Glossary & References

BrainBalms is backed by certified scientific research.

We understand the importance of scientific research to show if and how a plant works in the brain. Here are supporting articles, definitions and references for our research.




is a key brain signal involved in attention and memory and it decreases as we age and in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s made from choline which is partly gained from the diet, so increasing choline in the diet (soy and quinoa are choline-rich plants) may increase acetylcholine levels. Sage, rosemary, kalonji and other plants increase acetylcholine, by blocking its breakdown thereby increasing its presence in the brain.


A chemical that builds up in the brain during the day inducing sleep that has other important roles such as in the cardiovascular system, pain management and disease. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine.


The brain’s main reward and pleasure neurotransmitter, though it’s also involved in other functions like addiction, motivation, movement and memory consolidation. Dopamine together with noradrenaline and serotonin is the target of some anti-depressants (less used now) which block the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) that breaks them down, and so increase their levels in the brain.

Essential oils

are the highly concentrated active aromatic portion of a plant. Extracted mostly naturally by steam distillation, they contain more than one active ingredient. They contain molecules small and oily enough to be absorbed easily through skin or inhaled and enter the bloodstream to reach our brain. Essential oil ingredients can have different effects, but it’s their combined effect that determines the action of the whole oil. They can be antibiotic, anticancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. But they can also reach the brain and act on neurotransmitters and receptors to produce calming, or sleep, memory and mood boosting effects. Many essential oils are given GRAS status for internal use in food products (though some essential oils can cause allergic reaction and some are phototoxic/toxic.


is the brain’s main calming (inhibitory) neurotransmitter. It blocks neuronal activity. Boosting its action induces feelings of calm and lowers anxiety. Benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs and a number of calming plants act to increase the efficiency of GABA (by modulating the GABAA receptor).


is the main excitatory transmitter in the brain and it stimulates (enhances) neuronal activity. It is involved in learning and memory and it is also a signal to block in order to calm and sedate. Linalool, the active ingredient in lavender and other calming plants, blocks glutamate (NMDA) receptors.


is part of the brain best known for its role in memory formation and consolidation. It is located in the temporal cortex and is named for its shape (hippocampus is Greek for seahorse).


is the brain’s main hormone involved in the sleep/wakefulness Serotonin the mood signal, is thought of as the brain’s primary mood-boosting transmitter associated with feelings of contentment and it’s one of the main pathways for the action of anti-depressant drugs, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).


Fruit and veg.; Feeney, Joanne; O’Leary, Neil; Moran, Rachel; O’Halloran, Aisling M.; Nolan, John M.; Beatty, Stephen et al. (2017): ‘Plasma lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with better cognitive function across multiple domains in a large population-based sample of older adults: Findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging.’ In The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glw330.

Chinese clubmoss.
Sun, Q.Q.; Xu, S.S.; Pan, J.L.; Guo, H.M.; Cao, W.Q. (1999): ‘Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.’ In Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao = Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 20 (7), pp.601–3. Xing, Shu-Huai; Zhu, Chun-Xiao.

Kongkeaw, Chuenjid; Dilokthornsakul, Piyameth; Thanarangsarit, Phurit; Limpeanchob, Nanteetip; Norman Scholfield, C. (2014): ‘Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract.’ In Journal of Ethnopharmacology 151 (1), pp.528–35. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.008.

Peppermint. Moss, Mark; Cook, Jenny; Wesnes, Keith; Duckett, Paul (2003): ‘Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults.’ In The International Journal of Neuroscience 113 (1), pp.15–38.

Black walnut. Arab, L.; Ang, A. (2015): ‘A cross-sectional study of the association between walnut consumption and cognitive function among adult US populations represented in NHANES.’ In The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 19 (3), pp.284–90. DOI: 10.1007/s12603-014-0569-2.

Whyte, Adrian R.; Schafer, Graham; Williams, Claire M. (2016): ‘Cognitive effects following acute wild blueberry supplementation in 7- to 10-year-old children.’ In European Journal of Nutrition 55 (6), pp.2151–62. DOI: 10.1007/s00394-015-1029-4.

Bin Sayeed, Muhammad Shahdaat; Shams, Tahiatul; Fahim Hossain, Sarder; Rahman, Md Rezowanur; Mostofa, Agm; Fahim Kadir, Mohammad et al. (2014): ‘Nigella sativa L. seeds modulate mood, anxiety and cognition in healthy adolescent males.’ In Journal of Ethnopharmacology 152 (1), pp.156–62. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.12.050.

