Adapting to Stress with Adaptogens

What is an Adaptogen?

Simply put, it’s an herbal remedy or a mushroom remedy that helps the body/mind to adapt to stress. They are known as ‘qi and rasayana tonics because they enhance the body’s life force’. They work on the entire system: body, soul & mind. They are known to strengthen the body so it experiences less damage during stressful periods and can assist you to bounce back more quickly after a challenging time.

Adrenal Glands

Many adaptogens are known to support the adrenal glands, which is a good thing because with chronic stress, the adrenals can become depleted. These endocrine glands produce hormones which are chemical messengers that regulate many functions in the body including stress hormones.



Typically, adaptogens are considered tonic herbs to be taken daily to support and enhance health and wellness. Tonics are very gentle herbs used regularly to tone the body, mind, and spirit.

The idea of an adaptogen was developed by Russian scientist Nicolai Lazarev in 1947. Much of the early research on adaptogens was done in Russia shortly after WWII. Their interest was in performance enhancing properties to support people in physically and mentally challenging situations. It was commonly tested on elite athletes and cosmonauts.

Herbalist David Winston describes adaptogens this way, “Adaptogens help the body maintain an energy reserve and protect vital cellular energy.”

Naturophathic Herbalist, Dr. Marisa Marciano, ND says this, Adaptogens seem to increase the threshold of resistance to damage through supporting the adrenal glands…”


Let’s look at some adaptogens to explore their many benefits.

Rhodiola Root: The first written reference for this herb dates back to 77 A.D. when Greek physician Dioscorides mentions it in his de Materia Medica. Vikings took Rhodiola prior to a journey for stamina. Due to its ability to increase energy it is thought to be useful for chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and even speed recovery after intense exercise. Research shows that Rhodiola’s ability to act on the central nervous and neuroendocrine systems can enhance brain function by improving memory, focus and mood as well as reduce depression and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Licorice Root: This amazing herb has been used for centuries and is very commonly known as a *harmonizer*. Combining it with other herbs enhances and harmonizes their benefits. This sweet tasting herb and its adaptogenic properties are due to its ability to act on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. HPA regulates stress in the body. With chronic stress, the body’s ability to deal with stress effectively can be greatly diminished and over time this can lead to disorders like PTSD, chronic fatigue and depression. HPA is essential to adaptation in challenging circumstances. Adaptogens working on this system can enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress.

Reishi Mushroom: This divine mushroom is sometimes referred to as the ‘tree of life mushroom’ and the ‘mushroom of immortality’. It has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where it is considered a qi (pronounced Chi) tonic to restore one’s life force and vitality! It has nervine properties and immunomodulating properties. It acts on and strengthens many systems in the body, and this may explain why it’s called ‘supernatural mushroom’ in Vietnam.

Schisandra Berries: these powerful little berries strengthen and nurture your entire system helping you to manage stress by acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Schisandra is also known to work on stress hormones within the body, which makes it an excellent adaptogen. It has been shown that these berries can enhance focus and increase energy and is why some athletes use it as an endurance booster.


Versatility of Herbal Allies

You’ll hear me say this over and over again… herbs have multiple functions, benefits and act on numerous body systems at the same time. Many herbs have the same function and others overlap with a variety of wonderfully safe and effective benefits. This is one of the beauties of herbal remedies.

In the case of Rhodiola, not only does it act on the central nervous and neuro-endocrine systems, but it is also considered a great traditional food source. The entire plant has been used as food by indigenous cultures. Its Vitamin C content made this an excellent treatment for scurvy. It also provided healthy antioxidants for long winters for peoples living in northern regions around the globe. And due to its antioxidant benefits it is currently used to deal with oxidative stress, which strengthens and preserves the nervous system.

Licorice Root supports liver function, acts on the endocrine system, and has anti-inflammatory properties in addition to its adaptogenic characteristic. As a demulcent, it soothes the alimentary canal, which can be helpful in the case of a dry sore throat, ulcers, and irritable bowel. It is known to be an antiviral which means it has the ability to prevent a virus from entering cells, kill the virus outright and can boost the immune system to fight the virus if it enters the cell. Licorice root includes a long list of viruses which it can be helpful for including several strains of influenza, respiratory viral infections, herpes simplex, and hepatitis.

Reishi can help modulate the immune system, meaning it can strengthen the body immune’s system that might be dealing with chronic infections for example, or down-regulate if immunity is overactive and autoimmune conditions are present. Reishi has been used traditionally for anti-cancer and ongoing research shows promising results. Here’s a quote from a research review: Accumulated data show that triterpenoids exhibit a broad spectrum of anti-cancer properties, including anti-proliferative, anti-metastatic and anti-angiogenic activities.

Schisandra berries can help reduce inflammation throughout the body. We now know through much research that inflammation is considered the foundation of disease. Since this herb works on the entire body, it’s a great addition to your daily routine. Current research also shows this herb to be an effective antiviral and may help with HIV and hepatitis. It’s known as an astringent, which means it can help dry up excess moisture in the body, things like night sweats, diarrhea and frequent urination could improve with Schisandra.

It’s not surprising that herbal allies have been used for thousands of years with much success. Understanding how to use herbs in your life will empower you to become your own healer. This isn’t to say you’ll no longer need your healthcare provider, but for preventative and minor health issues, herbs are a wonderful way to enhance wellness. For more serious conditions herbs can come alongside to support your body during treatment and symptom management.

Adding adaptogens into your daily routine is easy, and as a result, you just might experience relief from chronic stress.



When choosing an herb please check its sustainability status on the United Plant Savers at-risk list. Many plants are being overharvested due to popularity and demand, and since there are almost always alternatives, it’s important we look for these.

If you’d like to purchase an adaptogen from our store, click here.

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Herbal Academy, Herbarium Monographs
Winston et al., 2007

Disclaimer: The information written in C.R.Y. Herbals’ emails, blog & website, is for creative and educational purposes only. This information should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. All questions regarding any health condition and inclusion of herbs to support your health should be addressed to your primary care physician or other healthcare provider. We are simply ordinary folk who love experimenting and working with natural herbal products to enhance and support the body in health and well-being. It is a joy and honor to explore the historical and contemporary practices of herbalism for the purposes of education and personal fulfillment. ?


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