Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that are marketed as helping the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, but they have re-emerged in recent times and are now being used by health gurus and wellness experts.
They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the specific needs of the body. This may be physical, chemical or biological needs. They have been compared to a thermostat, moderating the body’s stress response like a thermostat controls temperature.
What are the best adaptogenic herbs?
Each adaptogen has a slightly different function, so the best one for you depends on the specific ailment you’re experiencing, Powell says. Here are some common adaptogens and what they claim to be good for.
Adaptogens for long-term stress: Powell recommends ashwagandha and Asian ginseng to soothe long-term sources of stress and the hormone imbalances that may result from it. Some research has suggested that holy basil, or tulsi, may help lower stress levels.
Adaptogens for acute stress and anxiety: Some research suggests that Siberian ginseng (also known as eleutherococcus senticosus), rhodiola and schisandra may help mediate fight-or-flight stress responses. People use Siberian ginseng to boost the immune system, physical stamina and sexual health; rhodiola is believed to improve energy, physical performance and memory; and schisandra is thought to improve liver function and gastrointestinal problems. A big caveat: there’s very little human research to back up those claims. Much more research is needed.
Adaptogens for immune health: Reishi and ginseng have been found in some small studies to boost immunity.