What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are the superheroes of the plant medicine universe. These special plants have been sought out by cultures throughout the world in their quest for optimal health, longevity, and the development of extraordinary physical and mental abilities. They are a premier category of medicinal plants that improve adaptation to physical and mental stress regardless of the cause, giving them a wide range of potential benefits. Their ability to help bring more balance and resilience into our lives provides the positive side effect of possibility and willingness to stretch even further and take more risks in our lives. When we feel supported and capable of bouncing back from stress or failure, we’re more likely to push the boundaries of our comfort zone. This is ultimately the highest potential adaptogens have to offer us.
Benefits of Adaptogens
Adaptogens can help with a range of benefits like increasing vitality, enhancing physical performance, and improving our ability to handle stress. One way they do this is by calming the nervous system, gradually short-circuiting the stress response before it gets out of hand. Being calm reduces our sensitivity and reactivity, which translates into decreased adrenaline. Adaptogens have unique constituents that bear a striking resemblance to our stress hormones. Consuming them tells our body there is a sufficient amount on hand and no need to produce more. Another reason adaptogens are so good for us is their abundance of supercharged antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Some of the amazing benefits of adaptogens include:
& so much more!
Top 10 Adaptogens
Ashwagandha is a powerhouse adaptogen for its contrasting benefits. According to Ayurveda, ashwagandha can provide the strength and stamina of a horse. In contrast, its latin name withania somnifera translates to sleep inducing, due to its calming effect on the nerves. This dual action of both increasing energy and decreasing anxiety, makes ashwagandha root an ideal adaptogenic food to add to the modern diet—a society where we’re expected to be high performers, but also closely manage our stress levels. Ashwagandha has a sweet, earthy flavor that blends well with a variety of foods, which makes it easy to incorporate.
Fun fact: The first recorded description of ginseng was found in Korea, carved on a tortoise shell over 4,000 years ago! Even today, ginseng remains among the most famous and revered of all adaptogens. It was first used by Taoist monks to enhance the energy intensive practices they engaged in on the path of longevity and self realization. It is still used around the world for energy, endurance, cognitive performance, enhanced libido and immunity.
Astragalus root is a deep immune enhancer and helps boost overall energy and endurance. It is the most important adaptogen for our protective force field, called the Wei Qi in Chinese medicine. It has a nourishing veggie flavor and is often cooked into soups and stews to create a rich medicinal broth that restores vigor to the body.
Originally from Tibet and China, these delicious red berries have been gaining popularity in the West for a while now, and are fairly well integrated into food culture at this point. That’s a good thing because these little guys are much more than just berries! They are a treasure trove of vitamins, trace elements, and antioxidants that are essential, and often in short supply in the modern diet. Adding goji berries to any lifestyle is easy. They taste great and help to restore the key nutrients that give vigor and glow to the body.
Sometimes referred to as Arctic root, rhodiola is the adaptogen that helps people of the far North endure some of the coldest and most challenging conditions on earth. Native to the arctic and subarctic mountains of Iceland, Scandinavia, and Asia, rhodiola is the adaptogen of choice for crushing obstacles and maintaining equilibrium in the face of both mental and physical stress. It goes deep to the core and helps calm the adrenals, elevate the mood, enhance cognition, and improve endurance.
Schisandra is a true super fruit. It’s called the five flavor berry because it simultaneously tastes sweet, bitter, spicy, salty and sour. Each flavor represents an array of vital antioxidants and nutrients, and according to Chinese medicine, schisandra berry strengthens organ functions. It’s known particularly for supporting the liver system, and preventing vital energy leakage. Schisandra is used to “calm the spirit”, indicating its relaxing effects upon the nervous system, encouraging healthy sleep, and toning down the adrenal response.
Tulsi, which translates as “the incomparable one”, is among the most sacred herbs in all of Ayurvedic medicine. Also known as Holy Basil, its delicately sweet, clove aroma is irresistibly delicious to both the mind and body. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, tulsi is one of the rare herbs that encourages saatva, the quality of mind associated with clarity, tranquility, joy, and vitality.
Maca is a small radish-like tuber that grows in the high Andes mountains of Peru. It is an ancient adaptogen prized by the Incas as a nutritious superfood that increases stamina, libido and fertility. Maca continues to gain popularity as a smoothie ingredient in the West due to its impressive antioxidant content and vital nutrients such as protein, fiber, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper, and iodine. It has a slightly nutty flavor with mild sweetness, making it a versatile addition to the diet.
Reishi mushroom is known in Japan as the “elixir of immortality” and “mushroom of spiritual potency”. An illusive forest mushroom growing on the decaying wood of hardwood trees, reishi is one of the most revered health enhancing adaptogens in all of Asia. Reishi is in a class of its own among the medicinal plants for promoting longevity, boosting immunity, calming the mind, and supporting respiratory, liver, and cardiovascular health. It’s a remedy that is often credited or associated with assisting with spiritual development.