Adaptogens are a group of plant-based herbs and mushrooms that are naturally designed by Mother Earth herself to help us manage stress.
Adaptogens generally grow in harsh regions where they are imbued with plant-based compounds that naturally protect them from the elements. It’s these wonderful protective compounds that in turn create an alliance within the human body to help calm our central nervous system, decrease anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, and imbue many more health benefits!
One such health benefit that we could all use in our lives right now is an immunity boost!
Adaptogens calm our stress response and naturally boost overall health, which inadvertently leads to a healthy and robust immune system.
Let’s take a little time to learn about these immune-boosting adaptogens!
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plants that have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions known for their ability to help the “body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological.”
Per the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, adaptogens are “herbs that have an ability to help people to adapt, either by supporting the nervous system and easing nervous emotional tension or by working directly with the body’s own physiological processes to maintain health.” These herbs are incredibly unique in that they “help to modulate the body’s reactions to stress; restore health, vitality, immunity, resilience, and stamina; and can be called upon when a relaxing effect is required.”
Adaptogens have been found, via scientific studies, to have neuroprotective elements, anti-fatigue properties, anti-depressive effects, and act as a stimulant for the central nervous system.
Basically, adaptogens are believed to promote overall well being from the brain to the toes.
How Adaptogens Boost the Immune System
When it comes to boosting your immune system, adaptogens “work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands.”
What do these all have in common? Your stress response system.
The human body has three stages of stress — alarm phase, phase of resistance, and phase of exhaustion — which are meant to help energize the body, provide clarity of mind, and provide a “boost to fight the stressor,” then dump us out into exhaustion once the stressor or “threat” has passed. Adaptogens are able to hack into these stress responses and “stretch out that ‘sweet spot’ in the middle — the phase of resistance — allowing us to hand out in the powerful part longer.”
Stress is one of the most virulent deterrents for a healthy immune system, making adaptogens one of the best agents to bolster your immunity. Per David Winston — founding member of the American Herbalists Guild — “adaptogenic herbs increase your body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors.”
Best Tips for Consuming Adaptogens
I wish it was as easy as picking up an adaptogen blend, consuming, and watching the magic, but when it comes to getting the most out of these herbs, you’ve got to take measures to not only protect yourself but also boost the effects of the adaptogens.
1. Choose Your Adaptogen(s)
First and foremost, decide which adaptogen(s) you’d like to incorporate into your diet. This involves determining a goal or reason for taking adaptogens, — boosting immunity, fighting fatigue, reducing inflammation, dealing with anxiety, kicking stress to the curb, or all of the above — and then researching the specific adaptogen(s) that offer these qualities.
Next, it’s time to consult with a professional!
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a medical professional. You can consult your naturopathic physician, herbalist, or dietitian/nutritionist. With that said, if you suffer from a medical condition of any kind, it may be best to consult multiple health professionals to help devise a plan for moving forward with adaptogens.
Keep in mind that many adaptogens are potent and can affect a variety of bodily systems including blood pressure, blood sugar, the gastrointestinal system, and even your heart. Therefore, consulting with a medical professional is essential for the best experience possible!
2. Choose Your Method(s)
Once you’ve chosen your adaptogen(s) and you’ve got a well laid out plan with your health care professional, it’s time to choose the method!
Many adaptogens are available in a variety of forms to meet the needs of the public. For instance, adaptogens are ground into powders, which can be added to your morning coffee, protein shakes, or even mixed in with your favorite chia seed pudding recipe. You can also find adaptogens in super easy supplement form, — make sure to look for organic, non-GMO, and chemical-free brands — as well as in liquid dropper form, — same rules apply — and even as a tea to sip on every morning or evening.
If you’re comfortable with your ability to dosage correctly, then you can go with raw forms of some adaptogens — such as maca.
3. Rotating and Timing
If you want to get the most out of your adaptogen(s), then try rotating the type of adaptogen about every six weeks. In doing so, your “body can benefit from the subtle differences among [the] herbs.”
On top of that, it’s important to time when you take your adaptogens appropriately as well.
For instance, “taking stimulating adaptogens, like Rhodiola, earlier in the day, before 3 pm,” will help to “align with the body’s natural rhythms” and avoid sleep issues. On the other hand, “calming adaptogens, like holy basil, can be taken both in the daytime and before bed.”
Top 10 Immune Boosting Adaptogens
Looking for specific adaptogens to boost your immunity? Luckily, you can’t really go wrong with any adaptogen, as they are all well-known immune boosters. With that said, there are a few that are just a bit better at the immunity part. Plus, each of these offers a variety of other health benefits that will help you narrow down your list!
