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A Guide to Adaptogenic Herbs--Mary Vance, NC

Are you having trouble making it through your day due to fatigue, trouble focusing, or feeling frazzled? Is your sex drive in the dumps? Or are you experiencing higher than normal stress levels that may be causing hair loss, dull skin, nagging digestive problems?

These symptoms are your body’s way of telling you to listen up: You’re off balance, maybe burning the candle at both ends, chugging too much coffee, staying up too late, and/or eating too much sugar and too many processed nutrient-void foods. Continue too long down this path and you could end up with adrenal fatigue (more accurately known as hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction). Fortunately, nature has a supportive solution to restore hormone balance and vitality: adaptogenic herbs.

I LOVE talking about herbs and herbal medicine. Nature has provided us with amazingly potent plants that have the unique ability to work with our bodies to restore balance. Adaptogens are like the fairy godmother who knows exactly what you need. Long used in Chinese medicine, these herbs have the unique ability to adapt their function to your body’s needs. If your stress hormones are running high, adaptogens will normalize the levels. If you’re burned out, adaptogens will restore hormonal balance. They help your body adapt to stress and enhance your ability to cope with fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia. These magical elixirs will restore the pep in your step and boost your sex drive. Meet your new best friends!

How Do Adaptogenic Herbs Work?

Far as I’m concerned, adaptogens are miracles. They promote feelings of calm and focus while boosting energy and immunity, and they won’t amp you up or make you feel jittery. They counter feelings of restlessness and anxiety and enhance wellbeing. Adaptogens balance hormones much like a thermostat regulates temperature: they sense when hormones are low or high and regulate levels accordingly. Their main action is to help your body adapt to or recover from stress. Many have an anti-inflammatory action and are rich in antioxidants. I recommend using them to recover from stress, to take care of yourself when you’re extra busy, or to support yourself if you’re feeling burned out.

Adaptogenic Herbs: A Guide for Use

NOTE: do not use adaptogens during pregnancy, but most (ashwaganda, holy basil) are safe for breastfeeding. (source)

I use adaptogens frequently myself and recommend them to my clients who are stressed or working on hormone balance. If you’re experiencing higher than normal stress in your life or are about to head into a stressful event (new job, buying a house, moving, wedding, divorce, death), you can use the adaptogens to help you keep your health intact. Also great to increase mental stamina and focus and boost immune health.

Use adaptogens for any of the following conditions:

  • stress
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • worry
  • boost vitality
  • fertility
  • increase focus
  • chemotherapy
  • chronic illness
  • recovery when training, combat inflammation
  • restoration

Words of caution: please be advised that quality matters when sourcing herbs. I only recommend a few trusted companies for my herbs. I have not included dosages on all these, because you should consult with a practitioner before dabbling in herbs. Work with an expert, as plants are strong medicine!

Ashwaganda: generally well tolerated, ashwaganda is a gentle, soothing herb that relaxes the mood and mind, regulates the immune system, and eases anxiety. It’s a mild pain reliever, combats anxiety, and restores the nervous system. You can use this one later in the day to promote restful sleep. Good for lowering cortisol.
Avoid if you’re sensitive to nightshades.
DOSE: 2 full droppers three times daily.

Holy basil (also know as Tulsi): one of my favorites, this one revitalizes, improves energy and fatigue, elevates mood, and is known as an anti-aging elixir. (source) It’s good for anxiety/depression, especially postpartum, and helps regulate hormone levels. May improve mental clarity and has anti-inflammatory properties. I often recommend this one for anxiety. You can take it as a tea or a tincture. I most often recommend it combined with other herbs, like ashwaganda.
DOSE: 2 full droppers three times daily.

Rhodiola: another one of my favorites (though I say that about all of them), rhodiola soothes anxiety but can be too stimulating for some. This one is great for anyone training for sports anything: it supports stamina, combats fatigue, repairs inflammation, and boosts recovery for athletes. It’s great if you’re feeling burned out and want to restore energy and vitality. Don’t take it after 2pm, as it can be stimulating. Rhodiola also supports the immune system. Great for fibromyalgia, muscle pain, chronic fatigue. I like rhodiola in a tincture on its own. If you’re trying to regulate cortisol rhythm, take rhodiola during the day and ashwaganda at night.
CAUTION: not for use with bi-polar or mania disorder.

Licorice root is a great energy booster and superb for raising low cortisol levels. Increases energy and endurance and boosts immune system. Use caution with this one if you’re prone to high blood pressure. Use it upon waking and after lunch, but not after 2pm, as it may interfere with sleep.
DOSE: 5-10 drops before breakfast and after lunch.

Maca: this one is for you if you want to boost sex drive, vitality, and fertility. Increases strength, energy, stamina, libido and sexual function. I often recommend it to menopausal women to ease the transition. Maca is rich in calcium, vitamin C, amino acids, phytonutrients and fatty acids. Boosts mood and relieves tension and anxiety. Can be too stimulating for some.
1 tsp powdered maca daily.

Eleuthero: also known as Siberian ginseng, this one is a good performance and focus enhancer. Improves mental alertness, protects against viruses, supports detox. Good to raise low DHEA levels and boost stamina.
2-3 full droppers three times daily.

Medicinal mushrooms are superior immune tonics that can be used for cancer treatment (they show anti-tumor properties) and to fight viruses. Cordyceps, reishi, and maitake nourish the immune system, reduce inflammation, are potent antioxidants, and reishi in particular promotes deep and restorative sleep.

Schisandra is another favorite of mine. This beautiful, exotic berry is sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent, making it an excellent liver protective detox tonic. Good for energy, vitality, and longevity, it’s a great overall tonic to decrease fatigue, enhance physical performance, and promote endurance. Schisandra combats stress and normalizes cortisol levels. Offers great benefits for endurance athletes. Schisandra may also improve concentration, coordination and endurance.

Astragalus is widely used in Chinese medicine and is a potent immune system tonic. Great for stress reduction. I most often recommend this one as part of a wellness tincture to ward off or reduce duration of sickness.

The ginsengs are also vitality-boosting adaptogens, but I think the above are superior.

My Favorite Adaptogen Tonics

My go-to for adrenal stress and overall hormone balance is Gaia Adrenal support. You cannot go wrong with this one for balance and vitality. It contains all of my favorites (ashwaganda, rhodiola, schisandra, holy basil) and is gentle yet powerful. I also like this HPA formula; it contains most of my faves along with maca, making it great for stress resistance and virility. This Vital Adapt tincture is a wonderful all-around tonic too.

For stress relief, I love Herb Pharm’s Stress Manager. It contains holy basil, rhodiola, eleuthero, schisandra, and reishi to boost immune health, which can suffer when we’re under stress. I took this recently when I was under a great deal of stress caring for a sick parent, and I felt better after only a few days.

For energy and focus, try rhodiola or licorice root. For energy and stamina, I like this ginseng-eleuthero tonic.

For immune health, this astragalus formula also contains schisandra and reishi.

For calming and anxiety relief, use ashwagandaHoly basil is great too. You can also drink Tulsi tea, but the tinctures/liquid caps work best.

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