From scientists, to practitioners, or everyday people, the search for alternative remedies for people with mental health struggles is on the rise. Adaptogens are increasing in popularity and it’s no surprise why: People want to explore ways of reducing their stress or anxiety as naturally as possible, whether that be alongside or without conventional medications.
It’s important to note that many adaptogens can be used simultaneously with other medications or therapies to help your body cope. But if you decide to add adaptogens into your wellness routine, always discuss any changes with your doctor first.
Now—back to the adaptogens. Mother nature has created some amazing plants that, if taken regularly, have incredible benefits to mental health. These are plants such as:
- Holy Basil (Tulsi)
- Maca Root
Keep reading to learn more about what makes each of these adaptogens unique and how you can start incorporating them in your everyday life.
What are Adaptogens for Anxiety?
‘Adaptogen’ is a term used to describe plants that help the body adapt to stress. Adaptogens accomplish this by affecting hormone production and your body’s physiological responses to stress. You may have heard of these popular plants before, such as ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, reishi, cordyceps, and maca.
The purpose of these is not particularly to address mood, or to manipulate emotions, but rather to help the body function optimally during stress. As someone who often gets the physical response of stress (thanks anxiety!) without an environmental or emotional cause, adaptogens are quickly becoming one of my most useful tools in my mental health toolbox.
The term “adaptogen” is new, and using adaptogens is a relatively new concept in the Western world, but in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (as well as other cultures and locations across the globe), these plants have been revered and utilized for centuries for the same reasons the Western interest is growing in adaptogens now. For example, there is evidence of ginseng being used more than 2000 years ago as a medicinal plant.
Where Can You Buy Adaptogens?
Due to their increase in popularity, adaptogens have become relatively easy to find. They can be found at health food stores and even some bigger grocery store chains. Many are available in capsules and tinctures, while others are available in raw dried or powder form. In powder form, these can easily be added to smoothies and elixirs.
You can take these substances on their own, but you can also find adaptogenic herb blends, for example cordyceps and ashwagandha. If you want to get creative, you can try something I have done in the past which is making my own homemade adaptogen chocolate.
Unique Differences in Adaptogens for Anxiety
All adaptogens, being unique plants themselves, will have their own special benefits and uses. However, a commonality between adaptogens is their ability to increase non-specific resistance to stress, and all are safe long-term if used properly.
All adaptogens are important, and each has something different to offer. They can be consumed in a variety of ways, they taste differently, and they each have distinct benefits. Keep reading to learn more about them so you can help decide if these adaptogenic plants are suited to your needs.
The whole holy basil plant can be used as an effective adaptogen. Holy basil has a reputation for balancing blood sugar levels and regulating cortisol. Holy basil can help you sleep better, which can help reduce anxiety. As an added bonus, holy basil is also nutritionally valuable, being high in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, iron and chlorophyll. It is typically made into tea. I enjoy it warm, but if you’re up for an alternative check out my recipe for Holy Basil Iced Tea!
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable used in many Peruvian dishes. The part of the plant being studied for its adaptogenic properties is its root. Maca has been studied extensively in relation to libido, but it is also known for its ability to increase energy and balance hormones – like cortisol. Maca contains flavonoids that are believed to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. These are just a few of the potential benefits of Maca. It’s also one of the best adaptogens for energy. Maca root is versatile, and easily integrated into an energy ball recipe or morning smoothie. I have made a comprehensive list of the 10 best energy ball recipes to make it even easier to incorporate into your diet.
Ashwagandha has long been highly prized in Ayurvedic medicine. It helps to balance hormones, support the adrenals, and also protects the brain. One study in particular is especially intriguing. A group of participants were given dietary counseling, a multi-vitamin, deep breathing relaxation techniques, and a daily dose of ashwagandha. Not only did the participants anxiety decrease significantly, but they also decreased more than their counterparts in the psychotherapy intervention group. Many people take ashwagandha for long-term stress.
Traditionally used in Russia and Scandinavian countries, Rhodiola, (specifically the root of the plant) has been used to treat anxiety, fatigue, and depression for centuries. Currently, it’s undergoing and has undergone many studies to reveal all of it’s benefits. In one study, participants were given 400 mg of Rhodiola each day for 8 weeks, leading to improvements in various areas including fatigue, mood, and concentration. This adaptogen often comes in extracts or tablets. The tablets can easily be integrated into your daily vitamin or supplement routine.
Reishi mushroom is a very popular mushroom that loves growing in hot and humid temperatures. Not only does the research support its ability to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, but reishi is also known to promote healthy immune function. It’s a very versatile fungus that can help you reach a more relaxed, peaceful state when taken over time.
Cordyceps, like Reishi, is a mushroom with adaptogenic properties which has been shown to support lower levels of anxiety and depression when taken over time. It also influences how our cells make ATP, which is essentially what our bodies use for energy. This makes cordyceps mushroom great for supporting energy production in the body without the buzz of anxiety that, for some of us, always seems to follow.
Adaptogens are Tools for the Toolbox
Using adaptogens for anxiety and stress can help you increase energy and a sense of balance in your life. It’s a great way to add additional support into your everyday diet and lifestyle.
While adaptogens can be a very helpful tool in combating anxiety, you should not rely on adaptogens alone. Mental wellness requires a holistic approach, so I encourage you to use all the tools at your disposal. If you do decide to treat your anxiety with adaptogens, check with a medical professional so you can be sure it isn’t contraindicated with any of your medications.
If you’re interested in learning about another adaptogen, Turkey Tail, check out my blog post on The Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushroom. If you’re looking for other ways to manage your anxiety naturally, check out my blog post on Sleep Routine for Anxiety. If you just want some delicious smoothie recipes you can add some adaptogens to, try the Tropical Turmeric or The Green Machine smoothie (which already calls for maca)!