1. Astragalus Root
Astragalus root is a rather impressive adaptogen! It’s native to Asia and commonly goes by “huang qi, meaning ‘yellow leader'” in the Chinese language, due to its yellow colored root. Traditionally, astragalus root has been used to treat night sweats, diarrhea, fatigue, stamina, and, due to its “diuretic effect”, is used to boost heart health. Yet, one of the most impressive powers of astragalus root is its ability to “improve immune function.” Astragalus root has been found to increase “the production of immune cells” and it may have “mild antiviral activity.”
Get your daily fix of astragalus root in supplement form such as this Nature’s Way Astragalus Root Capsules for $17.91 or this Gaia Herbs Astragalus Supreme Vegan Liquid Capsules for $23.99.
2. Licorice Root
We’re not exactly talking about the candy, here, even though licorice has been “used mostly as a sweetener in candies and beverages.”
On the other hand, the licorice root — referring “to the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra” native to Europe and Asia — has been used “for centuries for its medicinal benefits.” The Egyptians were said to have “used it in a tea as a cure-all concoction” and later the root was “imported to China where it became an important herb in Chinese medicinal tradition.” Along with boosting the immune system, licorice root is also used to soothe the stomach, cleanse the respiratory system, reduce stress, protect your skin and teeth, and has even been used in some cancer treatments.
Instead of downing the crystalized, sugar-filled form of licorice candy, try a few of these healthy supplements such as this NaturesPlus Herbal Actives Licorice (DGL) Capsules for $10.00 or this Gaia Herbs Licorice Root Liquid Extract for $26.45.
3. Holy Basil
Holy basil is one of the most popular adaptogens in the Western world, yet you may see it marketed as tulsi or it may go by its scientific name Ocimum tenuiflorum. Native to Southeast Asia, holy basil has been widely used in Indian medicine, in part due to its antimicrobial properties. This incredibly versatile plant not only helps boost the immune system but its also known for a wide range of other treatments. Holy basil protects “against chemical stress from exposure to environmental toxins,” as well as “helps normalize levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood fats, and improves memory and mental function.”
The best way to get some holy basil in your daily regimen is via supplements — such as this NutriONN Holy Basil Leaf Extract for $19.95 or this Pure Mountain Botanicals Holy Basil Capsules for $18.67. With that said, if you wanted to give a tincture a try start out with this super easy Tulsi Chai Concentrate recipe by Courtney West.
Ginseng is one of the best immune stimulators in the adaptogen arsenal! With that said, there is lots to learn about this wonderful plant before integrating it into your routine.
First off, there are actually different varieties of ginseng: Asian ginseng and American ginseng. You may also hear reference to “Siberian-ginseng” or eleuthero, “which isn’t, botanically speaking, the same herb,” yet is oftentimes mixed together with the Asian or American varieties. Ginseng is widely popular due to its myriad of health benefits especially its ability to enhance strength and stamina, “[improve] blood sugar and insulin function in type 2 diabetes, [protect] against cancer, and [enhance] immunity.”
Individually, American ginseng has “been shown to improve memory in healthy people and in those suffering from schizophrenia” and Asian ginseng “has reduced menopausal symptoms and improved postmenopausal heart health, relieved cold hands and feet in women, and helped alleviate chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Much like holy basil, it’s easiest to get this adaptogen from supplements — such as this Herbtonics High Strength Korean Red Panax Ginseng Capsules for $21.99 or this Nature’s Answer Korean Ginseng Root Capsules for $13.70. Yet, if you want to try your hand in the kitchen, start out with this Healing Turmeric Smoothie recipe by Marquis Matson.
Possibly one of the lesser-known adaptogens, Schisandra — also called the “five flavor fruit” or Schisandra chinensis — produces “purple-red berries … described as having five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, and sour.” Schisandra berries are harvested and the seeds are used for medicinal purposes — primarily in Asia and Russia — as they contain lignans, which are “substances [that] may have beneficial effects on health.” With that said, Chinese traditional medicine also sourced Schisandra as it is “considered beneficial to qi, the life force or energy inherent in all living things.” While Schisandra helps boost the immune system by helping to manage stress, it’s also been found to be mildly medicinal for Alzheimer’s and liver disease, treating menopause symptoms, and reducing stress.
Get your daily dose of Schisandra via a powder such as this Micro Ingredients Organic Schisandra Extract Powder for $23.95.
