Ever experienced extreme stress? It could be brought on by a nightmare situation at work, a difficult relationship or a family or personal crisis. The solution could be inside or outside of our control, but the effects can hit us on so many levels.

At times like these, have you ever found yourself dreaming of a miracle remedy that could make the negative feelings go away? Something to gently calm the mind, comfort the soul and help take a cooler, more objective look at the situation so it’s easier to sort out? 

Well, we’ve got some good news. It exists. It’s not a pill. It doesn’t involve chemistry, or treating the symptom, rather than the cause. It’s completely natural and it’s been used by some of the smartest civilisations in history. We’re talking adaptogen herbs: every busy health junkie’s dream come true. 

What are adaptogens?

The scientist Israel Brekhman defines adaptogens as non-toxic plants that produce a “non-specific state of resistance” in the body and decrease sensitivity to stressors in the environment. “Non-specific” simply means that they can act on several different parts of the body, depending on need, to tackle any form of stress – physical, mental and environmental. Sound dreamy? We think so. 

Often known as ‘folk remedies’ in the western world, adaptogen herbs have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. 

How do they work? 

As implied in their name, adaptogens help the body to adapt. They do this by keeping a close pulse reading on your endocrine, immune and nervous systems. When they feel that something is out of balance, they simply push you back to the centre where everything is in homeostasis. 

For example, if your immune system is low, they’ll enhance its immune response. If it’s overactive, they’ll lower it. In the words of Dr. Cole, “They balance the delicate dance between your brain and hormone system”. They regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and key mediators of stress response. 

Our top five favourite adaptogens

Ashwagandha

Native to India, this is one of the most powerful herbs used in Ayurvedic healing. The literal translation of its name is ‘the smell of a horse’, reflecting its ability to give strength and stamina (like that of a stallion, so we are led to believe!). Its primary purpose however, is to soothe your nervous and endocrine systems. It acts as a fatigue-fighter and gives energy to your body during the day and calms down your nervous system when you want to sleep at night. That’s the magic of the adaptogen: it tunes into your personal needs. Ashwagandha is also effective for treating blood disorders, stress and immune deficiencies and it reduces excess Vata and Kapha. 

Tulsi (Holy Basil)

This herb is considered to be an incarnation of the Goddess Tulsi due to its protective powers. In Ayurveda it has both medicinal and spiritual properties, helping to strengthen your cognitive function, protect your body against colds and flu and help your mind to unwind and look at things more positively.

Triphala

This is your digestive system’s best friend. It rejuvenates your digestive fire by cleansing your colon from residue and toxins and increasing its ability to absorb. What’s unique about this adaptogen is that it’s made of three components: amala, haritaki and bibhitaki. Each one controls the percentage of the three Doshas in you, respectively taking charge of Pitta, Vata and Kapha. The overall effect is a balanced and harmonious you. 

Shatavari

Shatavari is the women’s adaptogen. Its name, translated literally, means ‘a hundred husbands’ which refers to both the way it looks when its growing and its ability to boost female fertility. Shatavari also helps to increase the production of breast milk after birth and helps reduce menopause symptoms. It’s every goddess’ secret weapon. 

Brahmi

This is the ultimate brain tonic or intelligence herb. It’s the one to go for if you forget things easily or find it difficult to focus and concentrate. As well as improving your brain function, Brahmi can be used to soothe your nervous system when it’s out of balanced and reduce stress and anxiety levels. What’s not to love? 

Wellness crazes come and go, but when remedies are revisited time and time again by different civilisations, it’s worth taking note. Adaptogens transcend trends, so why not explore them further and think about adding them to your wellness toolkit.