Stress and anxiety. We’ve all felt them at one point or another. Maybe we are feeling it right now. If so, let’s take a moment to take a deep inhale and exhale before diving into this helpful guide.
Stress is an all-too-common factor in our current society. Work, finances, social engagements, family, and daily responsibilities contribute stress to our lives. On days where it feels like things are working against us, our anxiety tends to rise and do a number on our nervous system and adrenal glands.
Anxiety is a primal and instinctual reaction to stimuli we perceive as threats. It’s important to really take a rest and listen to what our anxieties are trying to tell us. Many times our perceived threats are an indication that our boundaries are being crossed. Maybe you are overloaded by responsibilities at work and home. Your body is likely trying to communicate through anxiety. It doesn’t feel safe with all the stress and responsibility.
Sometimes anxiety and stress is unavoidable. So what can we do? Before you run off to the mountains and turn your back on society, I’d like to introduce you to the powerful herbal allies called adaptogens. You may have heard the word in passing or on packaging for superfoods, so what are they exactly? There are over 70 plants and herbs recognized for their adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens help to support our bodily response to stress by working with our existing stress response system.
Adaptogenic herbs help us deal with stress by assisting our bodies natural ability to adapt to stress. Incorporating adaptogens into our regimens through smoothies, drinks, teas, and supplements helps us thrive in our lives without being thwarted by debilitating stress.
We’ll go over some of the most easily accessible adaptogens and how to easily incorporate them into our diets for optimal results. Adaptogens are not a quick fix and work cumulatively. We need to be patient and work with our herbal allies as they build up our body’s resistance to stress. We’ll show you exactly how to accomplish this.
To understand how adaptogens work, it’s important to first understand how stress and anxiety work. When we encounter a stressor, our body’s nervous system reacts and triggers a response. The response is broken down into three separate stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. We’ve all felt the fatigue from exhaustion that follows a particularly stressful situation or day. Adaptogens help our body fight off stress by prolonging the resistance stage of our nervous system response. The resistance stage involves releasing hormones like adrenaline improving our ability to fight off the stressor. By supporting this stage, the adaptogens help us deal with the stresses we encounter.
Adaptogens help us adapt to our stressors without them exhausting us in the process. Since we are able to resist the negative effects of stress better, we feel an increased sense of resilience and power. It acts as a buffer for stress which is incredibly beneficial to our overall health. Stress doesn’t feel good when it’s actively happening but the prolonged effects of stress are detrimental to our health. When we feel stressed, our adrenal glands release cortisol. In excess, cortisol causes problems with blood pressure, heart health, weight gain, hair loss, circadian rhythm, and hormonal function. Keeping stress and anxiety under control is a mental, emotional, physical and spiritual undertaking.
There are over 70 herbs possessing adaptogenic properties. Herbalists recommend switching your adaptogen every six weeks to build up our stress response system. Some of these adaptogenic herbs have stimulating qualities and are best taken in the morning while some have a sedative effect making them ideal for evening time while we wind down from our day.
Withania Somnifera. Ashwagandha. One of the most commonly used adaptogens in Western society and for good reason. The herb’s ability to simultaneously reduce stress and anxiety effectively while also boosting energy and endurance makes it a favorite amongst herbalists. Many of us tend to feel both exhausted and stressed at the same time. This is especially common for those of us with a high-caffeine intake. Incorporating adaptogens into our regimens is especially important if we consume lots of coffee as it tends to deplete our adrenals and negatively affect our stress response system.
Licium barbarum, also known as Goji berries, are delicious fruits with powerful qualities. The sweet and flavorful berries can be eaten on their own or added to meals like salad, oatmeals, or baked goods. Powdered goji berries are often incorporated into adaptogenic teas and tonics. Goji berries help to improve energy and endurance levels while simultaneously promoting feelings of well-being and calmness. Their adaptogenic qualities and versatility make them an excellent choice for those beginning their journey with adaptogens.
