In Part 1 of our series on adaptogens, we discussed what adaptogens are and how they can help defend the body against the effects of stress and support overall wellbeing. Here in Part 2, we review different types of adaptogens and their unique strengths so you can figure out which are right for you.
The healing power of plants can be immense. But just as you wouldn’t take the wrong antibiotic for an infection, it’s necessary to understand which natural substances to use for your individual needs. Having a targeted approach is particularly important as good quality products can run you a hefty tab.
As we previously explained in greater detail, all adaptogens have a hormone balancing effect that helps the body defend against the damaging effects of stress.
But adaptogens also optimize other physiological systems, and different adaptogens have different strengths.
Think of the following guide as a map to help you navigate the adaptogen maze. Use it to make informed decisions about the ones that are right for you. You’ll notice some repetition across categories and it’s no surprise — some of our favourite adaptogens are powerhouses in multiple areas!
(Photo by Andrew Ridley)
When To Use Adaptogens
Keep in mind that as your body’s needs change from time to time, so will the adaptogens that are optimal for your particular state. As with all supplements and health-promoting products, be sure to listen to your body and adjust your choice and dose of adaptogens accordingly.
If your lifestyle has changed, your body chemistry has changed (i.e., you enter menopause or develop a health condition), or you aren’t experiencing the same results you once did, it may be time to switch up your adaptogen routine.
Also, as we noted in Part 1, just as one workout won’t make you fit, taking a few doses of adaptogens here and there won’t yield an effect. Adaptogens have a cumulative effect, nourishing and strengthening your systems over time.
- Adapt your adaptogens for the health benefits you need on an as-needed basis.
- Incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine for optimal benefits.
How To Use Adaptogens
Sure, you could take a capsule supplement, but when’s the last time you got excited about popping a handful of pills every day? Incorporating adaptogens is easy, fun and flavorful when you use them in foods and drinks you're already consuming!
- elixirs & wellness lattes
- matcha lattes
- oatmeal, yogurt & chia pudding
- energy balls & bars
- ice cream, popsicles & other frozen treats
Note: (1) It is recommended to consult with your health care practitioner when considering adaptogens and other herbs to determine which ones and what doses are right for you. (2) Since Ashwagandha increases thyroid function, it may not be suitable for people with hyperactive thyroid, such as those with Graves’ disease.
(Photo by Nathan Dumlao)
Adaptogens for Immunity
All adaptogens support the immune system. But as different botanicals have different properties, they impact the immune system in different ways. The following are some immune-supporting favorites.
Ashwagandha: Also known as Withania somnifera. In addition to helping you regulate your stress response, nourish the adrenal glands, and fight the effects of chronic stress, this super-root can enhance the body’s defense against disease by improving cell-mediated immunity. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's immunity-supporting and other benefits here.)
Astragalus: The combination of astragalus’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and immuno-stimulating effects make it one of the most prized immune-modulating herbs in TCM and herbal medicine. The root of this plant is thought to support immune function by promoting the health and functionality of the spleen.
Cordyceps: This mushroom is hailed for its powerful ability to support the immune system thanks to its functional compounds including beta-glucans (multi-chain carbohydrates) that stimulate our immune defences. Its been shown to prevent suppression of the immune system and help boost levels of certain white blood cells.
Reishi: Often referred to as the "queen of medicinal mushrooms," this widely researched mushroom has been found to be one of the broadest acting immune-modulating (i.e. normalizing) botanicals, exhibiting anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral activity, and activating cells of the immune system. (Learn more about Reishi’s immunity-supporting and other benefits here.)
Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil — yes, it’s related to the indispensable pasta sauce ingredient): This herb is your all-in-one health kit. It has broad-spectrum immune activity, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, and it can help defend against infections by enhancing the body’s immune responses. With its combination of anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, Tulsi is also helpful for healing wounds.
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Adaptogens for Energy & Stamina
Cordyceps: With its ability to support energy and stamina, in part due to its ability to help boost production of ATP (the body’s primary source of energy during exercise), this is the go-to mushroom for those looking to boost physical performance and endurance.
This is a benefit you’ll gain over time. Think about training your biceps right along with taking your cordyceps. You won’t grow biceps overnight, and cordyceps won’t impact your ATP levels overnight. You’ll want to continue taking it regularly to enjoy the leveled-up increase in stamina and resilience.
Rhodiola: Also referred to as Rhodiola rosea, this herb is used traditionally in Asia and Eastern Europe, this herb has been shown to enhance energy, reduce fatigue and increase endurance. It's also considered an adaptogen that is stimulating for the central nervous system. (Learn more about Rhodiola's energizing benefits here.)
Rhodiola supports healthy energy levels without giving you the jitters and crashes you might experience from drinking too much caffeine.
You can find Rhodiola in our Focus Functional Chocolate.
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha’s history of traditional use for strength and stamina is also clinically supported, with studies showing that supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength, enhanced recovery, increased body fat metabolism and cardiorespiratory endurance. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's athletic-supporting and other benefits here.)
Ginseng: Both varieties of ginseng, Asian and American, as well as Siberian ginseng (aka Eleuthero, another similar sounding herb but botanically different from Ginseng), share their ability to enhance strength, stamina, and physical performance.
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Adaptogens for Cognitive Function
Ashwagandha: Its traditional use to promote learning and enhance memory is supported by clinical research. Ashwagandha is also considered beneficial to the brain and nervous system as a whole, protecting against wasting away of nerves and brain cells, and helping to fight free radicals and help prevent oxidative damage to the brain. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's cognitive-supporting and other benefits here.)
