New superfood trends change as swiftly as the seasons, so if you’ve never heard of an adaptogen, I’ll not be surprised. Chia seeds noticed our attention after quinoa’s long run, and Acai replaced goji berries as the powerhouse antioxidant. It’s challenging to keep up, but one thought remains particularly persistent; superfoods aren’t at all newly found discoveries. Most have been used in ancient medicine across the world for centuries, only to be overshadowed by modern medical practices, and brought back by an awakened focus on holistic health. The benefits of adaptogenic herbs have been pronounced in the Ayurvedic herbal tradition for over 5,000 years, and they’re making a healthy return.
Adaptogens are natural wonders. They mainly help your body adapt to environments of stress and situations, impacting not only strength but energy, stamina, and endurance as well. Adaptogens do this by working directly through the endocrine glands, adrenal glands that produce hormones.
So What Exactly is an Adaptogen?
Adaptogens are plants with discrete properties that help your body adapt, most notably to stress. Adaptogens are substances (such as Rhodiola, Asian Ginseng, and Ashwagandha) that work in non-definite ways to boost resistance to stress, without disturbing regular biological activities. Adaptogens bolster homeostasis by activating the adrenal glands to balance your body back into its natural state of mental clarity and physical endurance. Russian toxicologist, N. V. Lazarev originally coined the term in 1947 to describe herbs that increase your body’s resistance to stress.
- Holy Basil
Many people use tulsi, also known as holy basil, in soups and stir-frys, and because it adds a spicy, peppery taste. Eastern medicine practitioners even call the herb the “elixir of life” because it is so highly reputed for its health benefits. People use the herb for everything, from combating indigestion to reducing stress. Pregnant women and children, however, should use it with caution.
Often called Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is likely one of the most talked-about — and most commonly used — adaptogens. The name ashwagandha in Sanskrit means the smell of a horse. It has a powerful odor and is known for giving people vitality similar to that of the hoofed, big animal. In Indian cuisine, it’s combined into a seasoning called churna, but you can also take it in supplement form. Note that pregnant women should not take ashwagandha, and it may conflict with thyroid tests.
This root is basically from the Andes mountains, and it’s known for its sweet, nutty flavor. The powder form works well sprinkled in oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothies because of its malty taste. Manufacturers add it to food products, too. As for its advantages, like the others, it’s been tied to protecting your body from stress.
The reishi kind of mushroom has been in use for eons in Eastern Asia as a medicine and as an adaptogen as well. Unlike button or shiitake, you probably won’t be cooking with whole reishi mushrooms. It’s more prevalent to find them in a powdered, dry form. You can add the powder to delicious recipes like soup, or if you’re adventurous, steep the whole mushroom in boiling water to prepare a bitter tea!
- Siberian Ginseng
This adaptogen is likely one of the widely researched, which grows in Russia and China, and is a prominent remedy for people who feel tired and run-down from stress. The herb also named as Eleutherococcus, is not technically in the ginseng family and is most easy to find in supplemental form.
- Rhodiola: Rhodiola has been used as an adaptogen for generations. Cosmonauts aboard the Russian Space Station used Rhodiola to elevate their moods while floating through space and Vikings downed Rhodiola before raids. A study published in the JSCR (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research) found that amateur cyclists given Rhodiola could complete a timed 6-mile ride faster than the placebo grouping and finished their pre-race warm-up with decreased heart rates.
- Cordyceps: Chaga, reishi, and cordyceps are some of the many antioxidant-dense functional mushrooms with the potential to boost energy, reduce stress, and enhance the immune system. Cordyceps are especially known to have energizing effects, due to its beta-glucans, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Licorice Root – Of course, because it is, after all, an adaptogenic herb, licorice helps reduce adrenal fatigue and improve stress response. Topically, licorice has a cortisol fixing impact, so you can make a strong tea for a soak or infuse it in oil or a poultice, and it can be super handy for itchy skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema which often come along with chronic stress. Note that high doses or long term usage of licorice can raise blood pressure.
- Elderberry – They have been traced back to its origins in ancient Greece, in which the fruit was known as Hippocrates’s “medicine chest.” These small black fruits are prevalently used in North America and Europe and improving the immune system thanks to it being a rich source of antioxidants –, particularly flavonoids. Elderberries help enhance cytokine production, meaning elderberries directly help improve the levels of proteins that boost your immune response. What they are most reputed for is effectively treating flu and colds, reducing symptom severity, and speeding up the duration of the sickness.
- Chaga: These mushrooms are a primary part of alternative medicine across Europe. Chaga mushrooms are one of the finest sources of antioxidants in nature and are commonly used to boost immunity and reduce inflammation.
- Mucuna Pruriens: Termed as a “dopamine bean,” mucuna pruriens are a legume native to tropical Asia and Africa. Its seeds have about 3.1–6.1% L-DOPA, the precursor to neurotransmitters like adrenaline and dopamine. It is believed to be of therapeutic value, notably in decreasing psychological stress.
- Tocos: It is derived from rice bran and is high in Vitamin E and thus celebrated as a remedy to better skin (and as a non-dairy creamer!).
An important thing to remember: While these herbs can be useful, some people experience adverse side effects, which is why you’ll want to discuss them with your physician before going on any regimen.
Emylee is a wellness lifestyle writer. She currently writes for How To Cure. She likes to share her thoughts and personal experiences related to Ayurvedic, natural remedies, yoga and fitness through her writing. She will connect with others experiencing health concerns and help them through their recovery journeys through natural remedies.