While it may seem like adaptogens are a new phenomenon given their current popularity, they've actually been used by humans for centuries to prevent illness and support a healthy body, mind, and immune system. Herbs, spices, berries, medicinal mushrooms...we've turned to the plant (and fungi) kingdom for thousands of years to help keep us well.
Even though their usage is ancient, there has perhaps never been a time more apt than today to start using adaptogens. Why? Because they help boost our ability to cope with anxiety and stress - two things many of us are dealing with on a chronic basis. They help replenish our energy on a cellular level so we can fight fatigue and maintain balance in the face of life's many stressors. Adaptogens do as their name implies - not only do they help us adapt to the stress of life but they also adapt their own function according to the specific needs of the body. Meaning, an adaptogen may have a different effect from person to person as we all have unique physical, chemical, and biological needs. And the benefits don't end there. Adaptogens also tend to be high in antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage and slow down the aging process. They also tend to strengthen cognitive function, hormonal balance, and physical strength. So many benefits, so little time.
Fall and winter is a wonderful time to add more adaptogens into your diet because they also help strengthen the immune system – something most all of us could use a little support with. If you don't know where to start, here are 5 awesome options to help you dive into the world of adaptogens. You may choose to ingest them in tincture or capsule form, add powders to your morning smoothies or coffee, make a nourishing herbal tea concoction, or enjoy them in functional treats like adaptogenic chocolate bars.
Known as the “Queen of Mushrooms” and the “Mushroom of Immortality”, reishi mushroom has been used for over 2,000 years in China and Japan to support general well-being. It's one of the best “herbs” for helping the body cope with stress, as well as boosting the immune system. If you tend to complain about feeling stressed out constantly, reishi is your best friend. It's known to be calming and to help support deeper sleep cycles if used in low doses on a continual basis. This is definitely one you'll want to start adding to your routine.
This powerful root is an incredible ally in the fight against general inflammation in the body. It's been shown that at the root of all chronic illness is some degree of inflammation – so the more anti-inflammatory substances we can consume on a regular basis, the better. It is also a potent antioxidant and has been shown to help boost brain function and protect the brain specifically against damage caused by free radicals.
Also known as “Tulsi”, holy basil shouldn't be mistaken for the sweet basil that's found in your favorite pasta sauce. Holy basil is rich in nutrients like Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, zinc, and chlorophyll. In Ayurvedic medicine it's been used to help the body and mind reach a more relaxed state. It's been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and restore a sense of calm well-being. It also has strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, making it incredibly supportive during cold and flu season.
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. While it's not known for being particularly delicious, or for having a pleasant aroma (Ashwagandha translates to “smell of the horse” in Sanskrit), it certainly makes up for it in its health-promoting properties. This potent herb has been shown to help fight inflammation and tumor growth, lower blood sugar levels, reduce cortisol in the blood (one of the main stress hormones that can really whack us out), boost brain function, and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Unlike ashwagandha, maca root actually tastes delicious. Hailing from the high altitude regions of central Peru, this valuable and highly nutritious root vegetable has a malty and naturally sweet flavor that pairs especially well with chocolate. It can be an incredible supplement to take on a regular basis to support natural, sustained energy levels (without the jitters of caffeine), and also to support healthy hormone function. Maca has been shown to help increase libido and fertility in both men and women, and, in general, has more stimulative properties making it a great supplement for athletic performance, or just the busy and often hectic nature of life.
If you've been a bit hesitant to dive into the world of adaptogens, we hope this gives you some ideas about where to start. You really can't go wrong with these multi-faceted, multi-purpose, multi-benefit superfoods.