A Beginner’s Guide to Adaptogens

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 13 April 2020
  • 3 minute read
A Beginner's Guide to Adaptogens | The Health Sessions

This article is written by Emma Paige. 

Everyday living can be stressful, and even the most mundane things can tick anyone off. It’s no surprise that stress can do a number on you, and if you aren’t careful enough, it might even be deadly.

Mother Nature seems to have a solution to combating stress. Enter adaptogens: a specialised group of herbs and plants that not only fight stress but also have the ability to balance our mood.

Learning how to deal with stressors is in itself stress-inducing sometimes. From meditation to yoga, taking these steps to keep cortisol levels low may not be enough. Adaptogens have been attributed to being a stress-buster as well, but how effective are they?

Adaptogen herbs are a form of restorative medicine that has been around for centuries. People from Asia all the way to South America believe in their powers to keep stress at bay. While many years of its use seem to be enough to back up these claims for other people, it would be wise to always read into each information with a grain of salt.

What are these adaptogen plants, and are they even safe? 

Adaptogen: What it is and how it works

The root word of “adaptogen” is adapt and that’s exactly what it does: it helps the body adapt to stress.

These herbs, roots, and fungi affect the body’s physical reaction to stress and because of this, they lessen the negative impact it may have on our health. In assisting the body’s coping mechanism, mood swings are lessened, the immune system is improved, and energy levels are more stable.

How adaptogens work isn’t entirely known just yet, but it seems as though that adaptogens specifically affect the HPA axis.

The HPA axis stands for hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and consists of the adrenal glands, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary gland. These organs are responsible for releasing hormones the entire body needs. If our body produces too much or too little of a hormone, it can wreak havoc and cause an internal imbalance.

Adaptogen plants support the way the HPA axis operates and encourage the body to a state of homeostasis. Well-known adaptogens that help your body handle stress are ginseng, ashwaganda and cordyceps mushrooms.

A Beginner's Guide to Adaptogens | The Health Sessions
All photos by Chelsea Shapouri via Unsplash.com.

Benefits of adaptogens

Unlike other herbs or superfoods that directly affect certain parts of the body, such as peppermint to soothe the tummy or sage for optimal brain function, adaptogens directly affect the body’s response to stress.

Known benefits of adaptogens include stimulating the central nervous system; protecting the nervous system in general; reducing fatigue; combating depression; and also increasing mental work capacity.

As a whole, adaptogens are taken to support both mental and physical health, so that both may perform at favourable levels, even when things aren’t smooth sailing.

Safety concerns surrounding adaptogens

As with most supplements, adaptogens are generally safe when ingested appropriately. After all, these plants have been in use for many centuries by Eastern and Western medical practitioners, as well as modern-day herbalists, for their known health benefits.

Disclaimer: While negative side effects are a concern for all medications, including adaptogens, you should always practice common sense whenever you intend to try something new.

Always ask your doctor if it is safe to take supplements that contain adaptogens. This is especially  important if you have an underlying medical condition to see if it will affect current medications you are taking.

Women who are trying to get pregnant, who are already pregnant, or breastfeeding mothers should stay away from plant medicine in general.

A Beginner's Guide to Adaptogens | The Health Sessions

Know more about adaptogens

Incorporating adaptogens into your diet isn’t as hard as you think it is. Some can be bought fresh and added directly to a dish or beverage, while extracts and powders can be an flavour and health awesome booster to smoothies and teas.

Here are 3 known adaptogens that have been gaining popularity in recent years:

Holy basil  

In the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil or tulsi have anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. It also helps with relaxation and regulates the heart rate. In studies done on animals, holy basil also increases endurance. Tulsi is native to Southeast Asia and is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. Its unique spicy flavour makes it an instant hit in herbal tea blends.

Reishi mushroom

This fungus was deemed so powerful that the wealthy and royal family were the only people to have consumed it. Native to Japan and also found in some parts in China, the reishi mushroom is still an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine because of its immune system boosting properties. It is also very rich in antioxidants and also has antiviral properties.


A root that has been cultivated by the Andean cultures for thousands of years, the maca is said to improve mood, help balance hormonal levels, and even enhance time between the sheets. The root can be pulverized and made into a powder, making it an easy adaptogen to add to your diet. It tastes like malt and is mildly sweet and earthy.

A Beginner's Guide to Adaptogens | The Health Sessions

Making Use of Nature’s Goods

Knowing that nature has provided us with plants to help keep ourselves healthy and thriving is a comforting thought amidst the ongoing fight against the coronavirus. It is now, more than ever, that we should learn to take better care of our bodies.

Taking supplements of any kind should be purchased from reputable and trusted sellers who only provide customers with organic, clean, and high-quality products.

Author Bio: Emma Paige is a health guru and fitness enthusiast from Superfoods Australia. She always makes sure that what she feeds her body is as important as what she does with it; she enjoys writing about how different plants, herbs, and root crops can make a positive impact on our health.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like:

Related articles in Healthy lifestyle

How to Have a Healthy Beach Day

How to Have a Healthy Beach Day | The Health Sessions

Tonics and Elixirs: 14 Powerful Potions for a Shot of Health

Tonics and Elixirs: 14 Powerful Potions for a Shot of Health | The Health Sessions

7 Tips for Staying Fit When You Have a Chronic Illness

7 Tips for Staying Fit When You Have a Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions