Nootropic Herbs, Shrubs, and Trees as Potential Cognitive Enhancers

Plants (Basel). 2023 Mar 18;12(6):1364. doi: 10.3390/plants12061364.


Plant-based nootropics are a diverse group of natural drugs that can improve cognitive abilities through various physiological mechanisms, especially in cases where these functions are weakened or impaired. In many cases, the nootropics enhance erythrocyte plasticity and inhibit aggregation, which improves the blood's rheological properties and increases its flow to the brain. Many of these formulations possess antioxidant activity that protects brain tissue from neurotoxicity and improves the brain's oxygen supply. They can induce the synthesis of neuronal proteins, nucleic acids, and phospholipids for constructing and repairing neurohormonal membranes. These natural compounds can potentially be present in a great variety of herbs, shrubs, and even some trees and vines. The plant species reviewed here were selected based on the availability of verifiable experimental data and clinical trials investigating potential nootropic effects. Original research articles, relevant animal studies, meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and clinical trials were included in this review. Selected representatives of this heterogeneous group included Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettst., Centella asiatica (L.) Urban, Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim., Ginkgo biloba L., Lepidium meyenii Walp., Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, Paullinia cupana Kunth, Rhodiola rosea L., Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill., and Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. The species are depicted and described, together with their active components and nootropic effects, and evidence of their efficacy is presented. The study provides brief descriptions of the representative species, their occurrence, history, and the chemical composition of the principle medicinal compounds, with uses, indications, experimental treatments, dosages, possible side effects, and contraindications. Most plant nootropics must be taken at optimal doses for extended periods before measurable improvement occurs, but they are generally very well tolerated. Their psychoactive properties are not produced by a single molecule but by a synergistic combination of several compounds. The available data suggest that including extracts from these plants in medicinal products to treat cognitive disorders can have substantial potential therapeutic benefits.

Keywords: Ayurvedic medicinal plants; Ginkgo biloba; Panax ginseng; antioxidant activity; brahmi; gotu kola; learning ability; medicinal herbs; memory; smart drugs.

Publication types

  • Review