Adaptogens: an introduction to plant remedies for a stress-free life

Stress is the unavoidable bane of modern life. With fast-paced lifestyles, careers and the common challenges we face throughout our lives, keeping our stress hormones regulated is an important part of our overall wellbeing. Enter adaptogens – nature’s gift of medicinal plants to help us restore balance and optimise our health. While Dr. Nicolai Lazarev, a pioneer in stress research, coined the term “adaptogen” in the 1940s, these plant-based remedies have been a secret weapon against inflammation, anxiety, stress, ageing, low immunity, and more for centuries.

A Brief History: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Wellness

The term may be a 20th-century creation, but the herbs and mushrooms it encompasses have been quietly supporting well-being for decades. Adaptogens are deeply rooted in traditional medicine practices like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. For thousands of years, cultures worldwide, from China and India to Europe and North America, have utilized their power to support their health. The likes of Reishi, Rhodiola, and Ginseng have graced the annals of medicinal history, as holistic solutions to stress-related ailments.

More recently, these natural wonders have been making waves in the wellness world, at a time when studies from across the globe reveal that stress levels have skyrocketed[1], with close to half of millennial women experiencing stress ‘all or most of the time’ this year. Now their use to combat stress and ageing-related disorders is growing globally, as more discover their ancient wisdom[2].

So what exactly are adaptogens?

Simply put, an adaptogen:

  • is nontoxic when used in regular doses and comes from plants
  • helps the body maintain balance, or homeostasis, by adapting to stressors
  • causes minimal to no side effects

How do adaptogens work?

An adaptogen is a herb, mushroom or other type of plant which contains powerful compounds. These interact with your hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis, which is our main stress response system, and the link between the stress we feel and our physiological reaction to it. Through this interaction, they influence hormone levels and support your immune-neuro-endocrine system. They act as a personal trainer to adrenal glands, training your body to build resilience against stress, and help regulate your hormones. The result? Improved immunity, energy, and overall well-being.

How to take adaptogens recommendations

Taking adaptogens is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Some adaptogens may upregulate, while others may downregulate, making it crucial to consult a professional when starting your adaptogenic journey, to make sure it’s tailored to your needs.

“It’s all very individual”, says Dr Sue Sprung, a UK-based qualified medical herbalist. “It depends on what you’re trying to achieve and your overall picture of health. Adaptogens are marvellous things which, taken in combination with each other, work well synergistically.” 

If you’re sensitive to supplements, Dr Sprung recommends starting slowly with one herb, before trying combinations. “Whole herb extracts in alcoholic tincture form are usually the most potent, and a milder way to consume them is in a tea”, she adds.

Whether it’s a morning boost with ginseng or a nighttime unwind with chamomile or lavender, find what works for you. From powders to liquids, pills to topical creams, adaptogens offer flexibility. Bioavailability, the key to their effectiveness, is enhanced when opting for fresh or powdered forms.

To harness their power, try consuming them in your routine for 6 to 8 weeks, allowing their impact to adapt to the ebb and flow of your life. You can try experimenting with single adaptogens first to assess their benefits, and then get creative with how you use them.

Choosing the Right Adaptogen: Our Curated Picks

The adaptogenic market boasts a myriad of options, each one with unique benefits. The key is to tailor your choice to your symptoms.

Here’s a glimpse into a few of them and their applications:

Ashwagandha: A warming, stress-busting herb with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Rhodiola: Reduces mental and physical fatigue, potentially managing stress and improving brain function.

Ginseng: Boosts energy, reduces fatigue, and enhances cognitive function.

Reishi: Boosts the immune system, fights fatigue and depression.

Tulsi (Holy Basil): Boosts immunity, reduces inflammation, aids in neurocognitive disorders.

Astragalus: Strengthens the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Cordyceps: Increases endurance and shows promise in immune system support.

Goji Berry: Rich in vitamins and potentially supports immune and eye functions.

Turmeric: Anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting properties.

In a world where stress is ubiquitous, adaptogens emerge as powerful allies in the pursuit of balance. As you explore the rich history and diverse offerings of these plants, remember: they’re not just supplements; they’re companions on your path to resilience and thriving health. So if you embrace the adaptogenic revolution, personalise your approach, and let the plants guide you on your journey toward a more vibrant you. Cheers to a healthier, happier you!


[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/mt/Documents/about-deloitte/deloitte-2023-genz-millennial-survey-mental-health.pdf. https://championhealth.co.uk/insights/stress-statistics/.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7756641/

Written by

  • Celine Raynaud

    Celine Raynaud is a BJTC-accredited journalist from City, University of London. Through contributing to Ankhä Magazine, she seeks to shed light on diverse perspectives of holistic healing practices, and share science-based stories on wellness and holistic health optimisation. She is currently London-based and also holds an interdisciplinary linguistics and culture degree on South East Asia. She is passionate about uncovering alternative paths to well-being.

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