While Schisandra may be one of the lesser-known adaptogens, maca has experienced a huge resurgence in the Western world. This is mostly due to its similarities to wildly popular ginseng — in fact, it’s called the “Peruvian ginseng” — but it’s popularity also stems from the plants’ affordability and health benefits. Native to Peru, maca has been used in both Peruvian and Chinese medicines to enhance “sexual function and fertility, in both men and women,” as well as in the treatment of “menopausal symptoms,” depression, and to stabilize blood pressure. Maca is known to help boost immunity by improving your overall health, especially its power to fight free radicals.
As maca is far more popular than most adaptogens, this plant-based food has made its way into a myriad of recipes! Try a few of these maca-based meals at home: Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Maca Smoothie, Hot Chocolate ‘Macaccino’, Maple Maca Amaranth Porridge, or these Apricot Maca-Roon Cookies.
Ashwagandha is an ancient, well-loved, well-used, and incredibly potent adaptogen to consider adding to your natural medicine pantry. This herb has been and is still “used in Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing system” and it happens to be one of the most “scientifically investigated of these herbs.” In fact, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine noted: “that the herb reduced anxiety scores by 56 percent, whereas psychotherapy reduced scores by only 30 percent.”
With that said, it’s important to know a bit about the herb before purchasing as “there are two patented ashwagandha extracts found in many supplement brands” that offer varying benefits: KSM-66 — which aids in reducing stress-related food cravings, enhancing muscle strength and endurance, boosting after-exercise recovery, improving memory, and improving sexual function — and Sensoril — which helps with short-term memory, reduces anxiety, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Yet, no matter which variety you go for, the two types of ashwagandha share their ability to “calm the central nervous system,” reduce “unhealthy levels of inflammation,” helps “relieve arthritis,” and helps to balance the immune system.
As ashwagandha is incredibly potent, it’s safest to consume this adaptogen in supplement form from a reputable brand that you can trust the dosage. Try out a few of these great ashwagandha supplements such as this Daily Nutra KSM-66 Ashwagandha Organic Root Extract for $28.49 or this True Veda Organic Ashwagandha Vegetarian Capsules for $18.97.
Of course, if you are more practiced with adaptogens and are aware of your particular body’s susceptibility, go ahead and give this super simple and tasty Adaptogenic Nut-Granola recipe by Katrine van Wyk a try!
Cordyceps are not only an incredibly popular medicinal mushroom, but they’re also classified as an adaptogen. Two in one with these beautiful fungi!
Yet, the less you know about the creation of these mushrooms may be better.
Cordyceps are native to the “Himalayan region of northern India, where it grows on caterpillar larvae that lie about [six] inches underground.” These fungi have quickly grown in Western popularity for its ability to improve energy, sexual function, protect again type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation, improve kidney function, improve endurance, stabilize blood sugar, and, of course, boost immunity. Yet, one of the most stunning health benefits of this adaptogen is its anti-cancer properties. In fact, Cordyceps has been used to help “reduce damage from radiation treatment for cancer.”
It’s somewhat difficult to get your hands on high quality, raw Cordyceps, therefore your best bet is to incorporate this fungus into your daily regimen in either powder or supplement forms such as this Sustainably US Grown Organic Cordyceps Mushroom for $23.95 or this NOW Foods Cordyceps 200 Vegan Caps for $35.97.
Next to ashwagandha, Rhodiola is one of those potent, powerful, and presumptuous adaptogens that should be consumed with a bit of care.
Rhodiola — known as an “arctic root or golden root” — is native to the cold mountainous regions of Asia and Europe and has been a traditional natural medicine in these parts for thousands of years. This impressive herb contains “more than 140 active ingredients, the two most potent of which are rosavin and salidroside.” Rhodiola is most widely used to treat depression and anxiety, yet it’s also known to enhance energy, improve mental performance, increase endurance, and reduce a fatigued state. As with all adaptogens, Rhodiola is also able to calm the central nervous system, boosting overall wellness, which makes it easier for your immune system to function properly.
Rhodiola is an excellent herb to incorporate as a tea or powder — such as this Palm Beach Medicinal Herbs Pure Rhodiola Tea for $14.95 — yet you can also go for the simple supplement — such as this Gaia Herbs Rhodiola Rosea for $31.12.
Bacopa — also known as “brahmi, water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and herb of grace” — “grows in wet, tropical environments” and “is traditionally used to treat loss of mental function and memory in older people, and has gained popularity as a memory and learning enhancer.” This adaptogen is unique in that it possesses antiepileptic properties — meaning it may act as an anticonvulsant — and it also contains a “class of powerful compounds called bocasides … believed to be responsible for” its health benefits. Bacopa is a “staple plant in traditional Ayurvedic medicine” and has been around and in use for centuries. It’s most widely used to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and treat epilepsy, yet it’s also a great stress reducer, meaning its also great for your immune system.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
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- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
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- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
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