June 17, 2017
If you keep up with the latest in health & wellness, you've probably heard the term 'adaptogens' or 'adaptogenic' being used a lot lately. But what exactly are these healing herbs, and what can they do for you?
Adaptogens are a particular class of herbs that have a ‘normalising’ effect on the body’s processes, by supporting the immune and adrenal systems. The adrenal system is heavily involved in the production of hormones – and healthy adrenals are essential for mood, energy and stress management. Among other things, adaptogens prevent the over-production of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’ produced by the adrenal glands).
While producing cortisol is necessary (it’s responsible for our age-old ‘fight or flight’ response to danger and helps to keep us motivated, awake and responsive to our environment), prolonged elevated cortisol is not healthy, and can cause anxiousness, irritability and mood fluctuations. Adaptogenic herbs can help to alleviate these symptoms by helping the body to regulate its natural stress response.
But, their benefits don’t stop there. They can also combat inflammation, have antibiotic, antiviral and antibacterial effects; and can even help to stabilise blood sugar levels via their effect on cortisol production (cortisol is involved in the body's conversion of proteins to sugars).
So, which herbs are ‘adaptogenic’? According to researcher Jan Whiticomb, there are 16 proven adaptogens - but some of the most commonly-available ones include:
Ashwaghanda or ‘Indian ginseng’ has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. It has immuno-moderating effects (it helps to boost the immune system) and can help to lower anxiety by regulating cortisol levels.
‘Asian’ or red ginseng is a potent antioxidant, and has been found helpful in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Also used in Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi grows in tropical climates across the globe & has been found to have thyroid, adrenal and immune-moderating effects.
Reishi mushroom is detoxifying and strongly anti-inflammatory. Research has found that reishi mushrooms act to normalise and regulate various functions and systems, including the endocrine (hormonal), immune, cardiovascular and digestive systems.
Maca, a malty-flavoured relative of radish, is rich in iron & often used as a natural energy booster.
Most of these herbs have quite a mild taste, and can easily be incorporated into hot drinks or smoothies (I have a teaspoonful of ashwaghanda most evenings with almond milk & some honey). You can also cook with them - maca, for example, has a smooth, malty taste & smell. I like to use a spoonful of it whenever I bake, to add a rich flavour and help to boost my iron levels.