Health benefits of adaptogens and how to use them
Ashwaganda, Reishi and He Shou Wu might sound like some sort of magic wizard spells from Harry Potter for most people. However, if you are familiar with adaptogens, you know that they are astonishing plants that can do wonders for both our body and mind. Whether you are exhausted, anxious, stressed, suffer from fatigue, bad skin, poor sleep, hormonal imbalance, or have a weak immune system, there are adaptogens that can help you combat those challenges. So, yes, you could probably say that there might be some kind of magic involved?
I discovered adaptogens a few years ago when I was searching for cures for my eczema and stress. I came across goji berries and He Shou Wu that really improved my skin, and found Ashwagandha that helped me relax and calm down whenever I felt anxious and worried. Since then, I’ve become very curious about these incredible plants and have tried many of them now. My latest obsession are adaptogenic mushrooms, such as Chaga, Lion’s Mane and Reishi, as well as the roots and plants Maca, Rhodiola and Astragalus. I think it is fascinating to experiment with adaptogens depending on what results you are aiming for. Most of us want to increase our physical strength and performance, as well as improve our cognitive abilities, and there are many astounding adaptogens that can help us with those things. So, if you are interested in learning more and trying some out, here is a quick guide through the magic world of adaptogens; how they work, which some of my favourites are and how to implement them in your diet. I am also sharing two of my very favourite adaptogenic recipes that are super easy and perfect to try at home these days!
WHAT ARE ADAPTOGENS AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
Adaptogens are plants, such as berries, roots, mushrooms and leaves that help improve the health of our adrenaline system (which is in charge of managing our body’s hormonal response to stress). Hence, adaptogens help the body to better adapt to stress and they adapt their function according to your body’s specific needs. There are adaptogens that can help us calm down and relax our thoughts if we are feeling anxious and stressed, as well as adaptogens that can increase our focus and energy if we feel run down and exhausted. They have been used for thousands of years by healers and practitioners all over the world. For example, they are used a lot in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and many have traditionally grown in challenging, harsh, rocky and cold terrain, such as around mountains. Unlike other stimulants, such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar, adaptogens won’t give you those bad side effects such as unstable blood sugar, addiction and disrupted sleep. Adaptogens work gently and slowly (they won’t cause any “crashes”) and both immediately and in long-term use.
Therefore, adaptogens are perfect if you want to optimise your body’s function and improve your overall health, such as boosting your immune system, increase focus, stamina, and energy level, as well as improve your mood and sex drive. Some other amazing things they can do to our bodies are:
- Aid in maintaining homeostasis
- Lower blood pressure
- Balancing hormones
- Make skin healthy and glowing
- Slow down visual signs of aging
- Combat the impact stress has on our cognitive function, hence improve clarity, memory, attention and focus
- Improve quality of sleep
- Help us relax and calm reactions to stressful events
- Increase endurance, strength and performance
- Help curb cravings
- Give a sense of harmony and overall feeling of well-being
- Normalise body functions
- Improve the function of organs such as the adrenal glands and liver
- Aid in recovery from exercise, exhaustion and stress
- Help fight against cancer, liver disease, diabetes and heart disease
GOOD TO KNOW
Just like everything else when it comes to health and wellness, as a Holistic Health Coach, I believe we need to look at the bigger picture and take several areas into consideration when we want to live a healthy life. That being said, you probably won’t notice any major health benefits if you have a poor diet, are surrounded by toxic people, stress a lot at work or never move your body. Therefore, remember that adaptogens can’t replace any of those other essential things for your well-being. In addition, keep in mind that what works for your friend might not work for you.
Another important thing to be aware of is that they are generally not safe to take during pregnancy and if you are sick or have any health related issues, consult with your doctor before taking any adaptogens. Most of them are safe for most of us to use, several even for kids, but it is always best to double check since they do have the ability to affect us a lot.
SOME FAVORITE ADAPTOGENS
Ashwagandha – this root is known to reduce stress and anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, reduce blood sugar levels and to be a libido booster.
Astragalus – some health benefits of this root are immune-boosting, healing and anti-inflammatory. It is taken to treat a variety of ailments, such as colds, allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
He Shou Wu – this herb is said to be a blood cleanser, youth elixir, libido booster and an immunity booster. It is also known to improve our skin, protect and repair our DNA, as well as promote longevity, healthy aging and hair growth.
Chaga – this incredible mushroom is claimed to support our immune system, lower our cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as increase strength, resilience and healing. Chaga is also rich in fiber and minerals such as calcium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin D and magnesium.
