Top 8 Adaptogenic Herbs for Reducing Stress and Maintaining Good Health
Top 8 Adaptogenic Herbs for Reducing Stress and Maintaining Good Health
What Are Adaptogens?
What are these plants, and where did they come from all of the sudden? Firstly, there’s nothing new about them. They have been around, and utilized medicinally, for centuries. Some have roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Native American medicine, or amongst other indigenous populations. Adaptogenic herbs have been tried and tested through time, and today we have access to these plants anywhere in the world. The actual term adaptogen is, however, more recent. It was coined by Russian scientists who, during World War II, were looking for substances to help their soldiers through incredibly stressful and trying times. They looked to indigenous populations and discovered some plants (like Rhodiola rosea) had this unique ability to help the body adapt to stress and increase stamina and focus. They named these plants adaptogens; and the definition included that in order to be considered an adaptogen, a plant had to be safe and increase the body’s resistance to stress. Adaptogens work by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands.
One of the benefits of adaptogens is their ability to help your body bounce back when you’re feeling run down and exhausted. When you’re feeling anxious, restless, and unsettled, adaptogens can help your body’s nervous system calm down so that you can chill out. Adaptogens are roots, leaves, berries, beans, or mushrooms and can be found in supplement form as a powder, as tinctures, in capsules, or as dried herbal teas. Most of them work best when taken consistently over a period of time, yet you may still be able to feel some instant calming or uplifting benefits just from one dose. When purchasing adaptogens, look for organic and wildcrafted herbs to make sure they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. You also want to buy from a company that is transparent about their sourcing, sustainability, and quality control to ensure you’re getting the best quality adaptogen product, both for your body and the earth.
8 Need-to-Know Adaptogens
While adaptogens have some overlapping benefits, such as their stress-busting abilities and immune support, they each also have their own unique spirit and personality. This just means it might take a few tries to find your perfect match(es). An adaptogen that does wonders for your best friend might not be the best fit for you. Check out the adaptogens list below for a better idea of what you may need.
1. Ashitaba: The Rejuvenator
Native to Japan, this green plant is a real beauty food with anti-aging benefits. Ashitaba is an incredibly resilient and regenerating plant—after you pick its leaves, it will grow back a new leaf in just 24 hours! And we can also benefit from its rejuvenating super powers when ingesting it. Ashitaba can help with wound healing, improve digestion, and help with memory, focus, and concentration. It’s a great plant source of vitamins B6 and B12, making it a very good choice for anyone on a plant-based diet; but, in general, these are key nutrients for energy and well-being for all of us. It contains a compound that helps stimulate nerve-growth hormone production, something that is key for longevity. This adaptogen can be ingested easily in a powder form and has a beautiful green color. It’s a great addition to a matcha latte or a green smoothie and may even give your skin an extra glow!
2. Ashwagandha: The Stress Buster
This stress-busting root has been utilized in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Its botanical name, somnifera, means restful sleep, and it’s also believed to give horse-like vigor to those who use it regularly. Ashwagandha is a go-to adaptogen for anyone looking to get a handle on stress, increase their energy while also improving sleep and calming their nervous system. Ashwagandha is the only adaptogen that’s been found to have a stimulating effect on the thyroid, something worth noting when more and more people, women in particular, are dealing with an underactive thyroid.
It’s also been given to lactating mothers to increase milk production and likely also to help deal with the big change of having a new baby. Ashwagandha is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety and stress. Its calming effect can help people dealing with anxiety feel some relief, and people who take it regularly often note a significant decrease in stress. As one of the best adaptogens for stress, ashwagandha has the ability to decrease the secretion of cortisol and is overall soothing to the adrenal glands, making it a good fit for someone overcoming adrenal fatigue or burnout. This herbal adaptogen has a bitter taste, so it’s best taken in a capsule or tincture, or mixed with something with a stronger flavor, such as chocolate!
