THE brain’s one hundred billion cells make trillions of connections and fire off electrical currents travelling up to 300 miles an hour, even as it is getting the body to do the seemingly simplest of tasks.

So how on earth do you soothe this incomparable feat of natural engineering – treat the catalogue of problems that can go wrong with it – the natural way?

Well, mother and daughter team Elaine and Nicolette Perry, the former an emeritus professor in the field of neuroscience and the latter experienced in the art of pharmacognosy, the science of obtaining medicinal drugs from plants, can provide at least some of the answers.

They are also founder and director respectively of the renowned Dilston Physic Garden, on the outskirts of Corbridge.

Their collaborative book Botanical Brain Balms: medicinal plants for memory, mood and mind is hot off the press and, in itself, a route to relaxation from page one.

Beautifully written and produced and published by Filbert Press, it is accessible, digestible and brimful with facts, folklore and recommendations.

A quote from Galen of Pergamon, Greek physician and philosopher during the days of the Roman Empire, sets the tone: ‘Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health.’

Hippocrates before him said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food’ and the Perrys expand on that theme, educating as they go.

Why take botanical brain balms? they begin. The answer: they work in a different way to conventional medicine because plant extracts are ‘multi-drugs’, meaning they contain a range of ingredients, each bearing different health benefits, unlike single drug medicines.

The duo say: ‘The World Health Organisation recognises the use of herbal medicine in developing (and increasingly developed) countries as an essential component of primary healthcare.

‘Traditional plant medicines, as long as they are produced, prescribed and used correctly, have a long legacy of safe use simply because they have been taken for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

‘Most plant medicines have fewer side effects compared to chemical drugs, and some have none at all.’

What they do have though, and often to great effect, is the ability to boost cognition, promote sleep, banish the blues and relieve pain, they say.

Fifty-six plants are included in the book – those with the greatest weight of science behind them going first. In the chapter ‘Cognition boosters’ the duo come into their own.

In recent years, Nicolette’s interest in using sage to treat Alzheimer’s triggered a collaborative investigation with Newcastle University into the benefits of the herb to the central nervous system.

Elaine, meanwhile, has written and contributed to more than 400 papers on the brain, on subjects such as Alzheimer’s, cognition and hallucinations.

The top eight plants they say nurture our powers of cognition are sage, peppermint, rosemary, the exotic bacopa, clubmoss, nigella, walnut and blueberry.

Clubmoss is an interesting one. It took the world by storm 50 years ago, but the Chinese had been turning it into a curative cup of tea for at least 1,000 years before that. It calmed inflammation and fever and improved memory, they have long believed.

Recent clinical studies have indeed confirmed that it contains an active ingredient huperzine which, in the 1990s, was approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

And when it comes to blueberries, they are one of the most important contributions made by Native Americans to world plant medicine.

Many countries now regard the little blue things as one of the top health foods, due to the fact they contain high concentrations of the phenolic acids that are antioxidants.

Eat the fresh berries, juice, freeze or dry them, or bake them into fragrant blueberry and walnut muffins using the recipe in the book – just one of the many tasty ideas for getting the good stuff down you.

Taste-bud ticklers:

In a clinical trial an active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, was given to 60 people for six weeks. It was found to be as effective as the conventional antidepressant fluoxetine.

The benefits of European sage, used since the 16th century to improve memory, attention span and mood, have also been confirmed in a clinical study.

Rosemary, dark chocolate and bananas contain blues-busting chemicals, with lavender and St John’s wort in particular said to tackle depression and fatigue.

Pain relievers include the well-known arnica (the anti-inflammatory plant medicine and not the homeopathic variety), cannabis, feverfew and cayenne pepper.

Plants that combat mental fatigue and restore energy include liquorice, garlic, nettle and ginger. The book contains a recipe for nettle and wild garlic soup.