Schisandra Chinensis, more commonly referred to as Schisandra berries, are an incredible adaptogen capable of boosting energy and endurance. The taste is very potent and is sometimes called the five-flavor-fruit due to its complex flavor profile. Berries can be eaten alone or steeped in tea. Schisandra has a stimulative effect in addition to its adaptogenic qualities and should be incorporated slowly by those sensitive to stimulants.
Tulsi or Ocimum Sanctum, otherwise known as Holy Basil, is aptly named for its truly sacred properties. The herb is often found in many teas and offers a delicious flavor. The powerful adaptogen works to reduce stress and anxiety, both physical and mental. It also helps to combat feelings of depression. During this time where some of us are susceptible to winter blues, Holy Basil makes an excellent and powerful plant ally.
Rhodiola Rosea, is another common adaptogen used by many to support a healthy stress response system. It is used in many blends and supplements designed to help you adapt to life’s stresses. Rhodiola is a beautiful flowering plant. The root of the plant, sometimes referred to as Arctic Root, carries its adaptogenic qualities. Rhodiola helps with fatigue caused by mental and physical stress.
Eleutherococcus senticosus is another powerful adaptogen. The herb simultaneously improves energy levels and assists our stress response system. Eleuthero is particularly effective at combating mental fatigue and improving focus. As we know, mental fatigue is often the result of the exhaustion stage of our body’s stress response system. This herb is an excellent choice if you frequently experience mental fatigue due to anxiety or stress.
Panax Quinquefolius is celebrated for its ability to boost memory, focus, and performance. Sometimes called Panax or American ginseng, the root is used widely by those seeking enhanced mental quickness. While the root assists greatly in this, it also helps promote feelings of calmness and homeostasis. American ginseng is extremely delicious and is incorporated into beverages as well as teas. The adaptogen also comes in powdered, tea, supplement, and tincture form.
Adaptogens come in a variety of forms. Many of the root varieties are available in powder form allowing for easy incorporation into elixirs, tonics, and smoothies. If you have a set regimen for incorporating other herbal allies, it is easy to add the powder to your daily elixirs. Others come in tinctures. Tinctures are concentrated and powerful herbal medicines. I particularly love to put tinctures in citrus juice like orange, pineapple or guava. The citrus juice does an excellent job at masking the taste and cutting the harshness of the alcohol used in the extraction process.
Teas are another amazing way to incorporate adaptogens into our lives. One of the added benefits of tea is the opportunity to set an intention and practice a ritual around the making and enjoying of the beverage. There is something so calming about setting the kettle on the stove, picking out our favorite mug, and inhaling the fragrant steam as our tea steeps. Holding the warm cup in your hands and sitting down for a few minutes incorporates a sense of calming and peace. Golden Poppy carries an excellent blend of oat straw, nettle, goji berry, ginger, and ashwagandha in the AdaptiTea blend. The loose leaf tea combines a wonderful and fragrant taste with a crafted blend of adaptogenic herbal allies.
Herbal medicine is truly an amazing and magical practice. Most of our herbal allies carry various benefits. Adaptogens are equally versatile. Certain varieties of these herbs help assist our bodies in many beneficial ways.
Many of the herbal adaptogens we’ve discussed also carry immune boosting properties. Boosting our immune defense system is a fantastic way to protect ourselves, especially during this time of year where respiratory illnesses are common. Since stress is often linked to a weakened immune system, taking adaptogens will help thwart the negative effects your stress may be having on your immune system. The following adaptogenic herbs also help support a healthy functioning immune system:
We often associate stress relief with relaxation and slowing down. While this is incredibly important, there are adaptogens capable of assisting our stress response while also boosting energy and endurance. These types of herbs are especially beneficial to students, parents, and those of us with energy demanding jobs. Our day to day responsibilities often require energy and endurance. While a cup of lavender and chamomile tea is a fantastic way to unwind at the end of the day, it may not benefit our focus and energy levels during the day. These adaptogenic herbs also help to boost energy and endurance throughout the day:
We hope through the use of adaptogens and calming practices that you can incorporate more peace and resilience in your life. Moving our bodies and getting ourselves outside daily helps to ground and relax us. Other great practices include limiting screen time (especially at night), nutritious home-cooked meals, and prioritizing the quality of our sleep. We know life can get hectic and stressors are inevitable but with the help of adaptogens, we can set ourselves up for success and thrive in every situation we find ourselves in on this journey through being human.
