The Underrated Benefits of Our 10 Favorite Adaptogens
If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you’re a fan of functional mushrooms – or at least curious to find out what the heck they are (if that’s you, you’ve come to the right place – I suggest starting here), but did you know that most functional mushrooms are also part of another class of incredible superfoods? That’s right, the functional mushrooms we all know and love – from reishi to lion’s mane to cordyceps – are also considered powerful adaptogens.
What are adaptogens? Adaptogens are a class of naturally-occurring substances that have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine. Though they’re derived from plants, not all plants are adaptogenic, to be considered an adaptogen a plant must fulfill the following criteria:
- It must be considered generally safe, non-toxic, and non habit-forming.
- It must have a nonspecific effect on the body, helping a variety of systems to defend against a variety of stressors.
- It must help normalize systems and bring balance to the body.
Essentially, adaptogens are just as they sound: They help the body adapt to the stressful world around it. Everyday, we’re exposed to a variety of stressors – sometimes it’s the kind of stress we’re used to, like that big deadline coming up on your calendar, but sometimes the stress we’re exposed to is a little more sneaky. Think, the invisible pollution you’re exposed to on your morning commute or the sugary piece of birthday cake you indulged in over the weekend. Adaptogens can help our bodies deal with the onslaught that life throws our way on a daily basis, working with the system to protect the body from stress by regulating the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline – pretty amazing stuff!
Our love for adaptogens is well documented, but did you know the benefits of adaptogens extend far beyond simply supporting occasional stress? Today we’re diving into 10 of our favorite adaptogens and their unexpected benefits. Discover them below, then be sure to join the discussion in our ‘Shroom Club on Facebook to share your favorite!
Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha hails from India, Africa, and the Middle East and – fun fact! – is in the same family as the tomato (Solanaceae). In fact, the fruit of the ashwagandha plant looks quite similar to a small cherry tomato, but it’s the root that is most commonly used in herbal preparations (the leaves and fruit are slightly less popular but still feature many of the same properties as the root). Used for centuries in Ayurveda, ashwagandha is finally receiving recognition in the West for its ability to support occasional stress and symptoms of fatigue, though the benefits of ashwagandha are far-reaching and could support a variety of systems for full body wellness.
Another beneficial root, astragalus belongs to the legume family (that’s right, the same family as lentils, peanuts, and chickpeas). Used in Chinese medicine for centuries, astragalus is native to China and – like ashwagandha – finally receiving praise in the West for its use as an adaptogen. The main beneficial compounds that make astragalus the impressive adaptogen it is are polysaccharides, flavonoids, and saponins, which could have a positive effect in supporting immune and cardiovascular functions.
Feeling stressed? Tulsi, also known as holy basil, could be the answer to supporting occasional stress. Revered as a holy herb in Hinduism and used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, tulsi comes in two varieties – purple and green – and looks very similar in appearance to regular old garden basil. It’s the essential oils in tulsi that make it the impressive adaptogen it is, supporting everything from occasional stress to the circulatory system. Tulsi is often used as a tea, tincture, essential oil, or powder – however you choose to consume it, the antioxidants in tulsi could support full-body wellbeing.
Do the shorter, darker days of fall have you feeling down? Rhodiola could help. Hailing from the arctic regions of Northeastern Europe and Northern Asia, rhodiola is often used as a pretty groundcover, but evidence has also been coming to light that it could support mood, energy, and cognitive functions – a great choice to help you cope with the seasonal shift ahead.
Belonging to the the ginseng family, eleuthero (also known as siberian ginseng) also hails from colder climates. A common ingredient in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, eleuthero is often used to support energy and endurance. If you find yourself feeling spent after hitting the gym or if the changing seasons leave you with low energy, eleuthero could support recovery, endurance, and cognitive functions.
If the change of seasons has you sniffling and sneezing or you’re stressed about work, reishi may be the adaptogen for you. Hailing from China, Reishi – otherwise known as the ling zhi mushroom – is called the “King of Mushrooms” for good reason: reishi could work with the body to support everything from immune functions, to energy levels, supporting occasional stress and even symptoms of fatigue.
One of the most interesting adaptogenic fungi out there (of course, we think all fungi are interesting), parasitic cordyceps is deadly to its host – usually caterpillars and ants – but extremely beneficial to humans. While it ultimately kills the host, cordyceps has been linked to a variety of supportive functions in people, including immune function support, athletic performance, and liver function.
If the dry air of late autumn has left your skin feeling parched and cracked, or your system is feeling sluggish, schisandra may be the adaptogen for you. Schisandra berries (yes, it’s a berry) are rich in antioxidant properties, which could assist the body in fighting free radicals, supporting immune function, and occasional stress. Additionally, schisandra has been found to promote the production of enzymes, which could support liver function and immune functions.
Native to Southern China and Northern Vietnam, gynostemma is an antioxidant-rich adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Part of the same family as many other melons and gourds, the gynostemma plant features small green leaves and a small inedible, indigo-colored gourd. As an adaptogen, gynostemma could support circulation, immune function, and occasional stress.
Perhaps more widely known as Indian gooseberry, amla is a small tree that bears nearly perfectly round fruit and is considered sacred in Hinduism. Amla’s high levels of vitamin C has been linked to everything from food absorption, to skin health, to cardiovascular function. As an adaptogen, amla could support cognitive function, vitality, and skin tone, making it ideal for consumption during cold-weather months when energy levels may be low and dry air threatens to dehydrate skin.