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Adaptogens – herbs and other plants

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Natural helpers in stress relief

Adaptogens are growing in popularity around the world as people try to cope with stressful, modern lifestyles. Adaptogens can be taken in supplement form, but there are a variety of natural adaptogens that can easily be integrated by eating well through a healthy and balanced diet.

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are plants that help our bodies adapt to mental, physical and emotional stress. Research by the Swedish Herbal Institute has shown that they can have anti-fatigue, anti-depressive, anti-anxiety and anti-ageing stimulation activities.1 Some herbs, plants and mushrooms are classified as adaptogens.

8 adaptogens with less common names but proven health benefits

Uncommon names of herbs or plants like Rhodiola rosea or Ashwagandha shouldn’t discourage people from following up on adaptogens since they can have a great impact on our health. Adaptogens can positively affect our central nervous system in the various ways that follow:

Panax ginseng

Panax Ginseng is the root of an Asian plant. Studies have shown Panax Ginseng to have many health benefits, since it can positively affect immunity, stress, inflammation and ageing.2

How to eat:
Panax Ginseng can be eaten raw or lightly steamed, either on its own or in water to make a tea.

Siberian ginseng

Also known as “Eleutherococcus,” Siberian Ginseng has been shown in studies to help with regulating body disorders, reducing mental and physical stress, improving the circulatory system, promoting blood circulation for removing blood stasis and for invigoration of the stomach.2

How to eat:
Like Panax Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng can also be eaten raw or lightly steamed, either on its own or in water to make a tea.

Rhodiola rosea

Also known as Golden Root, Rhodiola rosea may produce an anti-anxiety effect when feeling under pressure. Findings from a study on fatigue during night duty among a group of young, healthy physicians suggested that Rhodiola rosea can reduce general fatigue under certain stressful conditions.3

How to eat:
The leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked.

Cordyceps mushrooms

Cordyceps mushrooms (also known as “caterpillar mushrooms”) are common adaptogens that have been shown to increase energy and reduce tiredness, according to research conducted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University & the School of Food Science & Engineering of the South China University of Technology.4

How to eat:
These versatile mushrooms can be added to nearly any cuisine – raw or cooked.

Holy basil

Holy basil or Ocimum sanctum is more commonly known as tulsi in India and has been an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Studies have shown that this ayurvedic adaptogen contains multiple phytochemical compounds that may help improve stress response.5

How to eat:
Holy basil can be eaten raw or used in cooking as you would use standard basil.


Ashwagandha is commonly known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry. It is a multipurpose herb that can have an effect on various systems of the human body: the neurological system, the immune system, the energy-production system, the endocrinal system and the reproductive system.6 Studies have suggested that it has an antioxidative effect that can improve an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby potentially improve their quality of life. 6

How to eat:
Ashwagandha is traditionally taken as a powder mixed with milk and honey.


The herb Astragalus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.7 Studies have shown its health benefits to include increased immune function, lowered stress level, anti-inflammatory and antiaging properties. 2


The fruits of the Schisandra plant – magnolia berries – are better known than the plant itself. According to research by the Swedish Herbal Institute, this adaptogen has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, support immunity and reduce physical as well as mental fatigue.1

How to eat:
One of the best ways to consume Schisandra is to boil the berries and drink it as a herbal tea.

How to include natural adaptogens in your diet

The variety of adaptogens can be consumed in different ways, from brewing them in teas, to taking them as a tincture, enjoying them in soups or stews, putting them into smoothies, adding them to meals simply eating them on their own or taking them as supplements. As with all supplements though, it’s advisable to speak to a medical professional beforehand.

A number of recipes include adaptogens or you can experiment with your own. For example, Rhodiola rosea leaves and shoots can be added to salads for a slightly bitter flavour and Holy basil is commonly used in Thai cuisine as a herb to season any meal that calls for basil. With so many potential health benefits, why not give adaptogens a try?

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