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​Welcome to Day 16 of the #40DayHerbalist Challenge! We mentioned adaptogens earlier in the Challenge when we looked at an overview of the types of herbs you can use everyday. Today, we will look more closely at what adaptogens are and how to incorporate them into a daily wellness routine, and take a look at 5 adaptogens in particular.

Time Needed: 15-30minutes
Tools Needed: Pens/Pencils, Notebook 

How to Use Adaptogens

What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a group of herbs that support our bodies’ response to stress in a holistic way. Stress can wear us down physically and emotionally, but adaptogens seem to have a knack for supporting mood, stamina, and immunity. The group of herbs that we now call adaptogens have traditionally been known as tonics and ayurvedic rasayanas (herbs that support our best health and longevity).  

Who can use adaptogens?
Adaptogens are best used by adults, and not all adaptogens are suitable for children. Herbalist and MD Aviva Romm suggests that adaptogens should not be used during pregnancy because there is a lack of safety data. She also recommends that anyone taking medications that suppress the immune system should not use adaptogens unless their doctor approves because of potential herb/drug interactions.

What is the serving size for an adaptogen?
Every adaptogen has a unique serving size that is considered optimum for that adaptogen, but that amount can vary slightly (up or down) based on your own constitution and metabolism. Like with any herb, some is good but more is not necessarily better. Too much of some adaptogens can leave you feeling jittery or unsettled. It’s a good idea to start at the lower end of the suggested range and move up gradually to find what works for you.

Follow the directions that come with any adaptogen products that you buy. If you are using dried herbs to make your own adaptogen goodies at home, know that 1-3 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of tea, and 30-60 drops of extract are common places to start, but ideally you should be researching suggested serving sizes for any new herbs you want to work with at home.  

How long can you take adaptogens?
Adaptogens are actually best used on a daily basis for several months. I’ve found that because health changes over time it can be helpful to re-evaluate from time to time and decide whether to continue using the same adaptogens or switch them out for different ones. In some cases, I can feel an adaptogen’s influence within a few days, but because they are best over the long term it may be a week or two before you notice anything different in the way you feel.

5 Adaptogens to Explore

These are some of my favorite adaptogens. They tend to be mild and less prone to making someone feel overstimulated. Below, I’ve included some safety information and serving size suggestions for making teas/decoctions, but this information is just a starting point for exploring and learning more. The information on serving size comes from Adaptogens for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by Winston and Maimes and is what I typically use for deciding how much and how frequently when I first begin using an adaptogen.

Eleutherococcus senticosus  
This adaptogen is often favored by athletes and seems to be especially helpful for supporting the immune system during physical training, but it can also be great when you feel stressed out from working long hours. I like to use it more in the fall and winter, but that’s just a personal tendency I’ve noticed (you may find that you develop your own seasonal preferences, too!).
To make a decoction: 1-2 tsp powdered root per 16 oz
Safety notes: May interfere with some blood pressure and heart rhythm medications.

Occimum tenuiflorum (Occimum sanctum)
This herb is a member of the mint family and comes from India, where it is described in Ayurveda as a rasayana (an herb that nourishes health and supports longevity). Tulsi is often favored for it’s affinity for supporting the immune system when environmental allergies are an issue, and for it’s nervine qualities that make it a good choice for supporting positive moods.
To make an infusion: 1 tsp dried leaves per 8 oz ( But a serving size is 4oz up to 3 times per day)
Safety notes: Especially important to avoid use of this adaptogen during pregnancy and if you are trying to conceive. Tulsi may also speed up the elimination of some medications so should be used carefully or avoided if prescription medications are used.

Gynostemma pentaphyllum
A calming adaptogen that can be especially good for someone who is prone to anxiousness or agitation, this vine also shares some of the same types of constituents as ginseng. It makes a lovely houseplant  and can be grown outdoors in mild climates. Besides the balancing qualities all adaptogens possess, it may be beneficial for cholesterol levels and cardiac function.
To make an infusion: 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb in 8oz of water; 1-3 cups/day
Safety notes: Jiaogulan may be best taken with food (sensitive stomachs may not appreciate jiaogulan when they are empty);  and using too much could cause rash, fatigue, dizziness, or palpitations. It’s best to avoid taking jiaougulan while while using blood thinners and don’t combine this herb with tranquilizers or sedatives

Rhodiola rosea

In modern terms, rhodiola is thought to be cadioprotective and neuroprotective and it’s believed to be nourishing to the lungs in Tibetan herbalism. Modern studies show it can support individuals with muscle stiffness and spasm, support reproductive function in both men and women; and is beneficial for the heart as well as blood sugar.   
To make a decoction: 1-2 tsp of the root per 8oz water; 1-3 cups per day
Safety notes: It may be best to avoid rhodiola if there a history or presence of bipolar and if taking prescription antidepressants.

Schisandra chinensis
Schisandra is one of my favorite herbs for promoting calm focus. Besides it’s adaptogenic influences, schisandra is also thought to be hepatoprotective and supportive of  liver health.
To make a decoction: 1-2 tsp dried berries per 8 oz water; 4 oz up to 3x per day.
Safety notes: Avoid during acute infections (according to TCM); may increase effectiveness of barbiturates.

As you can see, each adaptogen has individual qualities that make it unique and even applicable in situations beyond the basic concept of an adaptogen. 

Your Mission

Use the information listed above for eleuthero, jiaogulan, tulsi, rhodiola, and schisandra as a starting point for doing your own research on adaptogens. Which adaptogen sounds most appealing to you? If you want to chose an adaptogen to add to your daily wellness routines, spend some time searching online and through your herb books for more information on the ones that interest you the most. Some other adaptogens you might want to explore include: amla, ashwagandha, cordyceps, dang shen, goji berry, he shou wu, licorice, and shatavari. 

More Fun!

Curious to learn more about the adaptogens in today’s Challenge? You might enjoy these YouTube videos- some of them are by Joe Hollis at Medicine Gardens and the others by Deb Soule of Avena Botanicals:


Agatha is the author of the popular new herbal recipe book, Adaptogens: Your Guide to Radiant Health!

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