Adaptogenic Herbs List

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What are Adaptogenic Herbs?

Adaptogenic herbs, also referred to as “adaptogens,” are defined as agents that support the body’s ability to accommodate varying physical and emotional stresses. How many times can you think of a point in your life where you could use that? (for example, stress at work, family stress, and physical stress on your body.) Is this something that could really be out there, easily accessible to us all?
Currently people use caffeine for this same effect. People drink multiple cups of coffee each day to give them a lift when they get tired. Some people drink soda. However, these choices tend to end with a crash. Adaptogens are herbs that have been used for thousands of years in both Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine where they are the basis of preventative approaches. These herbs are used to support one’s energy and better handle stress.
Adaptogens were at one time, and still are by some, called tonics. Although tonics have a general effect on the entire body, they also have specific effects on certain systems as well. For example, there are heart tonics, nervine tonics, digestive tonics, and tonics for the glandular system.
Adaptogens may be considered regulators and they support the stress response system*. In doing so, they help to modify and regulate hormone production and flow*.  Examples of adaptogens include Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Eleuthercoccus senticoccus, borage, ashwagandha, wild yam, and licorice root*.
Ginseng is used as a tonic to support stress response and energy.* It is also used to support the immune system.* Ginseng has been noted to work similarly to hawthorn berry on the vascular system.* Ginseng has some general cautions and contraindications to be aware of. Standardized extract of ginseng ranges from 100-500 mg daily.1-3
Eleutherococcus senticoccus is similar in adaptogen activity to Ginseng.* It is also used to support stress and energy.* Athletes may use it to support performance, although evidence is weak for this purpose.* It has been used in Russia by soldiers, athletes, miners, and deep-sea divers. 
Borage the herb, not the oil, is used to strengthen and restore the adrenal cortex throughout the course of care.* It can be used over an extended period of time.1-3   
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for overall health, as well to support the function of the musculoskeletal system.* It is purported to support uterine health.*1-3
Wild Yam is a wonderful tonic for the glandular system. It contains diosgenin which is a precursor to progesterone. Although Wild Yam does not contain any hormones, it may support hormone health.*1-3
Licorice supports endocrine function as it contains glycosides which have a similar structure to endogenous stress hormones.* Licorice also supports adrenal gland function and is thought to revitalize adrenal glands.*1-3
Adaptogens can be used as singles or in combination formulas depending upon the use. They are favorites among many herbalists to include in many different approaches to client’s goals. In many ways this is influenced by client’s constitution, the practitioner’s experiences, and an understanding of how certain systems of the body interact with one another. Herbal ism, while developing as a scientific discipline, retains many of the artisan approaches of its roots, pun intended.

What Are Adaptogens and What Are They Supposed To Do?

Adaptogens are a select group of herbs (and some mushrooms) that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the specific needs of the body. This may be physical, chemical or biological needs. They have been compared to a thermostat, moderating the body’s stress response like a thermostat controls temperature. They have special compounds that can possess opposing qualities, such as being relaxing or stimulating. The correct response is triggered according to the body’s specific needs. They are found today in a growing list of drinks, teas, tinctures and powders. They are often used as a healthy alternative to some prescribed medications and stimulants, anabolic steroids as well as common pick-me-ups like caffeine and sugar. There are dozens of plants, growing in some of the world’s harshest environments, that fall under the adaptogen category. (You can find a list of adaptogens and their benefits here.)

Ginseng is one of the most well-known adaptogenic herbs. It is said to increase energy, improve cognitive function, act as an anti-inflammatory, help with erectile dysfunction, prevent flu and lower blood sugar. Another well-known adaptogen, Rhodiola Rosea, is said to enhance mental performance and physical stamina. Others, like reishi, ashwagandha and holy basil soothe stressed adrenals. Astragalus has immune-boosting qualities. Schizandra is used to resist infections, increase skin health, and combat insomnia, coughing, and thirst.