3. Astragalus: The Immune Booster
Astragalus is a yellow root that has traditionally been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and still is many practitioner’s absolute favorite go-to adaptogen. With both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, it’s a go-to adaptogen during the cold and flu season or for anyone looking to boost their immune-regulating T-cells, including someone recovering from illness. It’s also beneficial for both the nervous and the digestive system. Astragalus has been found to have the ability to stimulate the enzyme telomerase, which helps repair damaged DNA in the body. This is what makes astragalus a great anti-aging and vitality supporting herb! While traditionally astragalus root was found in China, most astragalus on the market today has been cultivated. While astragalus is great for preventing illness, once you have a fever, stop taking it as it’s known to make a fever last longer.
4. Eleuthero: The Stamina Builder
Also referred to as Siberian Ginseng, eleuthero is a powerful herb that’s been used in Chinese Medicine to help people recover from low energy, to invigorate, and to support sexual function. This root was the first plant to have been classified as an adaptogen! Today, this adaptogen is often used to increase the stamina and performance of athletes and can improve mental alertness too. It’s generally recommended to take this adaptogen periodically, not all the time, and is usually not recommended for those with high blood pressure.
5. Maca: The Hormone Helper
This starchy tuber from the Andes Mountains in South America is an incredibly stubborn root that can thrive in the most challenging environments. Traditionally, in Peru, maca was eaten as a food, but today it’s usually found in a powder form that can easily be added to smoothies and elixirs. Maca is an aphrodisiac and has been shown in several studies to have a positive effect on libido. It’s a well-known hormone supporter and can potentially help boost fertility and sperm count. It has a sweet taste reminiscent of butterscotch and can add a nice flavor to healthy treats and smoothies, pairing particularly well with cacao or vanilla. Maca, one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs, belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family and contains high levels of glucosinolates, so treat this superfood as you would any other brassicaceae/cruciferae veggie. If you’re buying it as a powder supplement, look for gelatinized maca powder, which is not raw (it’s not actually gelatinous).
6. Reishi: The Chill Pill
Reishi is another great adaptogen for stress. Reishi is often referred to as the Queen Healer mushroom, and in Chinese its name translates to “spirit plant”. It’s the most studied plant on earth and was discovered in China as far back as 396 BC where emperors used reishi tonic in their quest for immortality. Reishi does indeed contains longevity-supporting and immune-regulating compounds and is packed with antioxidants that help protect our bodies from damaging oxidative stress. This adaptogen can be a beneficial sleep aid because it helps calm the nervous system. Reishi contains ganoderic acid, which helps inhibit histamine release, making it a good fit for anyone dealing with allergy symptoms. Studies have found amazing blood sugar-lowering benefits of taking reishi regularly. It helps downregulate the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars. Loaded with antioxidants and boasting with anti-inflammatory properties, reishi is a longevity-supporting super mushroom!
7. Schisandra: The Balancing Berry
Schisandra is often used to combat fatigue and bring about hormonal balance. Schisandra is a climbing plant with pink leaves and red berries, and it’s these berries that get harvested and dried for “medicinal” use. Traditionally, Russian hunters used it as a fatigue-fighting tea, and Chinese Medicine uses it to balance yin and yang. This adaptogenic herb is generally calming and can have a balancing effect on the endocrine and immune system, which both take a hit from chronic stress. It’s also high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that is crucial for immune health. Some studies found that schisandra may increase stomach acids, which can be helpful in some people, but a problem for others.
8. Shatavari: The Fatigue Fighter
In the Ayurvedic apothecary, shatavari is probably the most important herb for women’s health and is an aphrodisiac and fertility booster. This type of adaptogen actually contains precursors to the hormone progesterone and can help women with minor hormone imbalances. Shatavari is related to asparagus and is (like asparagus) a diuretic. It also has anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting benefits. It’s worth including that shatavari is usually not recommended if you have a history of estrogen-receptor-positive cancer.