Adaptogens: Nature's Stress Relief

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

In the modern world, stress is a constant companion, and it can impact our health in so many ways. This is where adaptogens come in—these special herbs offer a natural approach to managing stress and enhancing overall well-being. But what exactly are adaptogens, how do they work, and how can they support us? Read on to learn more…

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a select group of herbs (and some mushrooms) that support the body's natural ability to deal with stress. They are called ‘adaptogens’ because of their special ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to maintain homeostasis rather than acting on the body in a particular, fixed way.

The term ‘adaptogen’ was coined in the mid-20th century by Russian scientists N.V. Lazarev and I.I. Brekhman. They set three criteria that a plant must meet to be classified as an adaptogen:

  1. It should be generally safe and cause minimal disorders in the body's physiological functions.
  2. It should help the body resist a wide range of stressors, including physical, chemical, or biological stress.
  3. It should balance the body’s physiological functions, regardless of the direction of the imbalance.


How do Adaptogens Work?

The exact mechanisms of adaptogens are still the subject of research, but they are thought to interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, both of which are involved in the body's response to stress.

By modulating our stress response, adaptogens can help balance the body’s functions and increase our resistance to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors. They provide support to the adrenal glands and help regulate cortisol levels, the body's main stress hormone.

Adaptogens for Modern Life

Adaptogens can be particularly helpful in our fast-paced modern lives, offering natural support for stress management, cognitive function, immune function, and more. Let's explore a few adaptogens that are well-researched and widely used:

  1. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Known for its stress-relieving properties, Ashwagandha can help reduce cortisol levels and mitigate symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety.
  2. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Rhodiola is renowned for its ability to enhance mental performance, particularly during periods of stress. It can help reduce mental fatigue and improve concentration and clarity of focus.  
  3. Ginseng (Panax ginseng): Often referred to as the "king of herbs," Ginseng can enhance physical performance, support immune function, and improve mood.
  4. Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil can help combat psychological stress and promote mental balance.
  5. Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis): This unique adaptogenic mushroom can support energy, endurance, and overall physical performance.

As we navigate the challenges of modern life, these remarkable plants can provide us with effective natural support. However, while adaptogens can be a powerful tool, they are not a cure-all. Balanced nutrition, regular exercise, restorative sleep, and other lifestyle factors are equally important for optimal health. 

As we continue to understand and respect the powerful properties of these herbal allies, we can integrate them into our lives for increased resilience and vitality. Every person's body responds differently to herbs, so it's important to listen to your body, start with small doses, and adjust as needed. As always, consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new health regimen.

Our next blog posts will go into detail on some of our favourite adaptogenic herbs.  Sign up to our newsletter to get notified when we publish a new blog.


  1. Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress-protective activity. Pharmaceuticals, 3(1), 188-224.
  2. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255-262.
  3. Hung, S. K., Perry, R., & Ernst, E. (2011). The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine, 18(4), 235-244.
  4. Lee, N. H., & Son, C. G. (2011). Systematic review of randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy and safety of ginseng. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 4(2), 85-97.
  5. Cohen, M. M. (2014). Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 5(4), 251-259.
  6. Patel, S., & Goyal, A. (2012). Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech, 2(1), 1-15.

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