Understanding Adaptogens: Herbal Allies for Stress & Burnout
Our modern, production-driven world can be a stressful place to navigate. Deadlines, family responsibilities, financial worries, health, relationships, and politics are just a few of the pressures that can leave us feeling drained.
When we’re running on empty, making time for self-care and healthy lifestyle practices is essential. To be able to handle stress with resilience, we recommend a daily routine built on the 6 pillars of health: (1) A whole-foods diet, (2) adequate sleep, (3) hydration, (4) movement, (5) time in nature, and (6) community connection.
Checking all of these boxes while juggling our passions, work, responsibilities, and stressful events can be difficult, and even the most basic pillars of health can be overlooked.
Bridging these gaps with healthy herbal practices can help guide you back into balance. When the going gets tough, we find that turning to a class of stress-relieving herbs called “adaptogens” helps us better adapt and thrive amidst the stresses of modern life.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbs or mushrooms that help the body adapt to stress. These herbs modulate the body’s hormonal and physiological functions, building our capacity for balance when we’re faced with biological, chemical, and physical stressors. Amazingly, adaptogens work multidimensionally to replenish an overworked system: they nourish the adrenals (the glands that create sex and stress hormones), calm the central nervous system, fortify immunity, protect against disease, and restore mental clarity and alertness.¹
History of Use
Although the term is relatively new, adaptogens have a longstanding history in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Indigenous medicine. In Chinese herbal medicine, tonic herbs like Reishi and Astragalus are commonly applied to restore deficiencies and harmonize Qi, Blood, Yin, or Yang.
In 1969, Brekhman and Dardimov published the formal definition of an adaptogen.
To qualify as a true adaptogen, a herb or mushroom must meet the following criteria:
- Supports the body’s stress response in a non-specific way. True adaptogens increase the body’s resilience to a full spectrum of stressors, including physical, chemical, biological, and mental pressures.
- Normalizes and maintains homeostasis within the body, and promotes balance when equilibrium is off.
- Must not interfere with or pose any harm to the normal functioning of the body. ²
Overcoming Stress with Adaptogens
When we’re exposed to stressful stimuli, the body signals a cascade of neurotransmitters and physiological functions that shift us into “fight or flight” mode. Located above the kidneys, the adrenal glands respond to stress by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which increase heart rate and blood pressure. While these hormones act in unison to create a protective emergency response, prolonged release due to chronic stress can result in an anxious mind, weakened immune response, and physical and mental burnout.
When exhaustion and mental fatigue set in, adaptogens offer a supportive hand. These tonic herbs normalize the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and regulate cortisol release, which in turn supports a healthy stress response and balanced endocrine and nervous system.³ Powerful yet gentle, adaptogens steer us to brighter days, where sustained energy, mental clarity, and vitality are within reach.
Adaptogens 101: Herbs for Resilience
When taken regularly in synchronicity with proper nutrition and stress management, adaptogenic herbs soothe overworked adrenals and replenish the overall system to better adapt to stress. Some adaptogens support sleep, while others are more stimulating and energizing by nature.
The following herbal adaptogens are some of the safest and most well-loved for their ability to calm the spirit, restore balance, and help us navigate modern-day stressors with ease. Because each adaptogen has its own multidimensional healing capabilities, it’s important to consider which ones suit your wellness needs best and consult with your healthcare practitioner for guidance.Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Sleep and Balance
- One of the most highly valued herb in Ayurveda
- Revives the adrenal glands and softens the highs and lows of stress
- Known to relax an anxious mind, alleviate hormonal imbalances that result from long-term stress
- Modulates immunity while easing inflammation
How to Use: Ashwagandha can be added to smoothies, teas, or warm mylks to induce restful sleep and a sense of balance. Feel the restorative benefits of Ashwagandha in our Golden Mylk Elixir, Adapt Tea, and Ashwagandha Tincture.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Stress Relief
- Known as the “Mushroom of Spiritual Potency” in TCM, the historical use of Reishi mushroom dates back over 2,000 years.
- Regulates cortisol levels to create a more balanced, resilient response to stressors
- Packed with powerful immune-modulating polysaccharides and phenols that fortify a weakened immune system and protect cells from free radicals
How to Use: Experience the benefits of Reishi by adding this powerful mushroom to coffee, tea, smoothies, broths and more. You can find Reishi in our Adapt Tea, or work with it on its own as a Concentrated Mushroom Powder or Mushroom Tincture.
Eleuthero Root (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Restorative Mood-Boost
- Also known as “Siberian Ginseng,” Eleuthero has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries
- Gently stimulating and mood-uplifting by nature
- Balances the endocrine, nervous, and cardiovascular system
- Cultivates energy while restoring an overworked mind and body
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis): Mental Clarity
- Considered one of the sacred berries of the East, Schisandra is known as “wǔ wèi zi” in Chinese, meaning ‘five-flavour berry’. This radiant berry has a balanced profile of sweet, tart, salty, spicy and bitter.
- Buffers the impact of stress by regulating cortisol and stress hormones
- Without being overstimulating, it sustains balanced energy, clarity and stamina, all while protecting the liver and easing inflammation.
How to Use: Schisandra Berries make for a tasty and beneficial tea! You can work with this herb in powder, tincture, or whole-herb form. Our favourite way to enjoy this delicious berry is in our Adapt Tea.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Uplifting Energy
- Has been utilized for centuries in TCM and Greek traditional medicine
- Chock full of antioxidants, Rhodiola eases symptoms of adrenal and mental fatigue, and regulates cortisol levels to help the body better adapt.
- Energizing and uplifting, it works on a cellular level to enhance energy metabolism and athletic performance while boosting immune function and recovery.
How to Use: Delicate, floral, and mildly sweet, we enjoy working with the uplifting benefits of this herb by way of tincture or blended with other supportive herbs in Adapt Artisan Tea.
These herbs flawlessly cushion the physical, emotional and mental impacts of stress, adapting their benefits to creative overall harmony- all while bringing us back to ourselves. If you’re feeling the weight of life lately, consult with your holistic practitioner or herbalist for guidance to discover which adaptogen is right for you.
- Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress—protective activity. Pharmaceuticals, 3(1), 188–224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph3010188
- Panossian, A. G., Efferth, T., Shikov, A. N., Pozharitskaya, O. N., Kuchta, K., Mukherjee, P. K., Banerjee, S., Heinrich, M., Wu, W., Guo, D., & Wagner, H. (2020). Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress‐ and aging‐related diseases. Medicinal Research Reviews, 41(1), 630–703. https://doi.org/10.1002/med.21743
- Liao, L.-ying, He, Y.-fan, Li, L., Meng, H., Dong, Y.-mao, Yi, F., & Xiao, P.-gen. (2018). A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: Comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chinese Medicine, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9
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