Adaptogens are plants that help to reduce stress by bringing your adrenal system back into balance. They also boost the immune system. (Don’t we all need that!)
When taken internally as adaptogen teas, the aptly-named adaptogen herbs “adapt” to your body’s particular needs.
It sounds incredible—a food that knows what your body needs—but it is true!
I experienced the power of adaptogen teas at a trade show. I had been feeling stressed and terrible for a few days, so when I came upon a booth offering samples of hot adaptogen teas, I took a cup, curious if it would help.
The balancing effect it had on me was immediate. I also felt an invigorating energy boost. This experience really opened my eyes to the power of these special herbs.
According to David Winston and Steven Maimes, writing in “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” adaptogens “help to regulate the neuroendocrine and immune systems, provide a defense against stress, and increase the ability of a person to maintain optimal homeostasis.”
The authors add that each adaptogen is “a respected tonic … with a long history of safety and efficacy.”
I think this point about safety is really important. One has to be careful with herbs. Even common herbs, if consumed too much, can be unbalancing.
My experience has also been that adaptogens are extremely gentle, even for daily consumption.
There aren’t many true adaptogens in the world.
Winston and Maimes list just 21 of them.
These include American ginseng, amla/amalaki, ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, astragalus, cordyceps, dang shen, eleuthero, guduchi, he shou wu, holy basil, jiaogulan, licorice, lycium, prince seng, reishi, rhaponticum, rhodiola, schisandra, shatavari, and shilajit.
My 2 favorites, plus a third
My two favorite adaptogens are getting really popular these days for their incredible health benefits, but I suspect many readers may not be familiar with them yet.
So, let me introduce to you two adaptogens from India: holy basil (also known as tulsi), and ashwagandha.
Tulsi, considered one of India’s most powerful herbs, is a member of the mint family, but is doesn't taste like mint. You can see the herb in the picture below.
Tulsi soothes the nerves and the stomach, and supports the immune system.
Ashwagandha, usually available as a powder that comes from the root of the plant, is sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng.
As I said earlier, I discovered ashwagandha at the trade show, but I had actually been drinking it for a while in another tea without identifying the taste as ashwagandha. The herb has a distinctive, earthy taste.
Ashwagandha, a Sanskrit word, means “the smell of a horse.” This is not because it actually smells like a horse, but because it is said to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion. It has been prescribed in India since ancient times to people as a restorative after illness
We got some ashwagandha in India this year, and I enjoy it as a general restorative herb. It soothes nerves, supports the immune system, and combats fatigue.
My third favorite adaptogen is licorice root, an herb I have been using for decades because of its naturally sweet taste.
Licorice root is the perfect addition to teas that are bitter, of which there are many. It can also add natural sweetness to any tea. In fact, it is nice together with ashwagandha and tulsi.
Licorice root is also soothing to the stomach and nerves, and it helps with heartburn, muscle pain, and sore throats.
Adaptogen tea recipe
Before the holidays, I made a big batch of adaptogen teas featuring ashwagandha and tulsi.
To make a simple ashwagandha-tulsi tea, try combining ½ cup of tulsi leaf with 2-3 teaspoons ashwagandha powder.
To drink the tea, use about ½ teaspoon of the herbs in a tea basket to one cup of boiling hot water. Let it steep 5 minutes, then remove the tea basket and enjoy.
Feedback from friends
I shared a few of my homemade teas with friends and family, and the response was very positive.
One friend said: “The adaptogen teas are delightfully supportive. I’ve enjoyed several, and I’m feeling benefits including calm and uninterrupted sleep. I feel the impact is that they are very, very calming to my nervous system. Very gentle and powerful!”
This friend has since requested more.
As for myself, I can’t seem to stop drinking the teas twice a day.
There are many different teas in my cupboard, but these days all I reach for are my adaptogens.
When I get a cup of adaptogenic tea in my hand, I drink it very fast. Due to the gently energizing effect of the tea, you could almost consider it a substitute for caffeine.
It got me thinking that most people could benefit from stress-balancing, nerve-balancing, immune-boosting, restorative, adaptogen teas that are completely safe and gentle to use (although possibly not when pregnant).
This is why I am writing this post.
But there is also another reason these teas are especially good, and in this case the benefits are not just limited to stress relief.
A source I found online explains how, according to Ayurveda (India’s ancient healing science), “our bodies are woven from food … and every day our bodies need essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to maintain our body’s delicate balance.”
The source recommends ashwagandha to supply these essentials. However, having studied herbs and consuming them for over 20 years, I would like to extend this thinking.
My understanding is that quality herbal teas in general supply essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
Drinking plant infusions and decoctions is so much more "natural" than popping supplements in pills or powdered form. I have personally never felt comfortable with the latter.
Herbal teas have been an essential and regular part of the human diet since antiquity.
For what reason did we stop drinking them? Especially when so many acted as gentle preventative medicine, or even as medicines for acute illness?
These days most people drink more coffee, black tea, soda, juice, sugary drinks, and alcohol more than water. For all the consumption this entails, aren't these completely lacking compared to the many benefits of herbal teas?
Plant-based teas are chocked full of nutrition and subtle properties that promote good health.
Further, if you can consume some herbal tea, or even green or white tea, on a regular basis, you will immediately feel more balanced and make better food choices for the rest of the day.
This had definitely been my experience. Teas are warming and soothing. What's not to love?