Adaptogens are herbs that help to enhance the body’s natural ability to adapt to stress. They work by regulating a stable balance in brain regions associated with the stress response. Many adaptogenic herbs also strengthen the adrenal glands and have immune-enhancing properties. This article will explore the best adaptogenic herbs and their benefits.
What Are Adaptogenic Herbs?
Adaptogenic herbs are a category of herbs that have adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are substances that enhance the body’s natural ability to adapt to stress. Many adaptogenic herbs tend to be powerful medicinal herbs with many other benefits. They also commonly improve immune function, athletic performance, and hormonal balance.
What is the Process for How Adaptogenic Herbs Work?
Adaptogens work at a cellular level by regulating a healthy balance in major glands associated with stress, such as the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. Whenever we experience physical or psychological stress, our bodies undergo a three-stage response process called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). The three responses include:
The alarm stage refers to the initial reaction that the body experiences when stressed. This stage includes the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system. This natural physiological response prepares you to either protect yourself or run away in a dangerous situation. In addition, it increases your heart rate, triggers your adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol, and boosts your energy by releasing adrenaline.
The resistance stage follows the initial stress reaction of the alarm phase. During this phase, the body starts to repair itself to recover from the stressful situation. For example, heart rate returns to normal, blood pressure normalizes, and cortisol levels normalize.
The exhaustion stage occurs after the effects of long-term stress. The body and mind feel drained, and a person can experience severe fatigue, burnout, and even mood disorders like anxiety. During the exhaustion stage, your immune system becomes compromised and can increase your risk of illness.
Adaptogenic herbs can help with recovery. Adaptogens have a unique ability to enhance the body’s ability to cope with stress. They do this by allowing the body to stay in the resistance phase longer, delaying exhaustion and fatigue. So, rather than crashing from physical or psychological stress, the body can better adapt and maintain equilibrium during a challenging situation.
Many adaptogenic herbs also have properties that enhance energy levels, boost mood, and improve immunity. While it is always essential to remove unnecessary stressors in your life if possible, adaptogens can help you better handle the stresses of daily life. They can make a great addition to your health routine.
What Are the Most Powerful Adaptogenic Herbs?
While many different adaptogenic herbs exist, this list will cover the most commonly used and our top recommended adaptogenic herbs for stress.
Whenever you hear the word “adaptogen,” one of the first-mentioned herbs is ashwagandha. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian Ginseng and Winter Cherry, is one of the best adaptogenic herbs for its potential to support hormonal balance, adrenal support, stress relief, and chronic fatigue relief.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is considered a “Rasayana,” an herb that provides rejuvenation and longevity. The common uses of this adaptogen are for increasing vigor and strength, relieving pain, reducing inflammation, treating insomnia, and supporting immunity. Research on ashwagandha has also found that it may improve athletic performance by increasing the body’s efficiency at consuming oxygen.
Ashwagandha may be able to correct hormonal imbalances by strengthening the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are essential for producing many of the body’s hormones. Therefore, improving adrenal gland health may help support endocrine health and keep hormone production regular. Ashwagandha has been in use across the world for for adrenal fatigue from India to the United States.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) is another commonly used adaptogen and, like ashwagandha, is one of the best adrenal adaptogenic herbs. When your adrenal glands are under prolonged stress, they can become fatigued. Adrenal fatigue can interfere with hormone production and take a toll on your health and energy levels. Rhodiola may help your adrenal glands recover from adrenal fatigue by stimulating other glands in the brain to help regulate your hormones.
Research on Rhodiola has found that it may also help enhance serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that aids in regulating many vital functions and processes in the body. For example, supplementing with Rhodiola may help to improve energy levels, immune function, mood, and your ability to handle stress.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is another common adaptogenic herb, most widely used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a flowering plant in the same family as ginger. The underground root of the plant has uses as both a culinary spice and as a medicinal herb.
This root contains potent plant compounds. One compound, known as “curcumin,” is especially renowned for its medicinal benefits. Curcumin is one of the most widely researched plant compounds in history and has many potential health benefits.
While backed by extensive modern research, turmeric is also a very ancient herb that has been in use in India for thousands of years. Indian medicine (Ayurveda) uses turmeric to strengthen the body, improve energy, improve digestion, regulate menstruation, and support joint health.
Turmeric also has potent adaptogenic properties and can support your body’s ability to cope with stress. It may even enhance your mood as it has a unique ability to boost serotonin and dopamine levels—two neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.
Tulsi, also known as “Holy Basil” and “The Queen of Herbs,” is a popular adaptogenic herb with many medicinal benefits. Tulsi has been in use in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries and is considered a pharmacy due to its many uses and benefits.
According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, “There is mounting evidence that tulsi can address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions.” This review found that tulsi has the unique ability to protect organs and tissues against the environmental stress of chemicals from industrial pollutants and heavy metals. Tulsi also protects the body from the physical stress caused by prolonged exertion, physical restraint, and exposure to cold temperatures. Metabolic stress was also countered by tulsi as it helps to normalize blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Lastly, Tulsi can reduce psychological stress by positively affecting cognitive function and potent mental health-supporting properties.
Tulsi is an incredible medicinal herb that offers several ways to help the body combat and adapt to stress.
5. Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola (Ocimum tenuiflorum), known as the “herb of longevity,” is another adaptogenic herb with long use in traditional Indian medicine. This adaptogen was commonly referred to as “Brahmi” and has particular benefits for the brain. Sages in ancient India widely used it to support meditation, as it was said to help mental clarity, focus, and memory.
Modern research on Gotu kola has confirmed its brain-boosting benefits. According to studies, Gotu kola can enhance your memory and overall cognitive function. These benefits come from its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiapoptotic (prevents cell death) properties. These properties allow Gotu kola to protect the brain from free radicals, reduce inflammation in the brain and prevent the death of brain cells.
In addition to having benefits for the brain, Gotu kola may also enhance mood. One study involving 33 people with generalized anxiety disorder found that after 60 days, Gotu kola decreased stress, anxiety, and depression better than their antidepressant medication.
Adaptogenic Herbs List
Some of the other most commonly used adaptogenic herbs include:
- Eleuthero root
- Licorice root
- Goji berry
- Maca root
- Indian Gooseberry
How to Take Herbal Adaptogens
There are many different ways to take adaptogenic herbs. Some of the most common include herbal teas, capsules, tinctures, and powders. A hot adaptogenic tea like ashwagandha, licorice root, or tulsi can be a refreshing and gentle way to include adaptogens in your life. Therapeutic grade alcohol extracts are often the most potent option available for potency and absorption into the bloodstream. Capsules are often the most convenient, and powders can also be an effective way to supplement with adaptogens.
We recommend taking adaptogenic tinctures on an empty stomach for optimal absorption. Take powders and capsules with food for optimal absorption. Always consult a licensed doctor before taking dietary supplements, particularly if you have any health conditions, are pregnant, or lactating.
Adaptogenic herbs are a category of herbs that helps to enhance our body’s natural ability to adapt to stress. They work by regulating a stable balance in brain regions associated with the stress response. For example, many adaptogenic herbs strengthen the adrenal glands, boost mood, regulate hormones, and have immune-enhancing properties.
In a society that suffers from excessive stress, overstimulation, and constant activity, one of our greatest needs is to make time to fully and deeply relax our bodies and minds. Though they have been in use for thousands of years, adaptogenic herbs are more beneficial to us now than ever. With the ability to help the body better manage stress and offer nourishment and healing on various levels, adaptogenic herbs are something that nearly everyone can benefit from including in their daily regimen.