Rhodiola: Rhodiola is commonly used in Herbal medicine to help support cognitive function and reduce mental fatigue. Research suggests that Rhodiola can impact brain function via multiple mechanisms, benefitting both immediate cognitive performance and long-term brain function. (Learn more about Rhodiola's cognitive-supporting benefits here.)
Tulsi: This power herb is used in herbal and traditional medicine to enhance memory and cognitive function and relieve "brain fog". But unlike caffeine which stimulates you both physically and mentally, Tulsi has a calming effect that leads to clarity of thought.
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(Photo by Lisa Hobbs)
Adaptogens for Anti-Aging (Skin, Hair & Nails)
Before we dive into adaptogens for healthy aging, it’s important to understand what underlies premature aging in the first place. This process happens because of excessive inflammation, as well as oxidative stress.
The body creates free radicals as a result of normal metabolic processes, as well as when it encounters external stressors like ultraviolet light, cigarette smoke, or pollution. These molecules are unbalanced and look for balanced molecules to help stabilize themselves.
When they do, they damage healthy cells. This damage results in inflammation and premature aging in every part of your body. Antioxidants offer protection to the cells by helping to stabilize free radicals before they cause damage.
Here, we explain how adaptogens work to offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection against premature aging.
Chaga: This functional mushroom’s compounds include beta-glucans, which can help the skin retain moisture and synthesize collagen (key for skin elasticity), melanin, a pigment thought to protect skin cells from UV radiation, and SOD (superoxide dismutase), a critical antioxidant that the body produces to maintain proper cellular function and fight DNA damage caused by free radicals.
Schisandra Berry: For millennia, this potent adaptogen has been used in China to prolong life and slow the aging process. This is not surprising, given its significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity that helps to maintain healthy cells throughout the body.
Licorice: This adaptogen has been found to boost the body's natural steroid hormones to counteract inflammation and irritation of the skin.
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Adaptogens for Sexual Health
As a result of their general support for neurological-hormone balance, adaptogens also support balance of sex hormones and functioning of the reproductive system. Some adaptogens are thought to be particularly beneficial for libido, while others are traditionally used in cases of infertility.
Asian Ginseng: Commonly traditionally used to enhance libido and virility, Asian Ginseng has been shown to improve erectile function. In women, it has also been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms and enhance libido in postmenopausal women.
Ashwagandha: Considered India's most potent sex-enhancing herb, Ashwagandha is traditionally used by both men and women to stimulate sex drive. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's functional benefits here.)
Adaptogens for Relaxation, Calming & Mood
Adaptogens directly support the nervous system, helping the body better respond to stress and supporting mood. Certain adaptogens have been found to be particularly beneficial for strengthening the nervous system, and some have even been found to have anti-depressant or anti-anxiety activity.
Reishi mushroom: We like to call this highly researched mushroom the “King of Calm”. Reishi is traditionally revered for its ability to calm spirit and mind, with a long history of use by Taoist monks to improve meditation. In western herbal medicine, it’s used when restlessness and an overactive mind cause insomnia.
This is a great adaptogen to incorporate into your night time, winding down routine and help improve sleep. (Learn more about Reishi's functional benefits here.) Try switching out your nightcap with calm in a cup. Calm Cacao Superblend contains Reishi, Mucuna Pruriens, and magnesium-rich Cacao to help support your body’s ability to relax.
Rhodiola: This powerful adaptogen helps directly increase key brain chemicals involved in mood, such as dopamine and serotonin. (Learn more about Rhodiola's mood-supporting benefits here.)
Note: because Rhodiola supports energy levels, it might be best to avoid taking it at night time, as it could result in an unwanted side effect of late-night energy. (Unless, of course, late-night energy is what you want!)
Schisandra: This berry is a calming adaptogen, thought to help provide relief from anxiety. Chinese Buddhist monks drink Schisandra tea to calm the mind and prepare for meditation.
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Adaptogens for Digestion
Licorice Root: A potent anti-inflammatory adaptogen, Licorice is commonly used for relieving gastritis and ulcers. It helps soothe the gut lining and treat nausea, indigestion and stomach pain.
Schisandra: Well known for boosting liver function and enzyme production, this super-berry helps to balance blood sugar. It also improves digestion and the removal of bodily waste.
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Adaptogens: The Herbal Way To Find Balance
Your body is constantly searching for its natural state of balance or homeostasis, where its organs and system are not in overdrive, or underperforming. Stress, illness, and lack of sleep can all cause your body’s natural equilibrium to falter. Adaptogens help bring you back to even ground, and it’s easy to add them to your routine when you use the sustainably sourced, third-party tested products available from JOYÀ.
Enhancement of ATP generation capacity, antioxidant activity and immunomodulatory activities by Chinese Yang and Yin tonifying herbs | PMC
Effect of extracts from Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata (Crassulaceae) roots on ATP content in mitochondria of skeletal muscles | PMC
Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions | PMC
Glucan stimulates human dermal fibroblast collagen biosynthesis through a nuclear factor-1 dependent mechanism | PMC
Effects of Schisandra chinensis Turcz. fruit on contact dermatitis induced by dinitrofluorobenzene in mice | PMC
Effects of tissue-cultured mountain ginseng (Panax ginseng CA Meyer) extract on male patients with erectile dysfunction | PMC
Effects of red ginseng supplementation on menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular risk factors in postmenopausal women: a double-blind randomized controlled trial | PMC
Effects of Korean red ginseng on sexual arousal in menopausal women: placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover clinical study | PMC
Ruth Elnekave is a Toronto-based chef, holistic nutritionist, culinary instructor, recovering corporate lawyer and founder of JOYÀ. Her projects are fuelled by one main goal: to spread the pure joy and wellbeing experienced when sharing and savouring delicious, real food.