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? Nature has a supportive solution for you to restore balance and vitality: adaptogenic herbs.
Symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, headache, and pain 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. Symptoms are often the first sign of imbalance, and we’re quick to pop a pill to cover up what it actually important information from your body.
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 and Ayurvedic 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 ease 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 some (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:
- boost vitality
- fertility and sex drive
- increase focus
- chronic illness
- recovery when training, combat inflammation
- immune health
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, balances hormones, and eases anxiety. It may boost testosterone in men and supports thyroid hormones. (source) It’s a mild pain reliever, combats anxiety, and restores the nervous system. Good for menopausal symptoms. You can use this one later in the day to promote restful sleep. Good for lowering cortisol and helping your body adapt to stress. Read my post on ashwagandha here.
Avoid if you’re sensitive to nightshades.
DOSE: 2 full droppers three times daily, or this supplement is good.
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 been used in India for 5,000 years and is said to purify the mind, body and spirit. It’s an uplifting herb that’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, or this capsule is good. I drink this tea regularly.
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 enhances vitality and 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. Evidence suggests rhodiola can raise serotonin levels by as much as 30 percent, so it’s good for mild to moderate depression. (source) 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. It’s available in capsule form here. Don’t take it after 2pm, as it can be stimulating. 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. Licorice is a pretty potent source of plant estrogens (phytoestrogens), so it’s good for perimenopause but you want to avoid it you are estrogen dominant. 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, OR if using for fertility, try this supplement.
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, or these are good capsules.
Medicinal mushrooms are superior adrenal and 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. See my post all about them here.
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. This tincture is good.
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. These caps are combined with schisandra for super immune boosting. Or this tincture combines astragalus with schisandra and reishi.
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.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.