Since adaptogenic herbs are becoming quite mainstream, I figured I would write up a detailed post all about them, how to use them to improve your health, and what the different benefits are for each adaptogen, because it turns out they are all quite different and unique.
My own journey with adaptogens begins about a year back. I follow a well-known Instagram blogger named Jeannette, or @shutthekaleup who focuses on holistic health, whole food recipes, and using natural herbs to combat everyday issues. She is especially focused on issues revolving around the gut, and since the gut basically controls our entire immune system, I am all ears to hear any remedy or food that can help our guts thrive. Anyways, I noticed that she posts a lot of recipes using these adaptogenic herbs, and I became quickly intrigued.
What the heck is an “adaptogen?” Where should I start?
For those that have never heard of an adaptogen, the term refers to a substance that is intended to adapt to what your body needs and help protect against various stressors of life. Although these products are unregulated by the FDA, people still reap a lot of benefits out of using these elixirs, tonics, and supplements with adaptogens. Some of the main touted health benefits from using adaptogens are, boosting the immune system, increasing mental focus, encouraging a balanced mood, and aiding in high stress levels.
Start with the basics: Ashwaganda
One of the most popular and perhaps well known adaptogen is called ashwaganda. I even saw this added to my the Rebll 3 Roots Mango Spice drink I purchased this morning from Whole Foods. Why is ashwaganda so awesome? It has been used for over 3,000 years to help people with stress, concentration, and boosting energy levels. The ashwaganda plant is a shrub with yellow flowers that exists in India and North Africa. The powder substance is made from extracting powder from this plants roots or leaves. In several studies, ashwaganda has been used to lower blood sugar levels. Studies have also shown it helps decrease inflammation, and increases the activity of natural killer cells which are immune cells that fight inflection and help people stay healthy. Ashwaganda has so many incredible healing benefits, that I recommend using this adaptogen if you have never tried them before. Ashwaganda can be considered the umbrella adaptogen, because it supports so many elements of good health, that anyone can benefit from incorporating it.
Next up on the list: Reishi Mushroom
Reishi mushroom is an edible fungus that has been used for thousands of years for its healing capabilities. They have been called the “king of mushrooms” and the reason why Reishi is next on my list is because out of all the mushroom powders out there, I think Reishi is the best one to get. Like ashwaganda, reishi mushroom is considered an adaptogen herb because it can help us deal with so many issues such as stress, inflammation, hormonal imbalances and more. Reishi mushrooms contain polysaccharides which are a nutrient known to have anti-tumor abilities, meaning it will fight against cancer. Reishi mushroom also helps with liver function, preventing liver disease and improving detoxification because better liver health means more waste and toxins being flushed out. Reishi can also help improve sleep, so I love to use it before bed. One of my favorite reasons to consume reishi mushroom, is the hormonal balance aspect. Reishi mushroom can actually help balance your hormone levels, and improve reproductive health. For those of you that take birth control pills or deal with lots of period pain, I highly recommend using reishi mushroom more often.
Those are the basics…Here are my personal preferences:
Cordyceps is another mushroom that is considered an adaptogen. Cordycepcs have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. It is incredible for the immune system, respiratory system, and of particular note, it enhances athletic performance. A fascinating example is during the 1993Chinese National Games, the Women’s Field and Track team broke 9 world records. The authorities thought they were using performance enhancing drugs, but the coach said he was using Cordyceps. Research has indicated Cordyceps usage increases cellular ATP levels, which is the molecule that releases energy into the cell.
Also a mushroom, that begins with a “C”! Chaga mushrooms are quite nutrient rich, containing high levels of b vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, selenium, magnesium and more. Chaga is fantastic for helping slow down the aging process. Chaga fights oxidative stress, which we know directly contributes to physical signs of aging like wrinkles, gray hair, and sagging skin. Chaga contains high levels of antioxidants, which comes from the natural black pigment in chaga called melanin. Chaga has the highest antioxidant potency of pretty much any superfood.
3. He Shou Wu
The name may sound funny, but the healing properties of this plant is no joke. The story of this plant begins back in Ancient Daoist texts, when a frail weak man fell asleep next to a long He Shou Wu vine. He decided to consume the plant regularly. Within a week, he became virile and managed to father a child a few months later. His strength and vitality completely returned despite his old age. All the color in his hair returned to a rich lustrous black. His name was He Tianer, and the herb was eventually named He Sho Wu, meaning “He’s Black Hair” which obviously connects to this story. This substance can help protect DNA, encourage repair, and extend lifespan. It is also a libido booster and sexual health tonic. One of the main reasons I decided to start using this plant is because of its ability to stimulate hair growth and rejuvenation. Although I now use only organic products on my hair and switched from harsh chemicals to natural plants to dye my hair, the fact that my hair is colored has made it quite weak over the past couple of years. During times of high stress, notice more of my hair falls out and sheds than usual. He Shou Wu has been shown to help reverse hair loss and restore color to hair. This has to do with how it has an harmonizing effect on our hormone producing glands, and also has a lot of zinc which is fabulous for hair growth (and acne too!)
Where is the best source to get them?
I love the brand Four Sigmatic (not sponsored, genuine opinion) because they make it easy and convienient to consume adaptogens. For example, they have a mushroom coffee mix, and it contains cordycepcs and chaga. They also have simple elixir packets that you can add to any drink; tea, coffee, smoothies, water, whatever.
Another brand that makes my list is Sun Potion. I found out about Sun Potion through Jeannette, because she is a huge advocate for all their products. They carry a diverse range of herbs and adaptogens, and they source from the highest quality places all around the world. I also love how the products come in glass containers. You can shop the site by category; they have adaptogens and tonics for brain and mood, skin and beauty, immunity and more.
How do I use them?
I personally like to use these extracts by blending them into my smoothies, smoothie bowls, turmeric lattes, and bulletproof coffee. Some good suggestions are to use reishi at night (add it to some warm tea) because it will help with your sleep. Use cordycepcs before a workout (maybe add it into a pre-workout smoothie) to boost athletic performance. Consume ashwaganda if you have a paper to write, or an essay to type because it will help you focus and get the task done without losing concentration. You can also play around with the timing, and see which one makes you feel your best. One important thing to note, is you should not use more than two adaptogens at one time. This can mess up how they are affecting your body and you may not be able to tell a difference if you are using more than one. Choose two that pertain most to the health goal you are trying to achieve or improve. I recommend starting with ashwaganda and reishi because I said earlier, they can be considered umbrella adaptogens.