Adaptogenic herbs act in non-specific ways to increase resistance to stress, without disturbing normal biological functions, explains celebrity doctor and alternative medicine champion Andrew Weil. [1]

Each one claims to do something a little different, but on the whole, adaptogens help your body handle stress,” says Dr Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. Adaptogens do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for the muscles, she says. They do this by interacting with the hypothalami-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetically system, tweaking hormone production and physiological responses to ensure the body functions optimally.[2]

Researchers from the Swedish Herbal Institute believe adaptogens work at a cellular level. “Studies on animals and isolated neuronal cells have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, anti depressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity.” [3]  Clinical trials have demonstrated they can increases mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly intolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention.

Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits

Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals. They work to counteract the effects of stress in the body. Stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. Adaptogens have stimulant properties that help counteract those harmful effects.

Adaptogens were first developed and studied during World War II. Scientists were looking for a way to help healthy pilots work at even greater levels. Basically, they were looking for a “superhero” pill that’d let the pilots fly better, faster, and for longer periods of time. And they thought they found it in the form of adaptogens.

The Soviet Union published military studies about a stimulant called Schisandra chinensis that was used. It was found that berries and seeds eaten by Nanai hunters Trusted Source reduced their thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. It even improved their ability to see at night.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalami, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These are involved in the stress response. They work by “hacking” the stress response in the body. Typically, when our bodies are stressed, we go through three stages of stress:

As we encounter a stressor — say we start lifting weights — our body responds by kicking out hormones like adrenaline that improve muscle performance and increase our ability to concentrate and pay attention to the task at hand in the phase of resistance. Our body is literally resisting the stressor, so we feel energized and clearer, thanks to our body giving us a boost to fight the stressor.

And then, as we fatigue, we enter in the exhaustion phase. Adaptogens basically stretch out that “sweet spot” in the middle — the phase of resistance — allowing us to hang out in the powerful part longer.

Adaptogens have been studied in both animals and isolated neuronal cells. Researchers have found they have several effects on the body Trusted Source:

Oh, and they increase mental work capacity, enhance attention, and prevent stress and fatigue.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, according to research on adaptogens, they might actually be as good as they sound.

Adaptogenic herbs list

Three main adaptogenic herbs have been studied and found to be both safe and nontoxic: Eleutherococcus sententious (Siberian ginseng), Rhodiola rosea (Arctic root), and Schisandra chinensis.

Siberian ginseng: This herb isn’t actually ginseng, but it works in similar ways. One study found that it may help ward off fatigue, depression, and stress.

Artic root: This is sometimes referred to as “rose root” and grows in cold climates in Asia and Europe. It’s a historical herb that’s been used in Russia and Scandinavia to treat minor health ailments like headaches and flu.

Schisandra: This herb is most useful for promoting liver health and stabilizing blood sugars, as well as acting as an adaptogen.

Have medical questions? Connect with a board-certified, experienced doctor online or by phone. Pediatricians and other specialists available 24/7.

Are adaptogenic herbs beneficial to your health?

One study review Trusted Source found that adaptogens really can be used to promote health for general well-being and when used as a supplement with other traditional medications for specific conditions and health problems. They’ve been shown to help people with cardiovascular health and certain neurological disorders, especially ones that may happen more frequently as individuals age.

The herbs are associated with boosting mental clarity for people with many health conditions. In that same study review, Arctic rootTrusted Source was found to help boost activity and productivity when used alongside antidepressants while having no serious documented side effects. It also helps people bounce back more quickly and feel more energized after illnesses like the flu.

SchisandraTrusted Source was found to be most helpful when used in people who had overall exhaustion and low physical and mental performance. It’s also been found to be especially helpful with certain neurological disorders, mental disorders like schizophrenia, and in improving lung function. One of the unique properties of schisandra is that, unlike other stimulants like caffeine, the body doesn’t become tolerant to it quickly, so it can be used in the same doses effectively.