Pengelly, Andrew; Snow, James; Mills, Simon Y.; Scholey, Andrew; Wesnes, Keith; Butler, Leah Reeves (2012): ‘Short-term study on the effects of rosemary on cognitive function in an elderly population.’ In Journal of Medicinal Food 15 (1), pp.10–17. DOI: 10.1089/jmf.2011.0005.

Lopresti, Adrian L. (2017): Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects. In Drugs in R&D 17 (1), pp. 53–64. DOI: 10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5.

Akhondzadeh, S.; Noroozian, M.; Mohammadi, M.; Ohadinia, S.; Jamshidi, A. H.; Khani, M. (2003): Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. In Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 28 (1), pp. 53–59.

Scholey, Andrew B.; Tildesley, Nicola T. J.; Ballard, Clive G.; Wesnes, Keith A.; Tasker, Andrea; Perry, Elaine K.; Kennedy, David O. (2008): An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers. In Psychopharmacology 198 (1), pp. 127–139. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-008-1101-3.

Founders sci studies on sage Perry, N. S.; Houghton, P. J.; Sampson, J.; Theobald, A. E.; Hart, S.; Lis-Balchin, M. et al. (2001): In-vitro activity of S. lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) relevant to treatment of Alzheimer's disease. In The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology 53 (10), pp. 1347–1356.

Perry, N.S.L.; Menzies, R.; Hodgson, F.; Wedgewood, P.; Howes, M.J.R.; Brooker, H.J.; Wesnes K.A.; Perry, E.K.; A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial of a combined extract of sage, rosemary and melissa, traditional herbal medicines, on the enhancement of memory in normal healthy subjects, including influence of age.

Do what you enjoy. People who enjoy (Lewis, 2017 Nathan lwe Carleton uni Canada)
Exercise and the brain. Sleep (Nedergaard, 2013; Maiken at the Unicerys of Cpopenhagen in Denmark).

Yakoot, Mostafa; Helmy, Sherine; Fawal, Kamal (2011): ‘Pilot study of the efficacy and safety of lettuce seed oil in patients with sleep disorders.’ In International Journal of General Medicine 4, pp.451–6. DOI: 10.2147/IJGM.S21529.

Yan, Ming-Zhu; Chang, Qi; Zhong, Yu; Xiao, Bing-Xin; Feng, Li; Cao, Fang-Rui et al. (2015): ‘Lotus leaf alkaloid extract displays sedative-hypnotic and anxiolytic effects through GABAA receptor.’ In Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 63 (42), pp.9277–85. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b04141.

Lin, Yan; Wang, Xiao-yun; Ye, Ren; Hu, Wan-hua; Sun, Shu-chen; Jiao, Hong-juan et al. (2013): ‘Efficacy and safety of Wuling capsule, a single herbal formula, in Chinese subjects with insomnia: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.’ In Journal of Ethnopharmacology 145 (1), pp.320–7. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.11.009. Ni, Xiaojia; Shergis, Johannah Linda; Guo, Xinfeng; Zhang, Anthony Lin; Li, Yan; Lu, Chuanjian; Xue, Charlie Changli (2015): ‘Updated clinical evidence of Chinese herbal medicine for insomnia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.’ In Sleep Medicine 16 (12), pp.1462–81. DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2015.08.012.

Mexican calea
Mayagoitia, L.; Díaz, J. L.; Contreras, C.M. (1986): ‘Psychopharmacologic analysis of an alleged oneirogenic plant: Calea zacatechichi.’ In Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18 (3), pp.229–43.

Yang, Hyejin; Woo, Junsung; Pae, Ae Nim; Um, Min Young; Cho, Nam-Chul; Park, Ki Duk et al. (2016): ‘α-Pinene, a major constituent of pine tree oils, enhances non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice through GABAA-benzodiazepine receptors.’ In Molecular Pharmacology 90 (5), pp.530–9. DOI: 10.1124/mol.116.105080.

