Glossary & References

BrainBalms is backed by certified scientific research.

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




Acetylcholine is a key brain signal or neurotransmitter, involved in attention, memory and consciousness itself. Acetylcholine naturally decreases as we age and it is it's cholinergic system which is the main system affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
Acetylcholine is made from choline which is partly gained from the diet, so increasing choline in the diet (for example soy and quinoa are choline-rich plants) may increase acetylcholine levels. There are medicinal plants that contain bioactive compounds that increase acetylcholine by stopping it being broken down at the synapse, the space between brain cells, and so hold it in this space for longer. European sage, rosemary, kalonji, oregano are key medicinal plants that do this.


Adenosine is a chemical that builds up in the brain during the day to make us feel sleepy and inducing sleep. It has other important roles such as in the cardiovascular system, pain management and disease. Caffeine in our morning coffee blocks the action of adenosine, thereby keeping us awake for longer. There are bioactive compounds in, for example, the medicinal plant valerian that are shown to increase adenosine, thereby helping us fall alseep.


Dopamine is a key reward and pleasure neurotransmitter in the brain and is involved in other functions like addiction, motivation, movement and memory consolidation. Dopamine together with noradrenaline and serotonin is the target of some anti-depressants which block the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) that breaks these chemicals down, and so increase their levels in the brain. There are ingredients in some medicinal plants that increase dopamine by blocking MOA, and so can help improve our mood.

Essential, aromatic or volatile oil

Essential oils are the highly concentrated extracts of an aromatic medicinal plant. They are volatile, which means that they can enter our blood through our respiratory system. Extracted mostly naturally by natural steam distillation, a single oil can contains 3 to 4 main bioactive ingredients, though they can contain up to 200 different compounds. Essential oils contain small oil loving molecules, called terpenoids, and so they are easily absorbed via our skin on topical application or via our respiratory system on inhalation to enter our bloodstream. Their small size also means they easily cross the blood brain barrier to enter the brain an act on different brain signals, receptors and ion channels to produce their effects. If you were to inhale an essential oil and then have a sample of your blood taken you would find these active molecules present in your blood. 
Different terpenoids can have a range of specific effects, from calming to stimulating, but it’s their combined effect that determines the action of the whole oil in our mind and body. Different terpenoids can be antibiotic, anticancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, amongst other effects. But key to helping our mind and brain, they act on neurotransmitters, receptors and ion channels to be calming, stimulating, sleep inducing and mood and memory improving.
Many essential oils are given GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status for internal use in food products, though it is important to note that some essential oils can cause allergic reaction and some are phototoxic or toxic.


GABA is our brain’s main calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter. It lowers or blocks neuronal activity and be considered our brain's decelerator. Increasing GABA induces feelings of calm and lowers anxiety, stress and agitation. The benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs (such as Prozac) work to increase GABA, and so do a number calming plant medicines - they act to increase the efficiency of GABA by modulating the GABAA receptor or channel.


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


The hippocampus is our brain's main memory hub, with a key function in memory formation and consolidation, though many other parts of the brain are involved in memory recall, including the amygdala which associated with emotions. The hippocampus is located in the temporal cortex and is named for its shape, where hippocampus is Greek for seahorse.


Melatonin is the brain's main hormone involved in the sleep / wakefulness cycle and increased melatonin is associated with increased sleep. Melatonin is present in some medicinal plants such as sour cherry, where consumption of juice of sour cherry is shown clinically to promote sleep onset and duration. There are many more brain chemicals involved in sleep including adenosine.

Scientific citations

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
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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.