Solful Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Adaptogenic Herbs

photo of amanda chantal bacon, courtesy of

photo of amanda chantal bacon, courtesy of

I’ve written about and mentioned adaptogens quite a bit here on this journal, and if you follow me on Instagram you know I’m dusting almost everything with them as of late. Yet I realized, I've failed to really dive in deep and dish on all the details of what makes adaptogenic herbs so beneficial and how you can begin using them for better health. So here it is, a holistic nutritionist’s take on these buzzy superfoods, why I take them, and why you may want to as well. 

What are adaptogenic herbs?

To be considered adaptogenic, an herb must have a normalizing and homeostasis-evoking effect on the body in the face of stress - physical and psychological. Adaptogens target and 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, an intense 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, infertility, 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. And so, it's absolutely necessary that we equip ourselves to handle stress in a way that doesn’t negatively impact our mental and physical health (or at the very least, minimizes the damage). 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 and mushrooms into my daily diet has been life 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 with a lot of anxiety and panic, as is to be expected with these types of issues. For a long time, I struggled to find a way to heal these imbalances, until I found adaptogens. They have supported, bolstered, and rebuilt my nervous and endocrine systems so that I can navigate life 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 total body-mind-heart support. You can also get creative and fold these herbs into treats and snacks, both sweet and savory. This journal features a ton of adaptogen-focused recipes (just search 'adaptogens' in the archives), with more added weekly. 

All adaptogens support our minds and bodies in adapting to and offsetting stress, so it’s hard to go wrong when choosing which to incorporate. Each herb, however, does vary 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 mind and body.

Maca: A potent endocrine and nervous system nourisher that has an energizing effect on the mind and 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 enhance beauty and 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 a calming effect on the mind, so I use it to temper the fiery, energetic aspects of my constitution. Ashwagandha has been found to promote more restful sleep (by reducing anxiety and easing an overworked nervous system into rest), so this herb tends to find it’s way into many of my herbal 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 and 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. 

Cordyceps: My natural caffeine alternative for a potent hit of energy. It actually works to increase the amount of oxygen intake of the body and enhances cellular energy production, making this medicinal mushroom extremely effective in elevating both 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 and grounded. Cordyceps is also a powerful protecter and repairer of the heart and cardiovascular health.

Rhodiola: Contains serious brain-boosting benefits for elevated mood, increased alertness, and heightened mental clarity. Similarly, it boosts energy production both in mind and 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.