I’ve written about + mentioned adaptogens quite a bit here on the Journal, and if you follow me on Instagram you know I’m sprinkling these magic powders into almost anything these days. However, I’ve yet to really dive in deep and give you all the details of what makes adaptogenic herbs so powerful + how you can begin using them for better health. So here it is, a holistic nutritionist’s take on these buzzy superfoods and which ones I personally use + recommend.
What are adaptogenic herbs?
Consider adaptogenic herbs your natural allies in navigating the stress + strain of modern living. These herbs work within the body on a physiological level to help us adapt to stress - whether it be relationship drama, work overload, lack of sleep, financial burdens, anxiety, or the physical stresses of illness + disease. Stress is pervasive and virtually unavoidable in these modern times, so it’s absolutely necessary that we equip ourselves to handle it in a way that doesn’t negatively affect our mental + physical health (or at the very least, minimizes the damage).
Adaptogens target + support the endocrine and nervous systems within the body, two very overlooked (and perpetually under-attack) systems that work to maintain our internal state of homeostasis. The process of homeostasis kicks in when we experience some sort of external change - temperature change, a traumatic event, a killer workout, a sleepless night - and works to keep things balanced internally. Yet in a world that seemingly presents one stressor after another, these delicate systems within the body can become overtaxed from constant stimulation.
When the body is unable to maintain homeostasis in the face of stress, change, and conflict, we begin to experience hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, nervous system disorders, skin conditions, mental health imbalances, cardiovascular complications, reproductive issues, weight gain, insomnia, and decreased immune-function. We have all been there - stressed out, overwhelmed, and feeling like shit.
I believe there are choices we can make to limit the amount of external stress we expose ourselves to (quit the toxic job, end the negative relationship, confront your self-deprecating habits), but to a large extent we don’t have a lot of control over the pressures of daily life. Our best course of action is to change our response to these circumstances, and adaptogens have been an absolute god-send in my personal quest to stress less.
Why do I use adaptogens on a daily basis?
Incorporating adaptogenic herbs + mushrooms into my daily diet has been game changing. Years of neglecting my health resulted in some pretty severe hormonal imbalances, a weakened nervous system, and a really stubborn bout of adrenal fatigue. As a result, I have dealt (and occasionally, continue to deal) with a lot of anxiety and panic, as is to be expected with these types of issues. For a long time, I struggled deeply with finding a way to cope with these heath challenges, until I found adaptogens. They have supported, bolstered, and rebuilt my nervous + endocrine systems so that I can navigate life (and it’s many pressures and stressors) in a way that doesn’t deplete me or leave me a complete nervous wreck.
How can you easily incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your diet?
Blend them into your smoothies, nut milks, and lattes for some body, mind, and soul love. You can also get creative and fold your herbs into treats + snacks, both sweet and savory. The Solful Health Journal features a ton of adaptogen-focused recipes (just search 'adaptogens' in the archives), with more to come very soon.
All adaptogens support our minds + bodies in adapting to and offsetting stress, so it’s hard to go wrong. However, each herb varies slightly in it’s particular benefits and what systems it affects most dramatically. Below, find a list of my personal favorites and the ways in which they boost health and function of the mind + body.
Maca: A potent endocrine and nervous system nourisher that has an energizing effect on the mind + body (making it perfect for morning tonics). Maca is a rich source of plant-based B vitamins, which in addition to promoting energy production also enhances beauty + mood. The hormone-balancing qualities have worked absolute wonders on my skin, which is prone to hormonal breakouts. I also find it exceptionally effective at keeping anxiety at bay.
Ashwagandha: Extremely nourishing to the adrenals, thyroid, nervous system, and immune system. It’s a total stress-soother and has more of a calming effect on the mind, so I use it to temper the fiery, energetic aspects of my personality. Ashwagandha has been found to promote more restful sleep (perhaps by reducing anxiety and easing an overworked nervous system into rest), so this herb tends to find it’s way into many of my night caps.
He Shou Wu: Promotes cell-deep longevity and beauty by repairing damaged DNA, reversing disease, enhancing outer beauty, elevating energy levels, and increasing production of antioxidants within the body. He shou wu is considered a kidney tonic in Chinese medicine, and by nourishing this vital detox organ, we experience less toxic build-up, radiant energy, and more mental clarity. Also serves as an aphrodisiac, hormone balancer, and adrenal nourisher.
Reishi: An incredible immune-boosting and rest-inducing tonic for the mind + body. This highly-revered medicinal mushroom is a rich source of beta-glucans, one of the most effective + powerful immune system boosters, and acts as a liver stimulater for improved detoxification. Reishi has an extremely calming effect on the nervous and endocrine systems, working to promote deep and restful slow-wave sleep. *Use code 'SOLFUL' at checkout for a 15% discount.
Cordyceps: My natural caffeine alternative for a powerful hit of energy. It actually works to increase the amount of oxygen uptake in the body and enhances cellular energy production, making this medicinal mushroom extremely effective in elevating both the mind and body. At the same time, cordyceps contains the same stress-relieving, nervous system-soothing qualities shared by all adaptogens, ensuring that you stay calm + grounded. Cordyceps is also a potent protecter and repairer of our heart + cardiovascular health. *Use code 'SOLFUL' at checkout for a 15% discount.
Rhodiola: Contains serious brain-boosting benefits for elevated mood, increased alertness, and heightened mental clarity. Similarly, it boosts energy production both in mind + body. It's my go-to for staying present, productive, and calm during the working hours. Rhodiola also assists in the burning of fat, particularly around the mid-section.