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Herbal Basics: Adaptogens 101

5 Min Read
Whole and sliced reishi mushroom
Updated on May 23, 2024

We can all agree that sometimes our natural rhythm falls out of step. We live in a world where it is easy to take on too much, flaring up stress, and leading to burn out. This is where we can utilize our plant allies to sync back up to life’s rhythm: that healthy swing from stress to rest. Lucky for us, nature offers an entire category of roots, leaves, berries, and fungi specifically for this purpose, and we call them adaptogens.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbs that bolster the body’s ability to respond to occasional stress. While adaptogenic herbs have been found in formulations dating back thousands of years, the term itself is relatively new. In fact, “adaptogen” was coined in the 1940s by a scientist named Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in the Soviet Union. The intention was to find plants from all around the world that would help the body increase its resistance to stress. Adaptogens by definition are nonspecific, meaning they help the whole body be better equipped to handle stress under challenging circumstances. While these restorative plants are useful for occasional stress, adaptogens were initially researched to promote stamina for military, sports, and space programs.

How to Take Herbal Adaptogens

Herbal adaptogens are some of the best for daily use as they are excellent at supporting healthy body functions over time. We’re talking about the long game here: herbs that work in a subtle yet powerful way to enhance your overall life experience. You might not ‘feel’ their effects instantly but when taken daily, adaptogen herbs can, over time, boost stamina and endurance, enhance one’s ability to adapt to periodic stress, restore mental alertness and support healthy immune system function.* Here are some of our favorite adaptogens:

Infographic of herbal adaptogens and their benefits

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): Reishi’s rich, roasted cacao-like flavor transports you to a timeless forest where these ‘fruits’ indicate the passage of time. Their hard exterior may be a clue to reishi’s strengthening properties, as attempting to cut a reishi mushroom with a knife may pose a more damaging threat to the knife! Today, a good deal of research on reishi confirms its therapeutic potential due to the high concentrations of polysaccharide compounds called beta-glucans, which may be the reason that reishi is traditionally used to support immune function. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to balance the mind, consciousness, and emotions, this grounded herb gently reminds us to center, breathe, and dig our toes deep into soft soil. For supporting healthy immune system function, try our Reishi Mushroom with Rooibos & Orange Peel tea.*

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Native to the East Siberia Taiga, and the northeastern provinces of China, eleuthero, in some cases known as Siberian ginseng, is a hearty shrub that enjoys the understory of pine forests. It entered the herbal supplement landscape when Soviet scientist Israel I. Brekhman scoured the Taiga for an alternative to the powerful herb of longevity, Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng). Eleuthero was a more affordable and less stimulating option than Asian ginseng, and quickly took center stage as a choice adaptogen. Eleuthero’s immune boosting effect works over time when enjoyed daily. Used by athletes to push the fatigue threshold, you can imagine why this root plays such a vital role in supporting our innate adaptability. New to the shelves is our Stress Ease® Focus tea featuring eleuthero root.*

Schisandra berry (Schisandra spp.): In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), schisandra is known as wǔ wèi zi, or the “five flavor fruit,” as it contains all five tastes — bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. Because of its unique complexity in flavor, schisandra has been used for over 2,000 years to support the body’s natural detoxification processes, and as a powerful adaptogen to support liver, immune, nervous, and endocrine system function. Considered to have both mildly stimulating as well as calming effects on the central nervous system, this herb can support enhanced reflexes and work performance, while still attributing to a general feeling of ease.* Find it in our EveryDay Detox® Schisandra Berry tea.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng): Ginseng, a prized longevity tonic in traditional eastern medicine, has been used in herbalism and in the kitchen for time immemorial. This root is beloved throughout China, Korea, Japan, and beyond and is a staple in teas, tinctures, and capsules. It’s also a key ingredient in many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formulas. It’s generally added to restore energy and boost overall vitality, especially for those who are run down or feeling weak. Ginseng contains notable phytochemicals called ginsenosides, exclusive to the Panax genus. Research suggests these compounds play a crucial role in helping the body adapt to stress and offer neuroprotective benefits, which means it helps the body protect the central nervous system.* Experience it in our Stress Ease® Focus tea.

Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea): Originating in the high-altitude mountainous areas across the northern hemisphere, rhodiola has a long and widespread history of use. Chinese emperors, Siberian traders, and Scandinavian vikings all sought out this precious root for its fabled claims to immortality, and its ability to support sustained mental and physical endurance. Rhodiola is an excellent daily companion to maintain a healthy, harmonic stress to rest swing.*

Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus): Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the “yellow leader,” astragalus root is one of our leading tonic herbs. High in immune-supportive polysaccharides, astragalus is great for supporting optimal immune function. The key herb in Stress Ease® Immune tea, astragalus shines with other adaptogens like reishi and eleuthero for everyday immune support.*

Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera): A rewarding herb to grow in temperate climates, ashwagandha root is considered one of our more relaxing adaptogens, which makes it a top choice for supporting healthy sleep function. A clue to this beneficial function is in its Latin name, somnifera translating to “restful sleep.” According to Indian folklore, when taken over long periods of time, ashwagandha will give you the “stamina and strength of a stallion.” This is reflected in its name as “ashwa” in Sanskrit translates to “horse.” Ashwagandha is traditionally combined with molasses and milk to make an iron-rich preparation.

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