You may have heard of adaptogens and their incredible ability to protect our bodies from the harmful effects of stress while supporting overall health. You might even be keen to add adaptogens to your daily latte, morning elixir, superfood smoothie or medicinal nightcap, but as a newbie, where do you begin?
First, what are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are pretty amazing plants which tend to grow in the most inhospitable areas of the earth: high deserts, cold mountains, dry and barren land. In these harsh conditions, they develop amazing resiliency to survive their environmental stressors. Lucky for us, when we consume these plant medicines, we become much better off in our own ability to deal with stress in our internal and external environments. Adaptogens don’t serve a single function; instead they are able to adapt to whatever the body is dealing with and help alleviate or lessen the symptoms. So whether you’re feeling frazzled and anxious or foggy-headed and lethargic, adaptogens appear to help.
Below is a guide to some of the most popular adaptogens, each with its own special set of skills. In regards to how much and how often to take them, I recommend small amounts consistently, i.e. half a teaspoon daily, as the effects of adaptogens are subtle and felt over the long-term.
One of Ayurveda’s most highly acclaimed adaptogens, ashwagandha is a potent antioxidant and was traditionally prescribed to boost the immune system after illness. Ashwagandha is translated as “the strength of ten horses” making it excellent for enhancing athletic performance, endurance and exercise recovery. Ashwaganda also supports optimal thyroid and adrenal function. It’s a great herb for stress relief, balancing mood and supporting an overall sense of well-being.
There are a variety of species of ginseng, but the ones we are discussing here–Asian White, Asian Red and American White–belong to the genus Panax, which means “all heal.” Ginseng boosts the immune system and increases overall energy without the jitters of caffeine, making it a great herb for jetlag! It also improves mood, concentration and acts as a natural appetite suppressant.
Make ginseng tea with the fresh root or using ginseng tea bags.
He Shou Wu
Ho Shou Wu has a long history of use in Chinese Medicine for its longevity, anti-aging and beauty benefits due to its ability to support kidney and liver detoxification. He Shou Wu is also a tonic for the endocrine glands as it builds healthy blood, nourishes the reproductive organs and increases sex drive.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of He Shou Wu in water or tea.
Also known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero is a remarkable herb with energy-enhancing and brain-boosting benefits. Eleuthero reduces the effects of stress on the body, improves mental and physical stamina and fights fatigue. It’s the perfect energy booster without the harmful effects of stimulants. This remarkable herb boosts memory, improves focus, alertness and mental clarity. It can help you stay clear-headed under pressure.
Turns out the pollen from pine trees is a mega source of bioavailable vitamins and minerals and a very energizing adaptogen! Pine pollen’s claim to fame is the androgenic effect it has on the body. Androgens are the sex hormones we associate with “manhood.” If you’re a woman, don’t stop reading–you need testosterone too! Women with low testosterone levels often experience chronic fatigue, low libido, difficulty building lean muscle and a decreased sense of well-being. Pine Pollen is also known as a potent aphrodisiac!
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of Pine Pollen in water, tea or a smoothie.
Rhodiola is regarded as a powerful Tibetan brain tonic. It increases the sensitivity of your neurons to the presence of dopamine and serotonin which promotes mental clarity, focus and balanced mood. Rhodiola is also a great herb for increasing energy, vitality and stamina while working to lower chronically elevated cortisol. One of the best things about rhodiola is that it can help you burn belly fat by turning on an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase that tells your body to burn stored fat as fuel. Studies show that taking rhodiola and doing moderate exercise increases the belly-fat burning benefits.
Called the “Miracle Leaf,” moringa improves overall nutrition due to its wide range of bioavailable vitamins (B, C, D and E) and minerals (potassium, calcium, iron, selenium and magnesium). It is commonly used to make moringa tea which has many medicinal applications such as strengthening digestion, regulating blood sugar levels, stabilizing blood pressure and promoting better sleep. Moringa leaves have also been shown to increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers.
