Herbal Ally: Adaptogens 101

“What are adaptogens again?” says my husband every time I mention an herb that is from this category.

I often use the term to describe herbs that have the ability to aid your body into balance. But what is an adaptogen really?

An adaptogen is an herb that has medicinal substances that help your body respond to stress. More specifically, they’re known for supporting metabolic processes (think chemical reactions of cells for vital functioning) and producing stress-related neurotransmitters and hormones. Hence, adaptogens increase your body’s resistance to stressors whether they are physical, environmental, biological or emotional. It’s said that they have a modulating, normalizing and protective effect on the body. 

Herbal or botanical medicine is one of the most ancient forms of health care known to human kind. Medicinal plants have been used across the globe in various cultures both near and far and they play an important role in wellness today.

You’ll find that many of the well-known adaptogens are from either Ayurveda (referred to as rasayana herbs) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (known as qi tonics). Because these traditions are thousands of years old, the history and credibility of these herbs are trusted, respected and highly regarded for their ability to improve vitality, energy and longevity. A few adaptogen herbs (e.g. reishi, rhodiola, eleuthero, ginseng) have substantial research in their efficacy while others are backed by a long history of use in herbal medicine.

Given the amount of stress we manage in this modern era, it’s no wonder that stress can affect your entire well-being and contribute to a wide range of dis-eases.

Decreased immune function, insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety, poor metabolism, digestive issues, impaired reproductive health, slow wound healing, increased inflammation, decreased libido and poor detoxification– to name a few – are all common symptoms associated with chronic stress. Addressing stress should always be a part of any health regimen whether it be preventative or corrective, and adaptogens are one method to aid in that process.

Adaptogens seem to work by affecting the stress response and the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis of the nervous-endocrine system. I like to think of them as support for the body by strengthening and harmonizing multiple functions. They are also considered to positively impact brain function, immune system, libido, fertility, detoxification, thyroid and glandular health.

Amazing right? YES.

They are considered non-toxic and safe for long-term use (always check with your body and practitioner of choice). The phytochemical compounds of adaptogens are complex and not clearly understood but are known for having antioxidants and providing broad spectrum benefits to metabolic pathways, organs and body systems. Adaptogens can be used acutely, over a long period or to address chronic issues.

Adaptogens can play a crucial role in supporting our general well-being on a daily basis. Although they’re all believed to improve energy, some are stimulating while others are calming. Some examples are below:

Stimulating Adaptogens
Ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola, codonopsis, cordyceps, jiaogulan, shilajit

Calming Adaptogens
Gotu kola, tulsi, ashwaghanda, reishi, chaga, schizandra, shatavari

As you can see adaptogens are a complex category of herbs with vast abilities and benefits that greatly impact the body on various levels. They can be a great addition to your daily self-care practices along with other stress management techniques like exercise, meditation and rest.




Groves, Marie Noel. Body into Balance.North Adams, MA: Story Publishing.

Winston, David and Steven Maimes.  Adaptogens Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, VT.






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