We talk a lot about herbs around here, because we love how they work to improve and support health. There is a special class of herbs called adaptogens that you should know about. What are adaptogens? Read more below!
Herbs have been used as medicine since the beginning of time. Not just in capsules or tinctures, but even raw in daily food consumption. It’s only recently that we’ve lost, at least in the mainstream western “developed” countries, this ancient knowledge.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens, or adaptogenic herbs, are herbs that fend off or help you cope with stressors, whether physical, mental, or emotional. These may be eaten as a part of a meal, a spice, or in a tea, tincture, or capsule. These herbs and their healing properties have been used predominantly in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, but are becoming more popular in the West today.
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogens work by helping the body mitigate the effects of stress. Adaptogens interact with the hypothalmus-pituary-adrenal axis (more commonly called HPA axis) and sympathetic nervous system – two key players in the body’s response to stress. (Read about how to manage your stress response here.)
Constant stress activates a flight-or-fight response. Consistent perceived attacks may keep this response going at all times. This doesn’t have to be a major life event such as a death or divorce. Our modern lifestyle introduces these reactions from other situations we see daily, such as traffic, television, or even social media.
What do adaptogens do to these systems? An adaptogen may change the creation of hormones – increasing or decreasing as needed. That’s right- adaptogenic herbs actually adapt to give the body what it needs at any given moment.
What plants are adaptogens? The Ultimate Adaptogens List
Many plants can work as adaptogens in the body, but each will function a bit differently and should be chosen based on individual needs.
What herb helps most with stress and calming?
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen favorite, and for good reason. Ashwagandha has been used for many years to safely help promote calm and rest. Numerous studies have shown that ashwagandha herb is a stress-buster.
Bacopa monnieri is an effective adaptogen that can help you cope with stressful situations and decrease stress in the brain.
Best adaptogens for immune support
Astralagus is an ideal herb to use in”change of seasons” teas and soups. This herb helps reduce stress, but also boosts the immune system and decreases harmful inflammatory cytokines. (See a few other ways to quiet a cytokine storm here.)
Tulsi or holy basil is not just a tasty herb, it’s also a powerful adaptogen. This herb is well-known for assisting in adrenal-caused sleep issues such as insomnia and helps to boost cortisol lows (also an issue, like a cortisol high). It also is studied heavily for its affect on the immune system, common colds, infection, and liver complaints.
Mushrooms, especially cordyceps, reishi and chaga, are used to assist in managing one’s stress levels, but also are used to support the immune system, brain function, resolve infertility, aid with insomnia, and much more. We like this cordyceps supplement.
Ginger, in addition to being amazing in kombucha or Thai food, is an adaptogen that’s been used in Chinese medicine for many years to reduce fatigue, joint pain, concentration issues, increase energy and to help with insomnia.
Licorice root is a powerful adaptogen, that helps manage hormone and cortisol levels, but can also assist with gut health. Licorice root can affect blood pressure levels, so take with caution if you are on medication or have high blood pressure.
Turmeric is a famous anti-inflammatory, but also a powerful adaptogen. Turmeric can help balance blood glucose and body weight, and even help with memory issues. If you haven’t tried golden milk (or golden hot chocolate!), it’s a great way to get in this powerful adaptogen.
What herb is best for energy?
Schisandra is a bright red berry-producing plant that grows on a vine. Studies have shown schisandra to decrease brain fog and increase mental performance.
Maca root is quickly becoming another popular adaptogen. Touted for its fertility benefits for both men and women – this root powder is found on most health food store shelves today. We love this maca root supplement for women’s hormonal balance.
Ginseng, called panax or true ginseng, is a known energy booster.
What are adaptogens good for?
In addition to stress relief, adaptogens may support the body in other ways.
Do adaptogens help with weight loss? Yes! Because stress levels are closely related to hormones and metabolism, managing stress with adaptogens can actually help with weight loss.
How can I boost my energy? Adaptogens may help! Try adding in rhodiola or maca to your supplement routine. In addition, exercise, self care, healthy eating, and smart supplementation is essential. Getting enough B vitamins (read about which B vitamins to take here), water, and sleep can improve energy levels.
Our favorite way to take adaptogens
Adaptogens work well when combined for a synergistic effect. We love blends meant for supporting stress response, increasing daily energy, and promoting restful sleep.
For daily support and to increase energy in the mornings, we like this Gaia Herbs Daily Stress Support.
To support restful sleep and nourish the adrenals and immune & endocrine systems, we like this Gaia Herbs Nightly Restore supplement.
For symptoms of adrenal fatigue (poor energy, poor stress responses, poor sleep – read more about adrenal fatigue here), separate supplements can be taken both morning and night.
Is CBD an adaptogen?
In its most basic definition, CBD could be considered an adaptogen. CBD works on the endocannabinoid system, a complex system in the brain and other organs that helps regulate many of our most basic functions like sleep and appetite.
Some CBD products combine adaptogens to create a synergistic stress-reducer. We love Sagely Naturals CBD + Stress Blend Tranquility Capsules 30 capsules, which combines ashwagandha and holy basil along with CBD.
How long does it take for adaptogens to work?
Some adaptogens will start to work within 15 minutes to a few hours, but full effects can build up over a period of weeks.
Are adaptogens safe?
Most adaptogens are safe for most people, but special care should be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding to ensure safety. Like anything, start with a low dosage and increase slowly. Based on individual genetics, some adaptogens will work well, while others don’t.
Experts suggest to only take licorice root for 12 weeks at a time.
How long should you take adaptogens?
Most adaptogens are safe to take long-term, but it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement or medication.
Adaptogens really are all that they’re cracked up to be. Learn which adaptogens affect you in a positive way, and work them into your natural health routine.