WTF Is An Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are extraordinary herbs, mushrooms and plants that amp up your body's natural ability to deal with stress (whether it is caused by emotional, mental, physical, or environmental factors) and restore overall balance to your inner universe. What makes adaptogens so unique and magical is that they have an intuitive knowledge that “adapts” their functions according to your specific needs - kind of like a thermostat! Want to chill the fork down and veg out? Adaptogens gotchu. Want more energy and mental clarity? Say goodbye to adrenal-killing caffeine and hello to cordyceps.

However, no random plant can just claim to be an adaptogen. They have to pass these 3 essential criteria to pass the test:

  1. increases the body's resistance to stress - aka “adapts” to stress.

  2. has a balancing effect on the body - up-regulates or down-regulates overactive or under-active organs.

  3. nontoxic and safe to take every day with little to no harmful effects on the body

By this point you've probably opened another tab and googled where to buy adaptogens in bulk. But before you do that you need to know that adaptogens are not an end-all miracle cure. They are more like the icing on the cake, with the cake (the irony!) being a diet rich in veggies and fruits, lots of exercise, 8 hours of zs, plenty of alkaline water, yada yada yada. Otherwise, they will basically be useless unless you have addressed the root cause of your stress.

Also VERY IMPORTANT: Please always consult your health professional before taking any herbs or supplements! They need to be taken in certain dosages, especially if you are already on medication (which could react very badly with them).

What is the history of adaptogens?

The term “adaptogen” was only coined in the 1940's; However, these same plants have been used as far back as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine!

During the scramble for world power and dominance in the Cold War, the Soviet Union gathered their brightest minds at the Soviet Academy of Science with the intent to discover an “all-natural, performance-enhancing tonic” as a boost for their politicians, military officers, Olympic athletes, chess players, and ballet dancers.

After Dr. Nikolai V. Lazarev, Dr. Israel I. Brekhman, and their team of over 2,000 scientists, biologists, and physicians researched over 4,000 plants they identified only 12 plants as true adaptogens. The main stars of their studies included Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Rhaponticum, and later Schisandra, and Ashwagandha.

Their research and re-discovery on adaptogens has been the spark for the modern world's usage of these powerful plants.

Are there any side-effects of adaptogens?

There is little evidence to suggest that adaptogens have negative side-effects, however, everyone is different and may be more sensitive depending on which kind. For example, Rhodiola can cause mild dizziness, dry mouth, jitteriness, or sleep issues due to its stimulating nature. You should definitely do your own self-research (especially on the quality and concentration of certain brands or products) and then only take small doses when starting out. If you are on prescription medication(s) it is safest to speak with your health practitioner first before taking any adaptogens at all as some can interfere or cause counteractions with these medications. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid ashwagandha, Schisandra, and holy basil.

Dr Low Dog - an internationally recognized expert in the field of herbal medicine - says, “It is important to remember that [many of] the benefits of adaptogens take time to accumulate… They're intended to be taken over a longer period of time. Their effects are more gentle and subtle, but very powerful.”

How can I add them to my diet?

Pills, powders, teas, tinctures, or salves they are all adaptogen-use-friendly. For drinks you can make chaga chai tea lattes, (see recipe below!) tinctures with water, or adaptogenic teas. (Not sponsored but Wylde One's teas and Animundi Herbals are my favourites!)

For food you can add adaptogens in powder form to smoothies, soups, or homemade salad dressings. Again, make sure that you do your research on the products you choose to buy and the active ingredients in them.

Why is it better to combine adaptogens?

Why just drink water when you can have watermelon? Combining different herbs (and making sure that they work synergistically and safely with one another and are not just randomly tossed in), is like having all of the puzzle pieces needed to address the problem. In TCM and Ayurvedic medicine they will have formulas including anywhere from 3-15 different adaptogens in order to effectively optimize and balance your body and mind.

How often and how much should I take them?

Adaptogens, unlike prescription medications or your iPhone's battery, work best when used daily over time. Think of them like doing yoga or going to the gym: you have to practice daily in order to see results and maintain your health. As for how much, it all depends on which adaptogen you are taking and the potency of your product. Consult your naturopath, herbalist, or chiropractor for reliable information.

How are adaptogens different from stimulants like caffeine?

When you walk into your favourite coffee shop its like your brain gives a sigh of relief and your adrenals start nervously sweating at the same time. Stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and amphetamines give you that “high” of energy but never fail to obey the laws of gravity and leave you crashing down in flames of fatigue. So whats going on in there? These bad boys trigger your stress hormones (aka cortisol and adrenaline) to evoke a stress response. Basically, with every cup you are tricking your body's natural instincts to think that you are being chased by an angry mama bear. So if you're drink 10 mugs a day!? Your poor body is going to elicit side effects like insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, and adrenal depletion.

Thankfully, Mother Nature knew we were stress-prone creatures even sans angry mama bear. Adaptogens give a normalizing boost that lasts much, much longer and comes along with additional benefits that allow your body to improve its response to stress.

Not keen on kicking the caffeine? It's totally okay to have your daily coffee or tea, but adding in adaptogens can help balance out their negative side-effects.

Want to know which adaptogens are right for you? Here is a handy guide including the most popular adaptogens and their benefits!

  1. Cordyceps

    GROWS: naturally on the backs of mountain-dwelling caterpillars in China.


    • exercise performance booster

    • anti-aging + anti-inflammatory properties

    • potentially anti-tumorous

    • mood enhancer + lowers stress

    • source of essential B vitamins (including B12) + plant-based protein

  1. Eleuthero (aka Siberian Ginseng)

    GROWS in northeast China and Russia.


    • increases energy + reduces fatigue

    • improves memory and concentration

    • anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties

    • heals wounds + prevents ulcers

    • manages menopause

  2. Rhodiola

    GROWS on sea cliffs and high-altitude mountains in the Arctic, Central Asia, eastern North America and parts of Europe.


    • helps you handle stress better

    • fatigue fighter

    • reduces symptoms of depression

    • reduces mental fatigue

    • may help control diabetes

  3. Asian Ginseng

    GROWS in Manchuria, Japan, Korea, and Siberia.


    • high amount of antioxidants

    • improves cognitive function

    • boosts the immune system

    • potentially anti-cancerous

    • lowers blood sugar

  4. Reishi (aka the "Queen Healer")

    GROWS in warm regions of Asia, the south Pacific, southern Europe and the Southeastern United States.


    • high amount of antioxidants

    • may help to balance mood/improve anxiety and depression

    • may aid gut health

    • improves lymphocyte function, which helps fight infections and cancer

    • improves good HDL cholesterol

  5. Ashwaganda (aka Indian Ginseng)

    GROWS all over India


    • may support a healthy immune system

    • may reduce cortisol and damaging effects of chronic stress

    • may boost immunity

    • may aid in weight loss

  6. Lion's Mane

    GROWS on dead or dying trees in temperate forests throughout the world - particularly North America.


    • potential protector against dementia

    • relieves mild symptoms of depression and anxiety

    • may speed recovery from nervous system injuries

    • improves heart health

    • manages diabetes symptoms

  7. Chaga (aka the "King of Mushrooms")

    GROWS in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada.


    • keeps the liver healthy

    • improves immune function

    • stress reliever

    • supports healthy blood sugar

    • contains some of the highest antioxidant activity compared to other mushrooms