Adaptogens may help the body manage stress, strengthen the immune response, and balance hormones.
This beginner’s guide to adaptogenic herbs and roots answers the question “what are adaptogens?”, when to take them, and how to add them to your diet safely to get the most out of their healing properties.
Adaptogenic herbs and roots have been used in traditional Ayurvedic, Chinese and Natural Western medicine for centuries.
They were often reserved for royalty, soldiers, Olympic athletes, and people of power because of their remarkably potent effects on health. Some, like Reishi, earned names like “the mushroom of immortality” while others, like Shiitake, hide in plain sight.
All adaptogens have one thing in common: they support the body’s natural ability to respond to stress.
And that probably something we could all use in our modern, hectic, and very stressful lives.
What Are Adaptogens?
The word “adaptogens” - coined for the first time in 1947- sounds lofty and complex, but the medicinal plants that it describes are anything but.
Adaptogens are non-toxic, usually plant-based, bioregulating substances that help your organism resist the harmful effects of stress. Even better they may promote or restore physical, mental, and emotional balance.
Research suggests that adaptogenic herbs and roots could:
- Improve the body’s resilience when faced with internal or external stressors
- Strengthen the immune function
- Ease the effects of anxiety
- Combat depression
- Reduce fatigue
- Enhance mental performance
- Improve sleep
- Balance hormones (primarily cortisol)
- Reduce inflammation
- Give an energy boost regulating energy expenditure
- Fight adrenal fatigue
Acting as your body’s own personal assistant, adaptogens do just that – they adapt – to the internal and external environment to maximize your body’s innate ability to self-regulate and maintain homeostasis - essentially its ability to be stable in spite of changes.
Most scientists propose four criteria to define adaptogenic herbs:
- They should reduce the harm caused by physical, chemical or biological stress (such as fatigue, infection, or depression.)
- They must have positive effects on the human body.
- They must not cause negative side effects such as insomnia, low protein synthesis, or excessive energy consumption.
- They must not harm the human body.
Therefore, adaptogenic herbs and roots are considered safe for human consumption and are being used more and more in holistic medicine today. This should answer your “what are adaptogens” question, now let’s get into their beneficial mechanisms.
How Adaptogens Work
Your body doesn’t know the difference between oxidative stress, the stress caused by your boss’s twentieth email, or the anxiety caused by your 15-year old’s inability to reply to your texts - for the body, it’s all stress.
Adaptogens help balance the adrenal system’s response to stress. Whenever you have to face an issue - a stressor- whether physical, mental, or environmental, your body activates a three-stage reaction known as the General Adaptation Syndrome.
Essentially you go through alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
This is part of your “fight or flight” response, and adaptogens help you stay in the resistance phase longer, which means you can handle the issue without crashing as quickly. They also help hold-off the exhaustion phase, easing you into a balanced restful state once the stressor has been dealt with.
Adaptogens stimulate and support hormone-releasing, helping your body maintain healthy amounts, according to the need. This is done in coordination with the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis, the HPA axis, which is responsible for maintaining a harmonious and effective metabolism, immune system, mood, energy, and even your sex drive.
In simpler terms, you can think of adaptogens as hormone regulators: they help the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones to deal with an issue, and stop as soon as they’re not needed anymore.
Adaptogens for Your Mind, Body, and Soul
Adaptogens don’t have one single benefit, and one will often be useful to boost memory and the immune system, this classification is only a guide for what specific adaptogens are mostly used for. However, we’ll mention all the known benefits associated with all the adaptogenic herbs and roots listed.
For Your Mind:
- American Ginseng: may boost memory, choice reaction time, immune system function and mental calmness.
- Eleuthero Root: Might improves focus and staves off mental fatigue.
- Holy basil (Tulsi): could enhance memory and cognitive function, lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Could also have antidepressant properties.
- Lion’s mane: supports the nerve growth factors (NGFs) that regenerate and protect the brain.
- Magnolia or Schisandra Berry: Could increase mental performance and working capacity. In addition to strengthening the immune system with its high antioxidant power, fighting depression, and other mental disorders
- Rhaponticum: Studies show that it could stimulate brain activity and have neuroprotective properties.
- Rhodiola: may reduce mental and physical fatigue.
