Adaptogens are all the rage in the wellness world these days and for good reason. The herbs, roots, mushrooms and flora in the adaptogen family have been a key element in traditional medicine for centuries, however only recently came into the mainstream limelight.  Today we take a closer look at these stress-mitigating superfoods, share our favorites and explain how to incorporate them in everything from drinks to chocolate bar recipes.  

WTF Are Adaptogens

“Adaptogen” is the general term for a group of consumable herbs, roots, mushrooms and medicinal flora that help the body achieve or maintain equilibrium. These healers help the body deal with stressors of all kinds – muscular, hormonal, immune-based – and return the body to its natural, normalized state by increasing or decreasing bodily processes as needed. New York City’s leader in functional and integrative medicine Dr. Lipman explains, “Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating… They enable the body’s cells to access more energy; help cells eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic process and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. In short, adaptogens are amazing!” 

FIT’s Five Favorite Adaptogens

There are innumerable kinds of adaptogens, and most are available in capsule, powder or tincture form, and some are available as teas. These below five are our favorites and a good place for anyone new to the world of adaptogens to start.

1. ASHWAGANDA – Also known as Indian Ginseng and Winter Berry, the roots of this resilient shrub have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. As adaptogens go, this powerhouse is just about as close as you can get to a cure-all.

  • Benefits: Reduces blood sugar and cortisol (the stress hormone linked to abdominal fat); decreases anxiety and stress;  increases brain function and memory; and boosts immune function and helps fight fine lines and acne.
  • Common ways to take it: Capsules and powder. Organic India makes this excellent ashwaganda supplement. Note: Ashwaganda falls in the nightshade category and can trigger symptoms in those with autoimmune conditions.
  • Recipe suggestion: For a comforting, creamy drink, blend warm nut milk with Ashwagandha powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, vanilla and honey for a quick version of Ascension Kitchen’s Ashwaganda Sleep Tonic.

2. HOLY BASIL (TULSI) – Native to India and Southeast Asia, this aromatic perennial is traditionally taken as an herbal tea or dried powder.

  • Benefits: Protects against damage from environmental pollutants and stress from physical exertion (looking at you HIIT class), balances hormones, fights acne and more.
  • Common ways to take it:  These amazing teas are our favorite way to enjoy Tulsi, but you can also find it in capsules and some powder mixes.
  • Recipe suggestion: Prepare this Sweet Rose with a sliver of orange peel for a magical moment of relaxing selfcare.

3. CORDYCEPS – These mushrooms, along with reishi, shiitake and maitake, are nutrient rich fungi with antioxidant properties. Cordyceps in particular have been given ‘adatpogenic status.’

  • Benefits: these fungi increase energy and stamina, provide antioxidant support with anti-aging properties, helps with detoxification, boosts immune function and acts as a natural aphrodisiac.
  • Common ways to take: This powder is easy to incorporate into morning tea, coffee, smoothie, potion, etc: 
  • Recipe suggestion: Add Cordyceps powder into Collagen Coffee, a Maca smoothie or serve guests a adaptogenic vegan chocolate bar! 

4. LICORICE ROOT – Technically a legume, licorice root has been used medicinally for centuries both in Europe and Asia. In Chinese medicine, licorice is often used as a “guide drug” – one that is paired with other herbs to enhance their effects – and thus is the most commonly used.

  • Benefits: Boosts immune function, regulates hormone levels (particularly cortisol), decreases stress, acts as a natural remedy for leaky gut and PMS.
  • Common ways to take: Supplement, tea, powder. We especially love this supplement because it is blended with Ashwaganda for an added boost.
  • Recipe suggestion: Soothe your system by brewing licorice root tea with pieces of fresh ginger.

5. ASTRAGALUS – Know as “The Great Protector,” this adaptogenic legume has been used in Chinese and Persian Medicine for ages.

  • Benefits: Boosts immune function, fights symptoms of physical and mental stress, promotes healthy skin, metabolism and digestion.
  • Common ways to take: capsules and powder
  • Recipe suggestion: Mix this powder into our spiced turmeric milk for whole body wellness any time of day.

How To Get Started

If you’re new to adaptogens, there are two methods you can use to find the one(s) that are best for your needs. You can:

    1. Choose an adaptogen based on perceived needs and then experiment to see how you like incorporating them (in your morning tea, coffee or smoothie, mixed into your favorite raw energy ball recipe). Start your research with this list of the many types of adaptogens. 
    2. Purchase a targeted blend or kit from adaptogen retailers like Sun Potion or Moon JuiceThis blend of adaptogens, herbs and spices tastes like hot chocolate and is my new go to for an afternoon pick-me-up. Mix a heaping spoonful into a cup of warm water or nut milk for the healthiest treat you’ve ever tasted (add a swirl of honey or your favorite sweetener for extra decadence).

As is true with all supplements and health regimens, use common sense and consult your doctor if you are pregnant, have unique health concerns or are taking prescription medications. 

Want to know more ? Here are a few excellent resources :

Collages by HonestlyFIT, images by Moon Juice, Ascension Kitchen, Dolly and Oatmeal,  and Will Frolic for Food