Stop Stressing With these 9 Often Overlooked Adaptogens
by Stacy Thomas | August 4, 2020, updated about 2 months ago
Chronic stress is one of the leading causes of illness in North America—implicated in everything from asthma to heart disease—and, given the recent pandemic, it’s never been more prevalent.
If you’ve been spending the last few months stressed out and anxious, natural remedies can help. In particular, a group of powerful plants known as adaptogens. Adaptogens help moderate the physical and mental effects of stress.
Adaptogens were first discovered after World War II by Russian government scientists researching natural ways to enhance athletic performance. They called them adaptogens because they help the body adapt to stress, acting as a protective agent.
There’s a lot of buzz around adaptogens and their almost too-good-to-be-true effects, but as with most natural remedies, they’re best used as part of a wider holistic approach rather than as a cure-all.
Adaptogens can be powerful allies to have on your side. Here’s a list of our favourites.
Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi, Holy Basil)
Tulsi, or holy basil, has a rich history in India where it is grown in family courtyards and traditionally revered by Hindus who view it as the manifestation of the goddess Tulsi, who is the earthly embodiment of Lakshmi.
Adaptogens have played a large part in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and tulsi has been at the top of the list for just as long. Scientific research confirms what Ayurvedic doctors have known for years—that tulsi is a powerful tool in combating all forms of stress, including physical stress, chemical stress, and even stress from excessive cold and noise.
Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola)
First prescribed by a Greek physician in 77 AD for headaches, this high-altitude growing plant is now a popular treatment for depression.
Rhodiola has been widely used in Russia since the 1940s to improve performance in athletes and astronauts. The Russian government considered rhodiola to be powerful enough for them to categorize their original research as classified military secrets. That research is locked away in Russian-language journals.
Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi, Líng zhī, Herb of Immortality, Herb of Commerce)
Reishi mushrooms pack a powerful punch. They contain a myriad of bioactive compounds like triterpenes, sterols, phenols, nucleotides and fatty acids, not to mention folates and ascorbic acids. Regular intake of reishi reduces chronic anxiety, depression, fatigue and stress.
It also improves sleep quality, especially for those who can’t calm their busy brains. Just as reishi shuts off the hamster wheel at night, it’s also soothing during the day, which makes it a powerful tool for someone who has chronic anxious thoughts.
Bacopa monnieri (Water Hyssop, Herb of Grace, Brahmi)
Considered ‘nature’s Lorazepam’, bacopa monnieri is a staple medicine in Ayurveda. Compounds called bacosides give this water-growing plant special stress-reducing effects, and Ayurvedic doctors have been using it for centuries for all things brain-related—from memory enhancement and anxiety reduction, to treating epilepsy.
Bacopa monnieri is also high in antioxidants which reduce free radicals and help prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Salvia rosmarinus (Rosemary)
Yeah it’s delicious, and it can make you happier, but rosemary is also packed with a plethora of beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making it a powerful health ally.
Rosemary contains rosmarinic acid, a widely known antioxidant compound with neuroprotective effects that help fight neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, chemical induced neurotoxicity, and oxidative stress.
Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle)
Milk thistle supports liver health as well as metabolism thanks to its active compound, silymarin. This useful herb can help manage stress hormone spikes, and prevent toxin build ups from negatively affecting the immune system.
Aloe barbadensis miller (Aloe Vera)
Everyone knows about this succulent’s amazing skin-soothing and digestive tonic effects, but not many know that aloe vera is also an adaptogen that supports the adrenal glands. A daily dose of aloe vera extract can help your body react better to daily stress rather than pumping out cortisol spikes. It’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory, which means it can support people with IBS by soothing the associated discomfort and pain that comes with that disorder.
Centella asiatica (Gotu Kola, Tiger Grass)
Known by the Chinese as a ‘miracle elixir of life’, Gotu kola is also listed in the ancient Indian medical text Sushruta Samhita, and is used by the Javanese and people of other Indonesian islands.
Gotu Kola is an herbaceous creeper that grows in wet areas all across Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s used to enhance memory, revitalize nerves and brain cells, and treat emotional disorders arising from physical causes. The herb demonstrated antidepressant effects in one study involving mice.
Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice, Sweet Root, Gan Cao)
Known primarily for its intensely sweet taste, licorice was used in many traditional medical mixtures as a way to temper the off-putting flavours of other plants and herbs. The Chinese also believe that a little bit of licorice will enhance the benefits of other concoctions, while reducing side effects.
Licorice is also effective in supporting the adrenal glands and treating adrenal disorders. Additionally, it can be used to treat hormonal imbalances, specifically those that cause PMS.
While a noted adaptogen, licorice is unique from others in that prolonged use can cause serious side effects such as increased blood pressure and sapped potassium levels. So be careful with this one and, if in doubt, consult an herbalist or naturopath.
Bottom line? There are many different adaptogens and they can be taken in various ways, so find what works best for you, and talk to someone who can guide you in the right direction.
If you’re considering introducing adaptogens into your health regimen but don’t know where to start, there is a whole network of naturopaths, herbalists and holistic nutritionists who are ready to help you! Browse our roster and get started on your health journey today.
Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.