What are Adaptogens?
Herbs have been used for thousands of years, and in every culture, to treat humans for ailments of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual. Today we are discussing the category of herbs and plants that target and treat stress and the symptoms of stress in the body – adaptogens or adaptogen herbs.
Where Do Adaptogens Come From?
Plants, like humans and other animals, are used to dealing with stress in their environment, whether from changes in the weather or drought or pests. In response to environmental and other stressors, plants naturally release hormones which help them respond and ultimately survive. Humans also respond to these hormones and therefore taking adaptogenic herbs can help us better deal with stress. When we are better able to deal with stress, we are healthier and feel better, in all the ways!
Examples of the Benefits of Adaptogens:
There are over 70 adaptogenic herbs, and they range from roots (astragalus, ginseng, licorice, maca) to berries (schisandra, elderberry) to foliage (tulsi aka holy basil, nettle leaf). It is important to note that examples of adaptogenic foods can also be found in mushrooms and include cordyceps, chaga and reishi.
What do Adaptogenic Herbs Have in Common?
Adaptogen herbs have the ability to help moderate stress in the body, and help return the body to homeostasis, or a natural baseline. They help the body bring down cortisol levels, which helps reduce the experience of stress, which helps the systems normalize. These in turn allow the body to focus on other things – if it is not in "fight or flight" mode, the priorities can move on to other things (immunity, sleep, healing, libido, etc).
Although each adaptogenic herb may affect a slightly different part of the system (for example, some aid more with relaxation and sleep while others can help lower blood pressure or even fight infection) their abundance and diversity makes for an incredible array of options when choosing the right one(s) for your particular issues. They can also work synergistically with other adaptogen herbs to have even greater impact.
How Do you Take Adaptogen Herbs?
Like most herbal remedies, adaptogenic herbs can be utilized in many forms. Tinctures, teas, capsules, powders and even using fresh herbs and roots where appropriate are ways that these herbs can be used.
What are Our Favourite Adaptogen Herbs?
We are big fans of using adaptogen herbs daily, as ingredients in our regular food and beverages. For these reasons, our favourite adaptogen herbs (and ones that can be found in many of our chai and herbal blends) are Tulsi (Holy Basil), Ginger, Turmeric, Nettle Leaf and Raspberry Leaf.
These are all delightful and delicious ingredients on their own, and can be enjoyed as part of cooking – for example, adding fresh or dried ginger and turmeric to curries or smoothies or making nettle pesto for your pasta - or brewing up a pot of tea and doing an extra long steep for added benefit.
What are the Benefits of these Adaptogen Herbs?
1. Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Tulsi is a beautiful leafy plant that is a member of the mint family. It has been used in Ayruvedics for over 5,000 years and is one of the most highly prized adaptogen herbs. High in antioxidants and phytochemicals beneficial to the body, tulsi works to lower stress in the body and to increase the functioning of the immune system. Tulsi is one of the newer herbs that we carry and we are excited to offer a beautifully fragrant loose leaf Tulsi Tea (Krishna style) that can be brewed on its own or blended in with other adaptogen herbs, roots or berries.
Often used to combat nausea and digestive issues, ginger also contains antioxidants and works to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Ginger is one of the most common ingredients found in traditional chai blends, and it can be found in its dried C/S (cut and sifted) form in three out of four of our specialty chai: Original Chai Blend (regular and decaf), Golden Turmeric Chai and of course in our Candied Ginger Chai. It can also be found in ground form in our Spiced Golden Milk, alongside other herbal and spice powerhouses turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.
The benefits of turmeric are extensive, and it is a great one to add to your daily meals, smoothies or teas. High in flavonoids, turmeric improves circulation, heals skin and protects organs, and is even considered to help fight the effects of aging. Turmeric can be found in C/S form in our Golden Turmeric Chai and in ground form in our Spiced Golden Milk – our take on traditional golden milk. We also offer it on its own, so that you can add it to your own blends, curries, smoothies, capsules, teas and tisanes and more.
4. Nettle Leaf
Stinging nettle is one of our favourite herbs of all time. Every spring, we wait eagerly for the nettles to poke up and as soon as they are about 6 inches tall until the seeds fully develop two or so months later, we enjoy them lightly blanched and cooked into nettle soup or made into our all-time favourite nettle pesto. We even use the leftover water from blanching the young nettle leaves and stalks to make ice cubes, that can then be put into yummy green smoothies! Nettles are great for reducing inflammation and aid - almost ironically given that they are called stinging nettles for good reason – in pain relief. Nettle leaf is also great for increasing iron absorption, and for this reason we include it in our "New Momma" Blend as well as in our Nettle & Rose Blend.
5. Raspberry Leaf
As with the above adaptogenic herbs, red raspberry leaf contains antioxidants and aids in reducing inflammation and stress in the body. It contains many minerals, including zinc, magnesium and calcium as well as vitamins C and E among others. A member of the rose family, raspberry leaf has a special aroma and I love working with it in my herbal blends and drinking it. Raspberry leaf has also been used for hundreds of years as an essential herb for pregnant women and new mothers. When I was pregnant with my twins (after the morning sickness of the first trimester passed, during which I couldn't even stand the smell of herbs!) I enjoyed drinking it along with nettle leaf both hot and iced. Once they were born, it was late summer and the raspberry bushes in my garden were in fine form. I would go down and pick whatever looked good, which usually included calendula flowers, parsley, lemon balm, fennel, various mints and always a good handful of fresh raspberry leaves, and then make a "Sun Tea" as my mom always called it. I drank about a quart of this, iced, every day the first few months of new momma-hood. Raspberry Leaf can be found in our Nettle & Rose Blend (in almost equal parts with nettle leaf and red rose petals) as well as in our "New Momma" Blend.
Where Can I Learn More About Adaptogens?
There are also many wonderful books and online resources on the benefits of herbs. For more information, we recommend reading the books and web articles listed below.
What are the Risks of Taking Adaptogen Herbs?
Adaptogenic herbs can interfere with medications and it is always good to speak with your healthcare provider if you are concerned. It is also recommended to speak to a professional if you are pregnant before taking adaptogen herbs.
As with all remedies, it is best to pay attention to how your body responds to new herbs and doses and to make adjustments accordingly. Every body is different, so the way adaptogen herbs can affect one person may be different than how it affects another. We also recommend not "over doing it". Shanti had a personal experience with drinking WAY too much chamomile tea and began to feel more anxious. Upon doing some research it turned out too much chamomile could have a paradoxical effect and actually induce anxiety. A cup or two would have been a much better choice. So again, as always, listen to your body.
Holistic Herbal, a Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies by David Hoffman
The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Purcell
Adaptogens: What to Know by Evan Starkman
Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits by Shaunie Brusie
Adaptogens: Top 9 Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress & More by Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN
What are Adaptogens? Herbs and Plants That Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety by Stephanie McClain
4 Herbs for Stress, One Makes Your Serotonin Levels Soar by Joseph Mercola
Why is Ginger Good for You? by Jenna Fletcher
What are Adaptogen Herbs? by Pukka
The Healing Powers of the Little Stinging Nettle Leaf by Dr. Sherri Greene
What to Know About red Raspberry Leaf Tea by Sasha Santhakumar