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Adaptogenic Herbs: What they are and why you should use them

A corner of my herb garden with my "potions"

A corner of my herb garden with my “potions”

Today I chatted with good buddy and garden expert Ron Wilson on his radio show. We talked about herb trends for 2018. One of the hottest is learning about adaptogenic herbs, something I had to learn to get my herbalist certification. I found some really good information on the Dr. Josh Axe site. Here’s what you need to know:

Adaptogenic herbs are simply those herbs (and spices) enhancing the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress. Adaptogenic herbs do not alter mood, but rather, they help the body function optimally during times of stress. (I love turmeric which has great anti-inflammatory benefits myself).


Benefit-rich ginseng is the most well-known adaptogen, and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is considered the most potent. According to Wallace, research has validated Asian ginseng’s use for improving mental performance and your ability to withstand stress. This red ginseng also has antioxidant effects, antidepressant effects, and can help naturally lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

There are a number of adaptogens referred to as ginsengs that aren’t technically ginsengs, but keep in mind that they have similar composition or effects.

2. Holy basil

Also called tulsi, holy basil is known in India as the “elixir of anti-aging.” Preliminary studies suggest that holy basil benefits include helping you fight fatigue and stress; boost your immune system; and regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and hormone levels.

3. Ashwaganda

Ashwaganda is often referred to as Indian ginseng. Often used in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwaganda regulates the immune system and eases anxiety. Ashwaganda has been used in Eastern medicine for over 2,500 years and has immuno-modulating effects that boost your immune system and aid the body in lowering cortisol levels.

4. Astragalus root

Used in Chinese medicine, astragalus boosts immunity and buffers the effects of stress. It increases the amount of anti-stress compounds our bodies use to repair and prevent stress-related damage. It may also reduce the ability of stress hormones like cortisol to bind to receptors.

5. Licorice root

Licorice root can increase energy and endurance, boost the immune system, and protect the thymus from being damaged by cortisol, but its use requires professional supervision because of how it may affect blood pressure.

6. Rhodiola

Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea), or golden root, is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Rhodiola provides a buffer to stress-related mental and physical fatigue. According to Whiticomb, Rhodiola was used by Russian cosmonauts, athletes and military personnel, and years of study have begun to uncover the very mechanisms by which it acts as an adaptogen.

Rhodiola rosea contains a phytochemical known as salisdroside. This component helps relieve anxiety and combat aging. Rhodiola suppresses the production of cortisol and increases levels of stress-resistant proteins.

Studies have found that it restores normal patterns of eating and sleeping after stress; lowers mental and physical fatigue; and protects against oxidative stress, heat stress, radiation and exposure to toxic chemicals. Rhodiola also protects the heart and liver, increases use of oxygen, improves memory, and may even extend longevity. Also, new research proves it’s effective as a weight loss agent. (4567)

7. Cordycep mushrooms

Cordyceps, reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms are funguses with antioxidant properties. That means nutrition-rich mushroomshave all the benefits of antioxidant foods. They may not be adaptogens in the classic sense, but each has adaptogenic, anti-tumor and immune-enhancing properties.

Eating well, getting proper rest, staying active, writing down what you’re grateful for and maintaining social connection all help protect you from chronic stress, which can kill your quality of life. Adding adaptogens to your routine can make you even more resilient to the damaging effects of high cortisol levels.

Final Thoughts

  1. High cortisol levels and chronic stress can affect every physiological and psychological system.
  2. Adaptogens balance and restore the body.
  3. You can increase your capacity to deal with stress and improve your mental and physical performance with the use of adaptogens.

Permanent link to this article: http://abouteating.com/adaptogenic-herbs-what-they-are-and-why-you-should-use-them/


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  1. rojn

    Love hearing you on the show with Ron Wilson. Thank you for all your recipes and great information!

    1. Rita Heikenfeld

      Thank you so much. I love chatting with my buddy, Ron.

  2. Peggy Korte

    Hi Rita ..I love your knowledge on herbs . Can one still buy your book on herbs? If so ,where can one get it?

    1. Rita Heikenfeld

      Hi, Peggy,
      My books are out of print but I do need to revise them. I will think about doing that this spring. Like you, I do love herbs!

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