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: (1) 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. (2) 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. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's immunity-supporting and other benefits here.)

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.

Reishi: Often referred to as the "queen of medicinal mushrooms," this widely researched mushroom has been found to be one of the broadest acting immune-modulating botanicals, exhibiting anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral activity, and activating cells of the immune system. (Learn more about Reishi’s immunity-supporting and other benefits here.)

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. 

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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.

Rhodiola: Used traditionally in Asia and Eastern Europe, this herb has been shown to enhance energy, reduce fatigue and increase endurance. (Learn more about Rhodiola's energy-supporting and other benefits here.)

AshwagandhaAshwagandha’s history of traditional use for strength and stamina is also clinically supported, with studies showing that supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength, enhanced recovery, increased body fat metabolism and cardiorespiratory endurance. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's athletic-supporting and other benefits here.)

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.

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Cognitive Function

Ashwagandha: Its traditional use to promote learning and enhance memory is supported by clinical research. Ashwagandha is also considered beneficial to the brain and nervous system as a whole, protecting against wasting away of nerves and brain cells, and helping to fight free radicals and help prevent oxidative damage to the brain. (Learn more about Ashwagandha's cognitive-supporting and other benefits here.)

Rhodiola: Rhodiola is commonly used in Herbal medicine to help support cognitive function and reduce mental fatigue. Research suggests that Rhodiola can impact brain function via multiple mechanisms, benefitting both immediate cognitive performance and long-term brain function. (Learn more about Rhodiola's cognitive-supporting and other benefits here.)

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.

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

Anti-Aging (Skin, Hair & Nails)

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.

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.

Licorice: This adaptogen has been found to boost the body's natural steroid hormones to counteract inflammation and irritation of the skin. (Learn more about Licorice's functional benefits here.)

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Sexual Health

As a result of their general support for neurological-hormone balance, adaptogens also support balance of sex hormones and functioning of the reproductive system. Some adaptogens are thought to be particularly beneficial for libido, while others are traditionally used in cases of infertility.

Asian Ginseng: Commonly traditionally used to enhance libido and virility, Asian Ginseng has been shown to improve erectile function. In women, it has also been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms and enhance libido in postmenopausal women.

Ashwagandha: Considered India's most potent sex-enhancing herb, Ashwagandha is traditionally used by both men and women to stimulate sex drive(Learn more about Ashwagandha's functional benefits here.)

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

Adaptogens directly support the nervous system, helping the body better respond to stress and supporting mood. Certain adaptogens have been found to be particularly beneficial for strengthening the nervous system, and some have even been found to have anti-depressant or anti-anxiety activity.

Reishi: We like to call this highly researched mushroom the “King of Calm”. Reishi is traditionally revered for its ability to calm spirit and mind, with a long history of use by Taoist monks to improve meditation. In western herbal medicine, it’s used when restlessness and an overactive mind cause insomnia This is a great adaptogen to incorporate into your night time, winding down routine and help improve sleep(Learn more about Reishi's functional benefits here.)

Rhodiola: This powerful adaptogen helps directly increase key brain chemicals involved in mood, such as dopamine and serotonin. (Learn more about Rhodiola's cognitive-supporting and other benefits here.)

Schisandra: This berry is a calming adaptogen, thought to help provide relief from anxiety. Chinese Buddhist monks drink Schisandra tea to calm the mind and prepare for meditation.

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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. (Learn more about Licorice's digestive support and other benefits here.)

Schisandra: 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.

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