Stress-Fighting Adaptogens

These herbs help you maintain a
healthful balance in a hectic world.


October 2014

One of the best ways to stay healthy is to adapt to whatever curveballs life throws at you, including stress. And while we think of stress as a modern phenomenon it’s really not, especially if you consider that extreme temperatures, fatigue and other physical stressors have been with us for thousands of years.

This helps explain why Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), India’s Ayurveda and other time-honored healing systems have long relied on adaptogens, plant-based remedies that help the body cope with physical and mental stress, including the stress-related symptoms that accumulate over time. “In an ever-changing world, herbal adaptogens enable us to adapt and delay the ill effects of aging,” says master herbalist Donald Yance, author of Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism (Healing Arts Press).

The faith traditional healers have put in adaptogens is now backed by the results of studies, including the identification of each herb’s main active components. This has led to the availability of herbs in standardized form, which helps ensure consistency and potency.

 

Name What it is What it does
American Ginseng Panax quinquefolius, in the same plant family as the better-known Asian ginseng; native to eastern North America Long history of usage in Native American medicine; used in TCM as a cooling tonic for low-grade fever and general weakness; has reduced cancer-related fatigue and improved cognitive function in controlled studies
Ashwagandha
Withania somnifera, native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as parts of Africa; also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng Used by Ayurvedic practitioners to promote stamina, longevity and mental acuity; Western usages include easing stress, fatigue and anxiety; has shown anti-cancer and detox capacities in studies
Asian Ginseng
Panax ginseng, native to northern China and Korea and now under large-scale cultivation in both countries; also known as Korean ginseng Has been regarded by TCM for 5,000 years as a “kingly” herb capable of prolonging life; used today to restore vitality, normalize immune function, enhance exercise effectiveness and improve circulation
Astragalus
Astragalus membranaceus, native to China; also known as milk vetch Used in TCM for chronic sores, poor appetite and symptoms associated with upper respiratory infection; modern usages include immunity support, adjunct cancer therapy and kidney protection
Cordyceps Cordyceps sinensis, a rare fungus found in the Himalayan foothills; now cultivated commercially Long used as a tonic and erectile dysfunction remedy in China and Tibet; now used to fight aging and cancer, improve athletic performance and lung function, and support kidney and sexual health
Eleuthero Eleutherococcus senticosus, found in Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan Used as a folk remedy before Soviet scientists started employing it to combat physical and emotional stress, and as a training aid for athletes; also used to bolster immunity, reduce cold and flu occurrence and fight fatigue
Holy Basil Ocimum sanctum, a close relative of the common kitchen herb; also known as tulsi Seen as a holy herb in its native India, where it is used to promote longevity; also used to fight inflammation, support circulation and ease depression; has shown antioxidant and anti-cancer properties
Maca Lepidium meyenii, a root vegetable native to the Peruvian Andes Used in Peruvian cooking and as a folk remedy to improve energy and stamina; modern usages include promoting healthy sexual function and improved mood during menopause
Rhodiola Rhodiola rosea, native to cold mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere Long history of use in Scandinavia, Siberia and Tibet to promote energy and protect against respiratory disorders; also used today to improve immunity, enhance exercise and protect the heart against stress-induced damage
Schisandra Schisandra chinensis, native to eastern Russia and northern China; also known as five flavor berry Valued in TCM and other eastern medicine traditions as an energy tonic; modern usages include immune regulation and liver protection, and for recovery from heavy physical exertion; has shown antioxidant and anti-cancer properties
Tongkat Ali Eurycoma longifolia Jack, a tree native to Malaysia; also known as long jack Traditionally used in Malaysia for a wide variety of purposes; best known today as an aphrodisiac in men; in studies, has shown an ability to counteract male infertility
Tribulus Tribulus terrestris, found in parts of Africa, eastern Europe and India; also known as cat’s head, devil’s thorn and puncture vine Has been used traditionally as an aphrodisiac and infertility treatment; used today to promote healthy testosterone levels, improve mood and reduce cholesterol; in studies, has eased symptoms linked to prostate enlargement

NOTE: Always consult with your healthcare practitioner for help in designing a supplementation program, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

 

Name What it is What it does

Bacopa

Bacopa monnieri, an aquatic herb native to India; also known as water hyssop and brahmi Long valued in Ayurveda as a restorative tonic for depression, fatigue and insomnia, and to enhance cognition; appears to calm the brain and enhance mental focus and memory by promoting proper neurotransmitter balance

Gotu Kola

Centella asiatica, native to India, the southern Far East and the South Pacific Used in Ayurvedic medicine for skin conditions and as a brain tonic; has shown antioxidant, wound-healing and brain-protective properties in studies

Reishi

Ganoderma lucidum, a Japanese mushroom that’s rare in the wild; now cultivated the Far East and North America Prized by Japanese and Chinese healers for thousands of years as a longevity elixir; has been extensively researched for its ability to modulate the immune system and fight cancer; also used to support cardiovascular health

 

 

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