Add 1/2 teaspoon to hot water to make moringa tea. Otherwise, add to other hot beverages, smoothies, etc.
Maca root is a relative of the cruciferous veggie family which includes broccoli, cabbage, etc. The nutrient-rich root has been consumed in regions of the Andes Mountains for thousands of years for its energy-boosting, libido-enhancing and hormone-balancing benefits. As an adaptogen, maca can help restore endocrine health. For women, it is often used in treatment of PMS, menopause and rebuilding hormones post-Pill. For men, maca has been shown to have positive effects on male fertility by improving sperm production. You can find maca powder in the raw form or gelatinized. Raw is higher in enzymes and nutrients while gelatinized (cooked) is easier to digest.
There is no particular recommended serving size, however, you can start with 1 teaspoon of powder daily and work your way up to a couple tablespoons, spread throughout the day. I like adding a spoonful of maca powder to my morning smoothies.
Pearl is exactly what you think it is–powder made from finely ground pearls. Loaded with enzymes, amino acids and essential minerals, pearl is a beautifying and anti-aging antioxidant powerhouse that helps nourish skin, hair and nails for an overall glow.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of powder to water, tea, smoothies, etc.
Mucuna Pruriens is an Ayurvedic “building” herb used to balance the nervous, reproductive and digestive systems. As a good source of L-dopa which is the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, mucuna pruriens elevates mood and focus while keeping you calm during your busy day. This herb is revered as one of the best reproductive tonics for men and women as it supports normal fertility, healthy sperm and ova and bolsters libido. Mucuna pruriens can also help foster healthy digestive function and proper elimination.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of Mucuna Pruriens to water, tea, nut milk latte, smoothies, etc. It has a mild caramel flavor!
Schisandra berry improves liver function and digestive health making it a wonderful tool for gentle daily detoxification. Due to it anti-inflammatory benefits, schisandra is considered a beauty tonic, bringing suppleness to the skin and shine to the hair. This health-promoting berry increases energy, promotes mental clarity and heightens concentration. It is also famous for increasing sexual function and stamina.
Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of schisandra powder to water, tea or smoothies.
Common in many TCM herbal formulations, astragalus is prized as an immunomodulator, meaning that it helps make the immune system more effective without causing it to become overactive. Astragalus fights inflammation and free radical damage. Its anti-aging and circulation-boosting capabilities make astragalus excellent for skin health. With high levels of antioxidants, studies have also shown its ability to protect the cardiovascular system by preventing arterial plaque build up, reducing blood pressure and triglycerides.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of astragalus to water, tea or soup.
Known in Ayurveda as the “Destroyer of Weakness,” Shilajit is touted as the best carrier of energy and nutrition into the human body. It is a black, tar-like goo, that exudes out of deep fissures in the rocks of the Himalayas. This unique, mineral-rich substance is loaded nutrients such as trace minerals, electrolytes, fatty acids, silica, probiotics and prebiotics. These nutrients improve gut health, boost digestion and detoxification, lower inflammation, fight free radical damage, improve energy levels and repair the skin. Shilajit rejuvenates the entire body through its ability to increase parasympathetic activity which is the “rest and digest” nervous system that fights stress and helps us rebuild and repair.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Called the “Queen of Herbs” in Ayurveda, tulsi is one of nature’s most powerful and sacred herbal medicines. Tulsi is also known as Holy Basil and can heal the skin both internally and externally. It supports the health of beneficial microbes in the gut and can be used as a natural acne treatment. Tulsi is famous for supporting respiratory health as it helps to provide relief from congestion by encouraging expectoration of mucus from the lungs and respiratory tract. It also has the ability to regulate blood sugar and increase cognitive function.
For me, a cup of Organic India tulsi tea is the perfect way to get through that mid-afternoon slump without sugar cravings or brain fog!
There are a handful of adaptogenic mushrooms that have pretty incredible health benefits, including cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, chaga, lion’s mane and turkey tail. To learn more, check out this post all about medicinal mushrooms.