MYou may have heard the term adaptogens thrown around recently, but if you’re like most people, you might still be unsure of what they are and why on earth you should care. If you are curious or wondering what are adaptogens? Well, adaptogens are a group of plants such as roots, leaves, berries, and mushrooms that have the incredible ability to help our bodies better deal with stress, whether from internal or external factors.
They seem to be having a real moment right now—and no wonder! Not only are there some great companies out there making adaptogens more accessible, available, and intriguing (thanks to both clever marketing, packaging, and a lot of educating their customer)—we’re also starting to wake up to the fact that we have the ability and power to boost our own well-being, strengthen our immune system, and take good care of ourselves. There is a lot we can do through food, ritual, movement, and habits that can help our bodies handle the demanding world we live in, and adaptogens can be one powerful piece of that. This article will not only give you a helpful list of adaptogens, we will also tackle all the adaptogen benefits you’ll surely enjoy should you opt to give these healing herbs a try.
What Are Adaptogens?
So, let’s get into it. 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.
Most of the time, people use adaptogens for stress relief. Interestingly, most adaptogens grow in harsh, difficult climates and environments, so they themselves have had to learn to adapt to stressors in order to survive. Some of these plants grow high in the Himalayan mountains or in the Andes. Some are found far north in the cold Siberian forests. The great thing is that by ingesting them we can reap some of those very same benefits! Today adaptogens are getting a lot of buzz in the health and wellness world, and the timing is quite interesting. As our lives are getting increasingly more driven by technological advances and with the expectation of us always being available, both in our work or private life, maybe it’s no wonder that there’s a need for some stress-helpers that connect us to Mother Earth,
as well as encourage some small meaningful rituals of self-care on the daily. The simple act of making a cup of tea, baking a healthy treat, or simply sprinkling some adaptogens in your morning coffee feels both manageable yet meaningful.Another aspect that may contribute to adaptogens having a moment right now is the focus on more preventative care. We now know that the majority of health challenges and illness are caused, in part or entirely, by lifestyle factors—that is, the food we eat, the toxins we’re exposed to, exercise or lack thereof, and stress! Using herbal adaptogens can be one of many preventative ways to decrease stress levels and improve our overall health and well-being. While they’re not the be all end all answer (sadly it’s not magic) they can be part of tools in our box to help us better navigate and handle modern life.
Adaptogens will not only help you adapt to stress, they also adapt to your body and what it needs, they also adapt to your body and what it needs, helping it find its way back to homeostasis (aka it’s happy place!) Adaptogens are dual directional and support our bodies’ natural defense systems against stress. And that stress can come in many forms; internally from inflammation, infections, anxiety or emotional stress, or from external factors, whether that’s your smart phone’s notifications, a screaming boss, deadlines, pollution or noisy, busy city life! They also work on the immune system and can help it calm down when it’s over active (which is the case in autoimmune conditions and with allergies) and boost it when it’s underactive and we feel like we’re catching every cold and flu that goes around. Instead of taking remedies once you’re already sick, avoiding getting sick altogether is certainly a better approach.
Another trend that is co-existing with the increased interest in adaptogens for stress is the focus on biohacking, brain health, and performance boosting, both physically and mentally. Adaptogens and their benefits fit well in this framework too, as many of these adaptogenic plants and herbs have the ability to increase mental and physical stamina, boost athletic performance and recovery, and support better focus and memory. With an increasing interest and focus on wellness in our culture today, comes an interest in a wider range of remedies, modalities, and practices. While Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, acupuncturists, herbalists, and Ayurvedic practitioners have utilized these adaptogenic herbs for thousands of years, they are now becoming more accessible and mainstream. More people are turning to these kinds of practitioners for guidance and treatments—many times because they haven’t been able to get the help they needed from their traditional doctor. Often, which was the case for me, people are introduced to these herbs for the first time in the setting of a practitioner’s office.
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!