The available studies suggest that adaptogens really are helpful in decreasing symptoms of fatigue and exhaustion and may be most helpful when used alongside other therapies for people with chronic and acute medical conditions. So, while your doctor may not encourage you to take an adaptogen every day for no reason, it may be helpful if you experience low energy as a result of a chronic medical condition.

While there are some health benefits to adaptogens, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor the quality or purity of herbs and supplements like over-the-counter products. Talk with your doctor before taking adaptogens.

These supplements act as your push-through-it wing-man

Deadlines are having a party on your calendar, your bestie is having a meltdown, your car is in the shop, and, oh, you’re out of toilet paper. Meanwhile your heart’s racing and you can’t concentrate. Hello, stress! Before you reach for a comfort cronut or guzzle that fourth latte, there’s another way to cope with the pressure — adaptogens.

Adaptogens can help your body adapt to life’s doozies. These herbs aid our bodies in reacting to or recovering from both short- and long-term physical or mental stress. Some also boost immunity and overall well-being. Research shows adaptogens can combat fatigue, enhance mental performance, ease depression and anxiety, and help you thrive rather than just muddle through.

So whether you’re training for a marathon, enduring a marathon study session, or even just sprinting through a stressful midday meeting, adaptogens may be key.

“As women living modern lives, we are going to have plenty of stress,” says Leslie Korn, PhD, “but if our body and mind has a biological boost, like adaptogens, in order to cope better with this stress, then we will be less likely to get sick.” Korn is a Harvard Medical School-trained traumatologist who uses integrative approaches to treating the mind and body. She says adaptogens enhance our ability to come into balance.

How do adaptogens hack your stress?

When we face a stressor, whether physical or mental, our bodies go through what’s called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and can soldier on.

“Like a mini vaccine, some adaptogens appear to inoculate us to stress and help us cope,” Korn says.

When we can adapt to stress, we perform better and feel better despite what’s stressing us out. And with that, we can also improve our health and well-being. When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland releases the stress hormone cortisol, which then energizes you to tackle an emergency. But too much too often is usually bad for our bodies.

“Cortisol is often the culprit for weight gain, especially around the belly area,” says Tara Nayak, a naturopathic physician in Philadelphia who recommends adaptogens to her clients. “When you reduce stress with adaptogens, you reduce stress hormones and hence their effect on weight gain.”

Adaptogens have the potential to help indirectly with other health issues, like pain, digestive concerns, insomnia, and more. “Stress sets off a cascade of physical responses that affect immune function, our hormones, our cognitive function system, and our internal clock, called our circadian rhythm,” Korn says. “If these stressors persist, this leads to chronic illness.”

Have medical questions? Connect with a board-certified, experienced doctor online or by phone. Pediatricians and other specialists available 24/7.

Korn likes to make a stimulating tea that can be consumed hot or cold. It’s one part licorice root, one part fennel seed, one part fenugreek seed, and two parts flax seed. She simmers a tablespoon of the mixture in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. She has other recipes, like a “fruity turmeric smoothie” in her book.

Nayak enjoys experimenting with adaptogenic foods. She uses the dried root Australopithecus Source in soups or stews. “It’s a great immune supportive adaptogen that gives an earthy flavor,” she says. “Schisandra is also a fabulous herb for cooking because of its complex flavor. It’s great in a berry compote or a chai spice tea.”

List of Adaptogens, and What These Adaptogenic Herbs Can Do For You

Adaptation is a name for herbal remedies that have been used for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. The term adaptogen was originally coined by Russian scientist Dr. Nikolai Lazare in 1947, during the Soviet search for natural and safe remedies to increase the resistance to biological stress.

When our ancestors were sick they turned to plants for healing, using knowledge passed down from generation to generation, and this more modern search found many of the exact same herbs, subjecting them to scientific analysis and testing.

