Adaptogens 101
Part 2: Your Guide to the Adaptogen Maze

A line of glass jars holding sprigs of herbs like sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, mint, and thyme against a wooden backdrop.

In Part 1 of our series on adaptogens, we discussed what adaptogens are and how they can help defend the body against the effects of stress and support overall wellbeing. Here in Part 2, we review different types of adaptogens and their unique strengths so you can figure out which are right for you.


 

The healing power of plants can be immense. But just as you wouldn’t take the wrong antibiotic for an infection, it’s necessary to understand which natural substances to use for your individual needs. Having a targeted approach is particularly important as good quality products can run you a hefty tab.

As we previously explained in greater detail, all adaptogens have a hormone balancing effect that helps the body defend against the damaging effects of stress. But they also optimize other physiological systems, and different adaptogens have different strengths. 

Think of the following guide as a map to help you navigate the adaptogen maze. Use it to make informed decisions about the ones that are right for you. You’ll notice some repetition across categories and it’s no surprise — some of our favourite adaptogens are powerhouses in multiple areas!

A variety of wild harvested mushrooms against a wooden backdrop.(Photo by Andrew Ridley)

Keep in mind that as your body’s needs change from time to time, so will the adaptogens that are optimal for your particular condition. As with all supplements and health-promoting products, be sure to listen to your body and adjust your choice and dose of adaptogens accordingly.

Also, just as one workout doesn’t make you fit, taking a few doses of adaptogens won’t make you healthy. Adaptogens nourish and strengthen your systems over time. Try to incorporate them — alone or combined with other adaptogens — into your daily routine for optimal benefits.

And incorporating them is easy! Try adding them to:

Note: It is recommended to consult with your health care practitioner when considering adaptogens and other herbs to determine which ones and what doses are right for you.

Since Ashwagandha increases thyroid function, it may not be suitable for people with hyperactive thyroid, such as those with Graves’ disease.

A row of glass carafes steeping different herbal teas.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao)

Immunity

Ashwagandha: This super-root can enhance the body’s defense against disease by improving cell-mediated immunity.

Chaga: Often referred to as the “king of medicinal mushrooms,” Chaga is hailed as a superfood because of its powerful ability to support the immune system thanks to its functional compounds including beta-glucans (naturally occurring multi-chain carbohydrates) that stimulate our immune defences.

Turkey Tail: One of the most common mushrooms in North America, Turkey Tail is also one of the most studied mushrooms for its impressive immune-stimulating properties.

Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil — yes, it’s related to the indispensable pasta sauce ingredient): This herb is your all-in-one health kit. It has broad-spectrum immune activity, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, and it can help defend against infections by enhancing the body’s immune responses. With its combination of anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, Tulsi is also helpful for healing wounds. 

Energy & Stamina

Cordyceps: With its ability to support energy and stamina, in part due to its ability to help boost production of ATP (the body’s primary source of energy during exercise), this is the go-to mushroom for those looking to boost physical performance and endurance.

Maca: Not only does Maca help maintain adrenal health, but regular users of this root also report increase in mood and energy levels (without giving you the jitters that caffeine can).

Ginseng: Both varieties of ginseng, Asian and American, as well as Siberian ginseng (aka Eleuthero, another similar sounding herb but botanically different from Ginseng), share their ability to enhance strength, stamina, and physical performance.

Rhodiola: Used traditionally in Asia and Eastern Europe, this herb has been shown to enhance energy, reduce fatigue and increase endurance. 

Cognitive Function

Tulsi: This power herb enhances memory and cognitive function. But unlike caffeine which stimulates you both physically and mentally, Tulsi has a calming effect that leads to clarity of thought.

Lion’s Mane: Best known for its neuroprotective effects, this mushroom can support memory and improve cognition.

Mucuna Pruriens: Need that extra focus to get things done? Known as the “dopa bean,” Mucuna has a high content of L-dopa, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It’s been studied for its ability to increase focus, memory and reaction time.

Pine Pollen: Pine pollen naturally increases levels of the hormone DHEA in the body, which can raise your energy levels and enhance cognition and brain function. 

teacup on a wooden floor with wildflowers and seeds around it
(Photo by Lisa Hobbs)

Anti-Aging (Skin, Hair & Nails)

Ashwagandha: This adaptogen is loaded with antioxidants that can help nourish your skin by protecting against cellular damage caused by free radicals.

Chaga: This functional mushroom’s compounds include beta-glucans, which can help the skin retain moisture and synthesize collagen (key for skin elasticity), melanin, a pigment thought to protect skin cells from UV radiation, and SOD (superoxide dismutase), a critical antioxidant that the body produces to maintain proper cellular function and fight DNA damage caused by free radicals.

He Shou Wu: This plant, which contains over 100 chemical compounds, is considered a premier longevity and replenishing herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He Shou Wu has been shown to increase the body’s level of SOD. It’s also rich in iron which supports healthy blood building.

Schisandra Berry: For millennia, this potent adaptogen has been used in China to prolong life and slow the aging process. This is not surprising, given its significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity that helps to maintain healthy cells throughout the body.

Sex Drive

He Shou Wu: This herb has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to increase sex drive. He Shou Wu contains zinc, which is important to our sexual and reproductive functions.

Maca: If sex were a sweet, tasty root…  Maca has been shown to boost libido and sexual desire in the case of both physically and mentally-induced dysfunction. It’s also been shown to increase fertility in both men and women.

Relaxation, Calming & Mood

Reishi: This highly researched ingredient is known as “The Mushroom of Immortality.” In our books, we call it the “King of Calm” for its ability to ease nerves and help you relax. This is a great adaptogen to incorporate into your night time, winding down routine and help improve sleep.

Mucuna Pruriens: This legume is nature’s chill pill. Its key compound, L-dopa, plays an integral role in motivation, emotions and pleasure. Not only does this adaptogen help lower stress, but it’s also known for its ability to improve mood, reduce anxiety and promote calm and relaxation.

Digestion

Licorice Root: A potent anti-inflammatory adaptogen, Licorice is commonly used for relieving gastritis and ulcers. It helps soothe the gut lining and treat nausea, indigestion and stomach pain.

Schisandra Berry: Well known for boosting liver function and enzyme production, this super-berry helps to balance blood sugar. It also improves digestion and the removal of bodily waste.