Adaptogens are a unique category of herbs and mushrooms that help the body balance its reaction to stress. They’ve been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic healing traditions for hundreds of years. Adaptogens can be brewed in a tea, blended into a smoothie, or enjoyed in a nut milk latte.
Every adaptogen has its own special set of benefits, but as a whole they help the body build up a tolerance to stressful situations.
Let’s say you are in a stressful work meeting and your heart rate rises, and you also develop a throbbing headache. Adaptogens can help alleviate the biological and chemical causes of stress so that you can handle that business meeting without your body elevating your cortisol levels.
In order to be classified as an adaptogen, an herb or mushroom must act on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in a non-toxic manner. You can think of this axis as the hormonal conversation happening between your brain and your body. Adaptogens adjust hormone levels so that your body stays at a constant and even level. This encourages your stress levels, energy levels, and even your immune system to stay at a healthy baseline.
What are the best adaptogens to incorporate into your wellness routine?
Known as “Indian Ginseng,” this powerful Ayurvedic herb helps relax an anxious mind, reduce stress, and build up a tolerance to stressful situations. Ashwagandha does all of this without inducing a sense of fatigue.
Reishi is an ethereal, yellow-red mushroom that has been used as a medicine for over two thousand years. It both regulates and restores the body to homeostasis as well as relieves one from stress.
Found in the highlands of Nepal, Tibet, and China, cordyceps is often called the “caterpillar mushroom.” Research has suggested that Cordyceps has the ability to decrease fatigue and increase physical endurance. Studies have also shown that cordyceps protect the skin against ultraviolet radiation damage (the sun!).
Why are you only hearing about adaptogens now?
Ayurvedic healing traditions and traditional chinese medicine have been using adaptogens for centuries - but they are just now starting to touch base in the Western world. Adaptogens have a rich and cultural history, so it’s important to respect and appreciate the cultural and ethnobotanical background of each ingredient. Jeffery Saeteurn, the co-founder of Pretty Mushroom, explains:
“I personally feel deeply uncomfortable when I see a company taking ancient cultural knowledge and practices and using them in marketing messages for their products. Interpreting this discomfort has been a revelation to me that stems from my childhood as a first-generation Mien immigrant.
My parents lived in a small village in the mountains between Vietnam and Laos. During the Vietnam war, they were forced to flee to Thailand, then the USA, as refugees. My dad is a shaman, and he as well as my mother carry the medicinal and spiritual knowledge of food and herbs. Even though we lived in California, my parents grew almost everything we ate from the garden in our backyard and foraged for the many mushrooms and herbs we consumed. Every time I got sick growing up, an herbal recipe and Mien chant was there to help me heal.
My parents gleaned their knowledge from living in the mountains between Vietnam and Laos, and from their ancestors that lived on that land. So it’s an interesting dichotomy to see some of that knowledge portrayed as a marketing message for large brands. This discomfort/contrast is why it’s important for us to state that we really do respect the cultures and traditions that have used these ingredients before they were incorporated into the western world. And why we exclusively source ethically and sustainably.”
How can you incorporate adaptogens into my diet?
If you’re into earthy-tasting tonics, you can use add tinctures to your normal drinks or even sip on an adaptogenic tea. If you are looking for an approachable way to add adaptogens to your daily wellness routine, you might want to consider a pre-mixed blend. You can add the powder into everything - your favorite banana bread recipe, a morning smoothie, or even homemade salad dressings.
Looking for a bit more guidance? Try out this Lavender Latte recipe! It’s comforting, relaxing, and creamy - all the things needed to ease into a good morning.
Adaptogenic Lavender Latte
1 tbsp culinary grade lavender buds
1/2 c water
1/2 c coconut milk
1 tsp mushroom blend (I love this one!)
1 tsp maple syrup
How to make:
Steep lavender buds in hot water for 7 minutes. Afterward, add the lavender tea mixture to warmed coconut milk. Stir in mushroom blend and maple syrup. Enjoy!
Photos courtesy of Pretty Mushroom