Chinese Herbs for Clearer Thinking and Better Memory

Those of us in the “Baby Boomer” generation are fast approaching our ‘senior years.’

But we’re not going quietly.

This probably explains why so much research is going on related to the causes of aging and, more importantly, how to slow or even reverse it. An example of this is work being done by researchers of Chinese herbs. This is a rich field of study because many of the traditional herbs have specific effects on memory, thinking and emotional well-being.

A Modern Example

In classical Chinese Medicine, there are many poetically named herbal formulas. These names usually describe something about how the formula works.

For instance, the formula “Free and Easy Wanderer” (shao yao san) is commonly used for alleviating tension and stress when liver energy in the body is constrained.

More modern formulas don’t always follow this naming convention. Today I’ll be mentioning one of those formulas. It goes by the not-so-poetic name of DX-9386. But more important than the name is what’s in it and how effective it is for improving cognitive function.

There are four herbs in DX-9386:

  • Acori (Acori gramineus / chang pu)
  • Korean Ginseng (Panax Ginseng / ren shen)
  • Hoelen (Poria cocos / fu ling)
  • Polygala (Polygala tenuifola / yuan zhi)

Each of these herbs has specific actions on the body and the sum total of their effects amplifies the overall effect. Here’s the breakdown:

Acori – Chang pu is classically used to “open the orifices” of the brain, improve digestion, relieve joint and body pain, reduce swelling and calm the mind.

Acori’s action on the body is to reduce what is referred to as “phlegm.” The easy way to understand this idea is to compare it to the concept of “dampness” from Chinese Medicine.

Ideally, healthy fluids in the body are lively and free-flowing. When they become turgid and sticky it’s called dampness. The fluid in the body becomes more like syrup. The result is a sense of heaviness, stiffness, and cloudy thinking.

However, when this ‘syrup’ (dampness) thickens even more, it becomes phlegm. If you can imagine syrup becoming more like caramel, you get the picture.

Phlegm is very thick, sticky and extremely obstructive to normal body functions. Imagine if someone poured caramel into your brain and you can get the idea what phlegm does when it ‘mists the orifices of the brain.’ Acori helps clear the phlegm and restore normal function.

Ginseng – Most people have heard of ginseng, but not everyone knows exactly how it is used on Chinese Medicine. My proprietary herbal database lists 9 major functions of this herb ranging from increasing endurance to strengthening the immune system and helping fight cancer.

In terms of cognitive function, it is said to calm the mind, stabilize the emotions and increase wisdom and intelligence.

Modern research suggests that it increases nitric oxide and acetylcholine in the body, both of which increase brain activity and function. As a bonus, it also increases testosterone, lowers cholesterol and protects the brain from dopamine depletion.

Hoelen – This herb supports the reduction of dampness and phlegm. In addition, it increases energy in the body and improves mental clarity.

This is another herb that reduces cholesterol, as well as helps the body clear excess fluids from tissues. One of my teachers described its actions as being like squeezing water out of a sopping wet sponge.

Polygala – Another ‘open the orifices’ herb, polygala has a rich history of use in improving mental clarity. TCM author Ted Kaptchuk refers to classical writings in which it is described as effective for ‘supporting wisdom, helping memory, strengthening the will and doubling strength.’

Modern research finds it to be useful treating Alzheimer’s disease and improving short-term memory.

Putting It All Together

When these herbs are combined, their beneficial effects reinforce one another. The DX-9386 formula is being used for improving learning ability, helping increase short- and long-term memory and even slowing the aging process and extending life.

This formula isn’t commonly available in the West yet. In addition, there are a few situations in which it may not be suitable. I make customized formulas for patients based on their unique situation. This is the best way to get maximum benefit from this combination.

If you’re considering using DX-9386, I recommend you consult with your doctor first and work with someone trained in Chinese herbal medicine.


Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008

Park, C. H., et al. Novel cognitive improving and neuroprotective activities of Polygala tenuifolia Willdenow extract, BT-11. J Neurosci Res. 70(3):484-492, 2002.

Smriga, M., et al. Hoelen (Poria Cocos Wolf) and ginseng (Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer), the ingredients of a Chinese prescription (DX-9386), individually promote hippocampal long-term potentiation in vivo. Biol Pharm Bull. 18(4):518-522, 1995

Mohri, T., et al. Activation of PC12 cells by lipopholic components of Panax ginseng. Planta Medica. 58(4):321-323, 1992.

Kaptchuk, Ted, from a privately distributed audio tape of a lecture on improving lung health.

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