asthma and bronchitis. Similarly, a very strong decoction of the fresh or dried leaves and flowers may be drunk thrice daily with meals to help relieve the discomforts brought about by bronchial infections and asthma attacks. Whether encapsulated or drunk as a tea, it also provides the extra benefit of soothing the whole body, keeping anxiety, stress, fatigue, and depression at bay. Milder decoctions of the whole plant may be employed as a diuretic or as a remedy for ulcers when taken in moderate doses for about a week or more. Tisanes made from an infusion of the dried leaves are typically drunk as a mental stimulant and nervine. [3] It may help to relieve jitters and panic-attacks, and may improve the overall outlook and well-being of individuals prone to psychosis. Whole encapsulated water hyssop has even been prescribed as a sedative and detoxifier to help recovering addicts wean themselves safely from addition, although its efficiency for such purposes has yet to be verified by leading scientific bodies outside of the context of folkloric usage.

Whole dried leaves may be mixed with soup-based dishes and consumed for its neurotonic, antioxidant, and immune-modulating benefits. Likewise, it may also be drunk as a tisane or decoction to obtain the same benefits, or otherwise consumed via its encapsulated form (a practice which is quite common for Western Ayurvedic enthusiasts). Water hyssop is now typically packed in encapsulated forms in Western alternative medicine stores and advertised as a memory enhancer, cardio-protective food supplement and brain tonic. In India, some parts of Arabia, the Philippines, and Malaysia however, water hyssop is still commonly harvested from either wild specimens or cultivars and employed in its unprocessed form.

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

Water hyssop has very limited use within the field of Western ceremonial magick, however it may typically be ascribed stimulatory and cleansing properties. Because the plant improves memory and mental ability, it may be employed as a tributary offering to deities or spirits that rule the mind (i. e. Hermes / Thoth / Ganesha). In Indian magick however, water hyssop is typically given as offerings to deities of love or prosperity. It is said that it provided protection when applied to one's person, and that oils infused with or derived from its associated parts would confer a heightened sense of peace on the applicator. In this respect, it may be used in the Western magickal context as a type of unction that may help to increase one's psychical and intuitive abilities. Within the shamanic context, it may be employed as an external and internal medicine for cleansing the body or casting away malignant influences, usually by employing the dried plant matter as a smudge. Furthermore, it may be employed in the creation of medicine pouches or mojo bags, with the typical intention being geared towards its employment as an aid to achieving academic excellence or renown. Because of its attributed relation to hyssop, it may be further employed in the creation of herbal purification sachet, either by itself or combined with a number of other well-known cleansing and purifying herbs.

Water hyssop is a relatively safe herb with no known adverse side effects despite prolonged and continuous use. As a general rule of safety however, individuals who are under specific antidepressant or sedative medications should first consult a health care professional prior to taking water hyssop in any form. Pregnant and nursing women should likewise lessen the consumption of the herb during pregnancy or lactation, or altogether cease it for the duration of their term.

Names of Water Hyssop, past and present

Chinese: pa-chi-t'ien
French: hysope d'eau
Spanish / Italian: bacopa / herba gracia / hierbe de grazia
Indian (various dialects): jal-brahmi / nira-brahmi / jalanimba
Sanskrit: sambrani chettu / andri
English: water hyssop / thyme-leaved gratiola / herb of grace / brahmi (adopted)
Filipino: bacopa (adopted) / ulasimang-aso
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Bacopa monnieri / Gratiola monnieria


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacopa_monnieri

[2] http://www.livestrong.com/article/128772-benefits-bacopa/

[3] http://www.stuartxchange.com/Ulasimang-aso.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.
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