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  • Writer's pictureAmy Malone RN LAc DiplOM

8 Adaptogens and what they do

Updated: Oct 20, 2018

What you put in your body is the fuel for how your body operates. If you are constantly eating junk foods or foods with a low nutritional profile, you are likely to feel heavy, stressed, unmotivated or just generally not great. If you fuel your body with healthy and adaptogenic foods you are likely to feel more vibrant and less stressed. Adaptogens are compounds found in plants that help your body adjust its response to stress. They impact how your immune system operates and how your body releases hormones and enzymes. Incorporating adaptogenic foods in your diet can help relieve stress, improve focus and energy, and help balance mood. Adaptogens can be used in cooking as part of food therapy or taken as teas, tinctures, powders or pill supplements. Many adaptogens are also tonics, so it is important to be mindful and use them in moderation and only when really needed. If overused, tonics can create stagnation and heat that may lead to irritability, headaches, insomnia or restlessness. If you are seeking these substances out in supplement or concentrated forms, please consult with an herbalist.

Here is a list of 8 adaptogenic plants to help you fight off stress.

1. Siberian Ginseng / Eleuthero ( Ci Wu Jia) - This herb is a relatively mild tonic that will help invigorate qi to fight fatigue and improve mental clarity. It also helps adapt the body's response to altitude stress so it is great for those traveling to or living in mountainous regions. It is often used by athletes, especially those who travel to compete to enhance athletic performance. Siberian Ginseng is found in many Chinese herbal formulas, supplements and can be brewed into tea.

2. Rhodiola (Hong Jing Tian) - A Tibetan herb used for altitude sickness, Rhodiola has been researched extensively for its adaptogenic properties. It is has been shown to promote healthy cortisol levels. Cortisol is released in response to stress and can cause weight gain and fatigue over time due to the body being in a fight or flight state, so promotion of healthy cortisol levels will help your body remain in less stressed. Another benefit of Rhodiola is that it is heat clearing and less likely to cause stagnation than the tonics of this category of plants. Typically it is used in supplements and powders, but can also be brewed as a tea.

3. Astragalus (Huang Qi) - One of my personal favorites, Astragalus is a strong tonic that is excellent for the immune system. Its adaptogenic properties include reparative functions for stress related damaged. It is a part of the very frequently used herbal formula Jade Windscreen, an immune protective, Lung qi boosting formula. In addition to being used medicinally, Astragalus can also be added to stocks and soups. It should be noted that as a strong tonic, it may not be suitable for those with strong constitutions, a tendency toward stagnation or for long term use.

4. Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi) - Schisandra is an adaptogenic astringent herb and is often found in Chinese herbal formulas. It has been found to be anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and anti-tumor suggesting that it impacts the bodies response to stress by decreasing oxidative load, particularly in the muscles. It is a great herb for helping the body stay balanced through its effects on the adrenal cortex. It is a unique fruit in that it has a sweet, sour and salty flavor.

5. Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao) - It has been shown to inhibit growth of cancer cells, which alone makes it impressive. In Chinese medicine it strengths both yin and yang making it safe to take for long periods of time in patients with weakness. As an adaptogen, it is considered anti-aging and helps promote healthy lung response to external and internal stressors. Cordyceps can be expensive and should therefore only be used when necessary. Because of this, it is also important to choose a trusted and reliable source.

6. Reishi (Ling Zhi) - Not new to the conversation, Reishi has been talked about for years for its liver detoxifying and anti-tumor benefits. In addition to being a strong anti-oxidant and immune supporting fungus, it helps fight fatigue, insomnia and may increase mental aptitude. In Chinese medicine it is used most regularly to reduce palpitations and relax the mind to alleviate anxiety. It is non-toxic and neutral so it can be safely taken for long periods of time by most people. Although technically edible, it is tough, woody and not very palatable. It is mostly used in powder or pill form. It can also be boiled into broth.

7. Licorice (Gan Cao) - Licorice is pervasive and found in hundreds of Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas. It is used as a regulating and tonifying herb that acts gently on the body and is easy to digest. Research has shown that licorice has immunomodulatory effects that improve general health. As an added benefit it tastes great brewed as a tea or extracted as a tincture.

8. Shiitake - Shiitake mushrooms are great because they are so readily available and can be used in everyday cooking as nutritional therapy. As an adaptive plant, they boost brain power and immune response to stress. They also contain phytonutrients that have been shown to benefit cardiovascular health. As with all mushrooms, they can cause allergic or unanticipated reactions in some people, so use caution especially if taking concentrated mushroom powders. Shiitakes are great for adding into stir fry and soup.


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