Most simply, they help your body adapt + build a sense of resilience from stress and fatigue.
Adaptogens, work almost like a software update. Inviting the body to recognize threats, build stronger systems and in doing so the herbs can work to normalize this new set of standards that the body can function from. Adaptogens do their work with the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis). HPA regulates stress and body processes such as digestion, immunity, mood, emotions and energy. When used over time, clinical studies have shown, certain Adaptogens result in resistance to fatigue, stress, and depression by creating a baseline note of stability that the body is aiming towards instead. (1)
This, of course, is an overly simplified summary of a very studied herbal property. My general thoughts on Adaptogens, are that they are something to commit to as you would any lifestyle practice. Over time, you may wake up one day and witness that elements of life that once seemed too much to manage, you can now move through with much more ease. I will caution that herbs are not here to “fix” anything. Taking herbs is always an invitation towards introspection.
I teach my clients about what it means to have a sense of self awareness when introducing new plant allies. Herbal remedies are here to assist in the big picture of life, but often they do so when the immediate lens we look through can seem like too much to mange. Herbal allies can help us to find center, and in those moments of stability, it gives us time and energy to work towards “root causes” and life challenges that we find.
Let’s explore 3 Adaptogens:
Gotu Kola- has it’s roots in many Eastern traditions and is known for it’s mood boosting benefits. Gotu Kola is one of my “countertop” herbs. It’s something I take daily, but it also is helpful for me when I have that afternoon crash. I take an addiontal dose when I need to get out of my “couch potato” mood. Being that it is a Rejuvenative Nervine in additional to being an Adaptogen, it can work more quickly to calm the nervous system in short term, while working with the HPA over long term.
Suggestions: Tincture form of Gotu Kola makes for an easily daily dose as well as mood boosting benefits.
Things to Note: Generally a gentle herb, but not recommended for pregnancy.
Ashwaganda- is long celebrated in Ayurvedic traditions. In traditional uses it’s been used as a sleep aid to help those with stress that keep them up at night. Like many herbs, Ashwaganda is celebrated not only as an Adaptogen but also has been shown to have benefits in cancer treatments in India (2)
Suggestions: While traditional use suggests powdered form in warm milk as a sleep aid, I’ve used the tincture form to simplify daily intake.
Things to Note: Caution for those with nightshade allergies. Use while pregnant is disputed, please do your research and use caution.
American Ginseng- a highly prized, celebrated, and marketed Adaptogen!! For this reason it has found itself on the United Plant Savers list due to over cultivation. Rather than celebrating it’s herbal values, which you can find all over the Internet, this is a moment to educate on the diversity of herbs. When it comes to herbs that have been over harvested, I personally look to alternatives. While Ginseng has long been steeped for its array of medicinal properties in Chinese medicine, with modern resources we can now easily find alternative herbs that can produce similar results.
My thought, is an herb that has been used to near extinction from over harvesting, invites us to give it some space and turn to alternative allys.
This is just a quick glimpse into Adaptogens. There are hundreds of other opportunities to explore plan allies that can work as an Adaptogen and may have additional benefits that support your uniqueness. Like all herbs that have similar properties you will find some are a better mate to you than others. Always use caution when introducing new plant allies, do your research and connect with your medical professionals when mixing herbs and medications.
I'm Jessy Raspiller, Venture Well Founder + Clinical Herbalist. I've had a passion for optimizing my own health + wellness for the past two decades. I'm excited to rouse others curiosities through the practices, rituals and allies that I've turned to time and time again.
**Please use caution when introducing new herbs. Never blindly take herbal remedies without learning more about their constitutions and contraindications. It’s important to consult with your medical professionals to ensure that herbal allys you’re curious about will best support your overall well-being.
(1) Panossian, A + Wilkman, G. (January 19, 2010), National Library of Medicine, Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
(2) The Herbal Academy, Plant Monograph- Ashwagandha-https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monograph/ashwagandha/