Fernández-San-Martin, Maria Isabel; Masa-Font, Roser; Palacios-Soler, Laura; Sancho-Gomez, Pilar; Calbo-Caldentey, Cristina; Flores-Mateo, Gemma (2010): ‘Effectiveness of valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.’ In Sleep Medicine 11 (6), pp.505–11. DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2009.12.009. Poyares, Dalva R.; Guilleminault, Christian; Ohayon, Maurice M.; Tufik, Sergio (2002): ‘Can valerian improve the sleep of insomniacs after benzodiazepine withdrawal?’ In Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 26 (3), pp.539–45.

Salter, Shanah; Brownie, Sonya (2010): ‘Treating primary insomnia – the efficacy of valerian and hops.’ In Australian Family Physician 39 (6), pp.433–7. Schmitz, M.; Jackel, M. (1998): ‘Comparative study for assessing quality of life of patients with exogenous sleep disorders (temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders) treated with a hops-valerian preparation and a benzodiazepine drug.’ In Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift 148 (13), pp.291–8.

Howrey, Bret T.; Peek, M. Kristen; McKee, Juliet M.; Raji, Mukaila A.; Ottenbacher, Kenneth J.; Markides, Kyriakos S. (2016): ‘Chamomile consumption and mortality: a prospective study of Mexican origin older adults.’ In The Gerontologist 56 (6), pp.1146–52. DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnv051. Zick, Suzanna M.; Wright, Benjamin D.; Sen, Ananda; Arnedt, J. Todd (2011): ‘Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study.’ In BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 11, p.78. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-78.

Cao, Jie-Xin; Zhang, Qing-Ying; Cui, Su-Ying; Cui, Xiang-Yu; Zhang, Juan; Zhang, Yong-He et al. (2010): ‘Hypnotic effect of jujubosides from Semen Ziziphi Spinosae.’ In Journal of Ethnopharmacology 130 (1), pp.163–6. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.03.023. Ma, Yuan; Han, Huishan; Eun, Jae Soon; Kim, Hyoung Chun; Hong, Jin-Tae; Oh, Ki-Wan (2007): ‘Sanjoinine A isolated from Zizyphi Spinosi Semen augments pentobarbital-induced sleeping behaviors through the modification of GABA-ergic systems.’ In Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 30 (9), pp.1748–53. Rodriguez Villanueva, Javier; Rodriguez Villanueva, Laura (2017): ‘Experimental and clinical pharmacology of Ziziphus jujuba Mill.’ In Phytotherapy Research : PTR 31 (3), pp.347–65. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5759.

California poppy
Hanus, Michel; Lafon, Jacqueline; Mathieu, Marc (2004): ‘Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia [sic] californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders.’ In Current Medical Research and Opinion 20 (1), pp.63–71. DOI: 10.1185/030079903125002603. Rolland, A.; Fleurentin, J.; Lanhers, M.C.; Misslin, R.; Mortier, F. (2001): ‘Neurophysiological effects of an extract of Eschscholzia californica Cham. (Papaveraceae).’ In Phytotherapy Research : PTR 15 (5), pp.377–81.

Wild cherry
Garrido, M.; González-Gómez, D.; Lozano, M.; Barriga, C.; Paredes, S. D.; Rodriguez, A. B. (2013): ‘A Jerte valley cherry product provides beneficial effects on sleep quality. Influence on aging.’ In The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 17 (6), pp.553–60. DOI: 10.1007/s12603-013-0029-4. Howatson, Glyn; Bell, Phillip G.; Tallent, Jamie; Middleton, Benita; McHugh, Malachy P.; Ellis, Jason (2012): ‘Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.’ In European Journal of Nutrition 51 (8), pp.909–16. DOI: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7.

Khan, Abdul Waheed; Khan, Arif-Ullah; Ahmed, Touqeer (2016): ‘Anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and sedative activities of Verbena officinalis.’ In Frontiers in Pharmacology 7, p.499. DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00499.

Archontogeorgis, K.; Nena, E.; Papanas, N.; Zissimopoulos, A.; Voulgaris, A.; Xanthoudaki, M. et al. (2017): ‘Vitamin D levels in middle-aged patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome.’ In Current Vascular Pharmacology. DOI: 10.2174/1570161115666170529085708. Wang, Fang; Eun-Kyoung Lee, Othelia; Feng, Fan; Vitiello, Michael V.; Wang, Weidong; Benson, Herbert et al. (2016): ‘The effect of meditative movement on sleep quality: A systematic review.’ In Sleep Medicine Reviews 30, pp.43–52. DOI: 10.1016/j.smrv.2015.12.001.