Plant-derived nootropics and human cognition: A systematic review

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2023;63(22):5521-5545. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2021.2021137. Epub 2022 Jan 3.


Substances with modulatory capabilities on certain aspects of human cognition have been revered as nootropics from the dawn of time. The plant kingdom provides most of the currently available nootropics of natural origin. Here, in this systematic review, we aim to provide state-of-the-art information regarding proven and unproven effects of plant-derived nootropics (PDNs) on human cognition in conditions of health and disease. Six independent searches, one for each neurocognitive domain (NCD), were performed in parallel using three independent scientific library databases: PubMed, Cochrane and Scopus. Only scientific studies and systematic reviews with humans published between January 2000 and November 2021 were reviewed, and 256 papers were included. Ginkgo biloba was the most relevant nootropic regarding perceptual and motor functions. Bacopa monnieri improves language, learning and memory. Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) modulates anxiety and social-related cognitions. Caffeine enhances attention and executive functions. Together, the results from the compiled studies highlight the nootropic effects and the inconsistencies regarding PDNs that require further research.Supplemental data for this article is available online at

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; Plant nootropics; anxiety; cognitive decay; cognitive enhancers; dementia; herbal extracts; learning; memory; motor skills; natural compounds; perceptual skills; phytotherapy; tinnitus.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Nootropic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology


  • Nootropic Agents
  • Plant Extracts