Adaptogenic herbs are considered phytomedicines or natural product remedies based on plants. They rejuvenate the body and increase vital energy. The Russians introduced the term “adaptogen” in the 1960s, however these herbs have been used for hundreds of years especially in India and China. Within Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, there is a long history of using tonic remedies to restore balance. Indian physicians practicing Ayurveda recognized the contribution of rejuvenating (rasayana) herbs 5000 years ago. In ancient China, tonic herbs were referred to as “superior” or “imperial” herbs and were used daily by only the wisest and wealthiest people. Currently, tonic herbs are a part of everyday life in China. The main function of a tonic is to maintain balance or maintain wellness with an emphasis on staying well more than getting cured.
Adaptogens have the unique ability to switch from stimulating to sedating effects based on the body’s needs – thus correcting dysfunctions and producing a biological state of balance. One example would be Panax ginseng which can either raise or lower blood pressure depending on the circumstances. Adaptogens also produce an increase in the power of resistance against multiple (physical, chemical or environmental) stressors. Simply, adaptogens help the body adapt to stress, support normal functions and restore balance.
Adaptogenic herbs are not generally used for specific ailments, but to increase overall adaptive tonic energy that may help patients adapt to both physical and mental stress and achieve better health and vitality.
Individual adaptogenic herbs are known for having actions that are rejuvenating (tonic) and they work to increase physical and mental stamina. Most of the herbs also are anti-inflammatory and support the immune system. Others protect the liver, heart and revitalize the nerves. In many studies adaptogens have shown to protect against cancer, reduce the side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs and increase resistance to the effects of radiation and chemical carcinogens.
Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They are unique from other substances in their ability to balance endocrine hormones and the immune system, and they help the body to maintain optimal homeostasis.
Herbalists have come up with a list of primary adaptogens that have been thoroughly researched and proven over time to have positive health results. In addition, these adaptogenic herbs are nontoxic and are synergistic with other herbs. NOTE: One should consult a qualified professional who knows the benefits of herbs for any personal health recommendations.
Most of the herbal adaptogens that have been identified are used in either Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These herbs include:
Ayurvedic Herbs: Amla, Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Holy Basil, Licorice, Shatavari, Shilajit
Chinese Herbs: Asian Ginseng, Astragalus, Codonopsis, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, He Shou Wu, Jiaogulan, Licorice, Lycium, Prince Seng, Reishi, Schisandra
Western Herbs: American Ginseng, Rhaponticum, Rhodiola
Adaptogens all increase resistance to the adverse effects of stress. They are also anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, liver protective, immune supportive and tonic. Most of them are also support cardio-vascular health, are anti-oxidant and support the nerves. Some are blood sugar moderators and are chemo-radiation protective. All of these herbs are considered primary adaptogens because there is a sufficient amount of supporting scientific research.
SEE: Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief page for Adaptogens.