For Your Body:
- Maca: May enhance libido, fertility, help regulate menstrual cycles, balance hormones and increase energy levels.
- Moringa: has high levels of antioxidants and could help fight inflammation, high blood pressure, diabetes, insulin resistance, non-alcoholic liver disease, and balance hormones.
- Mucuna: might help boost the libido and quality of sperm in men.
Turmeric: is anti-inflammatory, boosts brain function, may fight depression and supports natural liver detox.
- Cordyceps: a mushroom often used for adaptogen tea, it might increase and maintain energy levels, boost stamina, combat fatigue, fight free radicals and infections. It’s also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food.
Chaga Mushroom: also used in adaptogen tea or tinctures, it could reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Don’t know why that’s important? Read more about what is oxidative stress.
- Goji Berry: Might increase energy levels, athletic performance, quality of sleep, ease of awakening, mental focus, calmness, and feelings of contentment.
- Himematsutake: might help inhibit tumor cell growth.
- Shitake: could help fight cancer and tumor growth.
- Turkey Tail: a mushroom commonly used for adaptogen tea and tinctures, it is commonly found all over the US and may strengthen the immune system.
For Your Soul:
- Ashwagandha: may reduce stress, anxiety, give you a sense of calmness and improve your mood and sleep quality. It may also make you feel more relaxed without making you sleepy during the day.
- Astragalus: could combat mental and physical fatigue.
- Licorice Root: may help reduce anxiety and calm your nerves.
- Reishi: known as the “king of mushrooms,” growing evidence shows the benefits of reishi mushroom may effectively fight fatigue, chronic inflammation, skin conditions, liver disease, and balance gut microbiota - essential to combat depression and anxiety.
How to Get Adaptogens in Your Diet:
The easiest way to get adaptogenic herbs in your diet is to drink adaptogen tea or tincture. However, many of these mushrooms, roots, and herbs have intense flavors or chewy textures that a beginner may find unpleasant.
Find a convenient method that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, for example, adaptogen extract powder can be added to coffee, smoothies, and salad dressings. You may also try supplements in capsules or adaptogen tea bags.
Figure out what you need: is it energy in the morning, an easier wind-down routine, a way to get you through the mid-afternoon slump. Then ask yourself, what are the adaptogens that can I can use in this situation?
Understanding what adaptogenic herbs are good for what is just the beginning; you must research better times to consume them and if you’re on medication, ask your doctor if the adaptogen tea or supplement of your choice does not interfere with it.
Organifi Has Sunrise to Sunset Adaptogens
We love adaptogens! We’ve added them to many of our recipes and superfood juices; they are like a hard-working best friend that seems to always have your back in ways you didn't even know you needed.Our signature morning, afternoon, and night-time drinks combine the best of antioxidant foods with powerful adaptogenic herbs, roots, and mushrooms!
Green Juice has moringa, ashwagandha, and turmeric, along with eight other delicious and goitrogen-free (thyroid-friendly) ingredients. The easiest way to get your detox greens in.
Red Juice has an 8:1 Reishi mushroom concentration, Rhodiola, Cordyceps, and antioxidant-rich freeze-dried fruit that gives it a delicious berry flavor -with only 1 gram of sugar! Ideal for a healthy afternoon pick-me-up.
Gold: our night time adaptogen tea that tastes like a treat! Featuring maximum strength turmeric, Reishi, Turkey Tail mushroom, Lemon Balm, and prebiotic foods in addition to antioxidant ingredients, it’s a great way to lower stress, get a good night sleep and promote muscle recovery.
Pure: boosts your memory and cognitive function with Lion’s Mane mushroom and ten other brain-supporting superfoods.
Love all of them? Our Sunrise to Sunset bundle is here for that.
Understanding what adaptogens are is just the start; to reap their benefits, it’s best to avoid abusing them. Switch up your adaptogen tea every six months or so, talk to a licensed physician if you’re on medication that may be affected by the adaptogen of your choice. A healthy diet and exercise are always good companions to adaptogens for healthy aging.
Conscious eating and cultivating a wellness practice also help manage stress.
If you found this article useful, please share with a friend and tell us if you tried your first adaptogen supplement yet - how do you feel?