This is part of our ongoing series, called DTL (that stands for Down to Learn), where we take deep dives into the odd, nuanced and mysterious world of sustainability. Each article in our series should give you a good icebreaker for your next Zoom, or perhaps even inspire you. This deep dive into all things adaptogen is by Planet G contributor Jacqueline Parisi.
Is it just us, or is the word “adaptogens” thrown around *all* *the* *time* in wellness conversations? But don’t be fooled—these superfoods are anything but a fleeting fad, which is why we’re big fans of them here at the Goldune HQ.
Below, we break down the what, the why, and the how of adaptogens to help you better decide which to try first.
What are adaptogenic herbs?
Adaptogens are essentially a fancy word to describe a group of herbs, roots, and fungi that have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Indian medicine (Ayurveda) for thousands of years as natural ways to help the body resist physical, chemical, and biological stressors.
Their use in two of the oldest traditional medical systems in the world dates back as early as 3,000 BCE; however, it was only in 1948 that the term was coined by Soviet scientist Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, who was determined to find a natural, performance-enhancing tonic for soldiers during the Soviet War. In fact, the first scientific studies on the tonic effects of schisandra, a type of adaptogen, was published in Soviet World War II-era military journals.
Today, they’re touted by doctors, scientists, and researchers around the world as promising emerging research points to their efficacy in boosting cognitive performance, combatting fatigue, and easing anxiety.
What forms do adaptogens come in?
There’s no one-size-fits-all form to adaptogens, and you’re likely to come across the herbs in capsules/tablets, tinctures, chews, and powders to mix into tea, coffee, and smoothies.
- Benefit: Allows you to taste (and enjoy!) the flavor of the herb.
- What to look for: Tinctures packaged in a recyclable glass bottle with a glass dropper, as well as formulations that are third-party tested for safety and contain no fillers or isolated plant compounds.
- Our go-tos: Rose-Colored Glasses Tincture to lift your mood with a blend of rose, holy basil, and milky oats. Immunity Now Tincture packs an immune-boosting punch courtesy of reishi, elderberry, and echinacea. Anxiety Ally Tincture with ashwagandha promotes balance and peace of mind. Pro tip: Hold the liquid under your tongue for 30-45 seconds before swallowing.
- Benefit: Easy-to-take gummies for those who aren’t the biggest fan of the taste of tinctures or texture of powders.
- What to look for: All natural gummies that are vegetarian, gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of processed sugar, artificial colors, flavors, or stabilizers. No, thank you.
- Our go-tos: Everyday Endurance Adaptogenic Chews for physical and mental energy support. Nerve-less Adaptogenic Chews with a soothing dose of ashwagandha and L-theanine.
- Benefit: SO versatile. Hooked on your cup ‘o Joe? Stir that powder right in. Prefer tea? That works, too. You can even whiz into your morning smoothie.
- What to look for: Certified organic is best, and if you can, keep an eye out for responsible sourcing from farmers who prioritize regenerative agriculture and land stewardship.
- Our go-tos: Adaptogenic Powder Forever Fan Bulk Bag with five organic adaptogens herbs and mushrooms: chaga, reishi, cordyceps, ashwagandha, and astragalus. Supershroom Immunity Powder with a variety of organic, immune-boosting mushrooms and herbs: lucama, reishi, ginger, turkey tail, astragalus, and maitake.
- Benefit: Super easy to take—just pop a supplement rather than having to make a smoothie, coffee, or tea to stir a powder into.
- What to look for: Supplements that are formulated without added fillers/binders and that are triple-tested for potency and purity.
Getting to know different kinds of adaptogens-- and their benefits
- About: Also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, ashwagandha is a foundational medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine that’s derived from the leaves and roots of the Withania somnifera plant.
- Potential benefits: Reduces blood sugar, cortisol levels, stress/anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
- About: Also known as huang qi or milk vetch, astragalus is a root that has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
- Potential benefits: Combats fatigue, strengthens and regulates the immune system, and improves blood flow.
- About: Cordyceps is a type of parasitic fungi, two strains of which have been extensively studied for their health benefits: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
- Potential benefits: Reduces inflammation and boosts stamina.
- About: Holy basil—aka tulsi or Ocimum tenuiflorum—isn’t your ordinary basil à la pesto. Native to Southeast Asia, this green leafy plant grows throughout Australia, West Africa, and select Middle Eastern countries.
- Potential benefits: Holy basil is high in Vitamins A and C as well as calcium, zinc, iron, and chlorophyll. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
- About: Referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi—aka Ganoderma Lucidum—has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Due to its tough woody texture, it’s best suited for consumption in the form of tea or powdered extract.
- Potential benefits: Combats inflammation, boosts immunity, and reduces symptoms of everyday stress.
- About: Also known as yamabushitake or hou you gu, Lion’s Mane are large, globe-shaped fungi with shaggy spines that resemble, appropriately enough, a lion’s mane. They’ve been long celebrated in Asian cultures for their culinary and medicinal value and grow wild throughout the Pacific Northwest and New England.
- Potential benefits: Lion’s Mane boasts impressive brain-boosting benefits, including protecting against dementia and relieving symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.
Soooooo???? Are they *actually* worth the hype?
You betcha. Not only have adaptogens been around for centuries, but there’s promising, modern emerging research around their impressive short and long-term health benefits.
*As with any drug or supplement, adaptogens do have side effects and interaction considerations. You may want to contact your healthcare provider prior to beginning an herbal regiment.