Reishi – this mushroom is used to help reduce stress, fight fatigue and depression, to promote a healthy sleep pattern, to enhance the immune system, as well as to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Licorice – some health benefits of licorice root are; belly soothing (e.g. during heartburn food poisoning and other stomach problems), anti-inflammatory, fighting fatigue, promoting healthy cortisol levels, increasing energy and endurance, as well as boosting the immune system.
Goji – these amazing red berries are claimed to protect the eyes, stabilise blood sugar, promote healthy skin, prevent liver damage and even to fight against cancer. They also help improve your energy and focus, and they are a great source of antioxidants and rich in nutrients, such as zinc, vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, Vitamin B2, copper and selenium.
Maca – the Maca root helps us to balance our hormones and increase fertility, mood, libido, endurance, performance and energy.
Hawthorn – these berries are loaded with antioxidants, such as the very powerful polyphenols. Hawthorn berries also have anti-inflammatory effects, they help to lower blood pressure and decrease blood fats, as well as aid digestion and reduce anxiety.
Rhodiola – helps increase clarity, strength and performance, and may lower anxiety, fatigue and depression. This plant also helps control diabetes and also has anticancer properties.
Cordyceps – this mushroom helps for example to fight stress, balance hormones and boost exercise performance. It is also an energy booster, antioxidant, helps with immunity support and has anti-aging properties.
Lion’s Mane – this incredible mushroom is known to promote brain function, concentration, reduce symptoms of and prevent anxiety. It may also speed the recovery from nervous system injuries, manage diabetes symptoms and reduce risk of heart disease.
Sea Buckthorn – this super berry has many amazing health benefits, such as supporting our digestion, promoting glowing and healthy skin and boosting our immune system. It is also a great source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Schisandra – this berry supports healthy skin, nurtures adrenal glands, decreases fatigue, enhances physical performance, and also counters stress by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the blood. It is also a detox support and protects the liver from poisons.
HOW TO USE THEM
Since pretty much all of them can be bought in the form of a powder, they are really easy to add to your food when you are cooking. I always put some into my smoothies and in my banana pancakes, and I love to make “superfood lattes” and add some adaptogens. I also take a few of them as supplements sometimes, for example Chaga, Reishi, Astragalus, and Rhodiola. What I try to keep in mind though is to make sure they won’t work against each other if I consume several of them at the same time – always remember what result you want before mixing adaptogens. Also, timing is another thing I try to think of. For example, if I want an immediate boost of energy, focus and performance for the day ahead, I might get a smoothie with some Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps in the morning, whereas a superfood latte with Ashwagandha and Reishi is optimal for my evening routine.
RECIPE: ADAPTOGENIC ALMOND BUTTER BALLS
Boost your immune system and increase your strength and resilience with these adaptogenic almond butter balls with He Shou Wu and Chaga. They taste heavenly and it takes only a few minutes to make. I store them in my fridge or freezer for up to a week, and love to eat one (or three) in the evenings with a cup of tea.
- Cashew nuts
- Maple Syrup
- Manuka honey (regular raw honey works too)
- Raw cacao
- Almond butter
- Coconut oil
- Himalayan salt
- Ceylon cinnamon
- He Shou Wu
- Chia seeds
- Shredded coconut
- Puffed quinoa
- Add 15 pitted dates, 100 ml of cashews, 50 ml of almonds, 1 tsp of maple syrup, 1 tsp of honey, 2,5, tbsp of cacao, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1 tbsp tahini and 1 tsp of melted coconut into a food processor or mixer.
- Add ½ tsp Himalayan salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of He Shou Wu and 1 tsp of Chaga and mix everything together. Add more dates and/or melted coconut oil if it is too dry and difficult to blend.
- Roll small balls out of the dough and cover in chia seeds, shredded coconut and puffed quinoa.
- Store in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before you indulge.
RECIPE: ADAPTOGENIC HOT CHOCOLATE WITH LAVENDER
Reishi and Aswagandha help us to unwind and prepare us for our sleep. This healthy hot chocolate is perfect if you are in the mood for something sweet, satisfying and comforting.
- Almond milk
- Raw cacao
- Himalayan salt
- Dried lavender
- Heat 500 ml of almond milk in a saucepan.
- Add one mushed and pitted date, 3 tbsp of raw cacao, 1 tsp of honey, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of vanilla powder, 1 tsp of Reishi, 1 tsp of Ashwagandha, 1 tsp of dried lavender and a pinch of Himalayan salt
- Stir while it simmers on low heat for a few minutes.
- Pour into a cup through a strainer so you remove the date.
- Sprinkle some extra lavender on top and add skimmed milk or coconut cream if you want to.