And whether it is the start of a new year, or the turning of a new season, the one consistent thing is that change is inevitable. And, yet again, we can turn to our herbal allies as teachers and guides for how to embrace change, and move through it in more flow.
“Continuity gives us roots; Change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” ~ Pauline R. Kezer
Nature is a very fascinating guide when it comes to understanding how to move with change. Nature tends not to resist change but instead adapt to it, accepting it as truth.
As the seasons come, plants utilize conditions in a way that best fits their purpose. A seedling embraces the return of the sun and the wet conditions of spring to grow rapidly, intuitively knowing that drier days may be ahead. And when the drier days come, the plant adapts yet again, changing root systems to take advantage of less water when it is available, or dropping non-critical branches and leaves to alleviate expenditure of unnecessary energy. Furthermore, a plant does not force itself to continue to flower and grow in the winter – instead, it takes this as an opportunity to return to the earth, rest, and renew for the spring to come.
Charles Darwin has pointed out that, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that most adaptable to change.” It is the trees that have learned how to bend and move to find limited amounts of sunlight in a densely packed forest or the fungus that has learned how to live in harmony with other living things that continue on. It is those that do not resist change, but instead those that grow with it, and surrender to it; not allowing it to rule them, that progress forward.
However, perhaps the most beautiful, and most important lesson that nature teaches us about change, is that it does not have to be scary, or impact us negatively. It is true that change is not always necessarily easy, but change can also be an incredible thing, and sometimes an absolutely necessary thing, for our life journey. When we choose to live in a harmonious flow with change, we can more easily identify the opportunities they may bring.
While a relatively newer term, in that it was not used heavily in the herbalist community prior to the 1950s, the term “adaptogen,” coined by Russian scientist Dr. Lazarev is used to describe any substance that “had a normalizing effect on our system without harmful side effects and worked by ‘non-specific’ action to increase resistance to illness through a wide-range of physical and biochemical non-factors.” Furthermore, Rosemary Gladstar describes adaptogenic herbs as those that “boost energy, restore vitality, and help raise the body’s ability to deal with the stress of modern life with no harmful side effects [and] are also the prime herbs used for increasing life force and longevity.”
In short, adaptogenic herbs are those which we call upon as allies to help support us as we move through change. This is especially true if the change we are experiencing is also accompanied by grief, heartache, shock, or stress (or even accompany other herbs that support regulation of our nervous systems). They can also be called upon as consistent allies throughout the progressing stages of our life!
Gladstar points out that adaptogens help support the body by:
Adaptogenic herbs are versatile in their use. They can be added to broths and meals, or they can be used as teas, tinctures, syrups, baths, and more!
Some common and more well-known adaptogenic herbs that you may be already familiar with include Dandelion Root, Ashwagandha, Reishi, Holy Basil, and Ginseng.
Nutritive herbs such as alfalfa, nettle, burdock root, and oat straw also have incredible adaptogenic benefits, while providing deep nourishment via vitamins and minerals to our bodies. Additionally, they offer some properties that work to calm our nervous system.
(Check out our blog on Adaptogens for Stress Support for even more info)
If the change you are experiencing is also associated with deep heartache, grief, or even trauma, it might also be of benefit to incorporate herbs that support our emotional, spiritual, and mental bodies.
Some of our favorite heart herbs include:
Many of these can be found in our Heart-Full Tea
Whatever you are facing this year, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide community support. We continue to be impressed by what our beautiful community adapts to and overcomes, and the way we continue to support one another and express love. While it is hard to believe we are already saying goodbye to another year, and ringing in a new one, we are so grateful to do it with you all!