Take a look at this list of adaptogens and see if any might work for what ails you.  Let us know if you’ve tried any of these.

Amla / Amalika / Indian Gooseberry

Amla has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and scientific studies confirm its many health benefits. Very high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, and has been studied in regards to the treatment and prevention of cancer and has been show effective against diabetes and high cholesterol. Learn more about amla. Where to find it.

Ashwagandha –

Ashwagandha has many similar benefits to ginseng.  It is a powerful antioxidant that is beneficial to the cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine and immune systems.  It has also been shown to be effective against depression. People in the Himalayas have used Ashwagandha to enhance their resistance to oxygen deprivation.  Studies have shown that taking this adaptogen can increase oxygen consumption to improve physical endurance.  Learn more. Where to find it.


Astragalus has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is sometimes used directly for wound care. It might also have antiviral properties, and has been used to strengthen the immune system. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.  Learn more. Where to get it.


Bacopa is also known as brahmi or water hyssop.  Several studies show that Bacopa has the ability to regulate cortisol levels during stress,  and further, to improve cognitive performance in those facing chronic stress.  You can read more about Bacopa studies in this article. Where to find it.


Bilberry can be used for urinary tract problems.  It can also be used for the respiratory, reproductive and endocrine systems. Both the leaves and fruit are used.  The berries are high in antioxidant and can be used for eye disorders. Learn more. Where to get it.


This adaptogen is a medicinal mushroom that has been used for centuries to enhance immune function.  When animals received a cordycepin supplement, it reduced depression symptom’s and lowered their stress markers.   The animals also showed higher levels of the growth factor BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) after taking the supplement. Where to find it.

Dang Shen

Also known as codonopsis, dang shen is one of an adaptogenic herbs said to strengthen your ability to defend against high levels of stress, anxiety, trauma and fatigue. It has also been studied as a reducer of colon inflammation and has a long tradition in Chinese medicine. Where to find it.LEARN MORE:  Health Benefits of Mint


Elderberry is high in antioxidants and Vitamin C.  Studies show it can reduce fevers and support the immune system. Learn more. Where to find it.


Eleuthero is used to help reduce the body’s stress response.  It also strengthens the immune system and increases endurance and stamina. It is also sometimes called Siberian Ginseng. Learn more about eleuthero. Where to find it.

Ginseng – 

Ginseng is the most common adaptogen.  It is a root that has a long list of potential benefits. It can be anti-cancer, anti-fatigue, anti-inflammatory, and helpful in both cancer and diabetes treatments.  There are many different forms of ginseng.  The most common is form is Panax or Asian.  Learn more. Where to find it.


Used traditionally for thousands of years in Ayurveda in India for its detoxifying, rejuvenating, immune-boosting properties. It has been studied for cold and flu prevention, immune support, skin disorders, arthritis, liver disorders, gout, and even to mitigate the negative effects of chemotherapy. Where to find it.

He Shou Wu

This herb used in traditional Chinese medicine has neuroprotective properties, and is used to treat the liver, kidneys and blood, improve energy, and has been said to even reverse gray hair. Learn more. Where to find it.

Holy Basil / Tulsi

Holy basis is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial and one of the mildest adaptogens.  It has been used for 3000 years to treat circulatory, immune, and nervous systems. It has also been used in cancer treatments with success.  Holy basil also helps with memory and concentration.  Studies show that it helps the body maintain stabilize the stress hormone cortisol. Learn more. Where to find it.


This has a popular name of “the immortality herb”.  Also known as gymnosperm, it’s a Chinese plant in the cucumber family that has been used for several thousand years.  The leaves are used to make tea.  Studies show that this herb has many of the same benefits as Ginseng.  It has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar and improves immunity.  To learn more, read this article. Where to find it.

Licorice root  –

Licorice root can affect blood pressure and should be used only under the supervision of a doctor.It has been shown to-increase energy and endurance in addition to boosting the immune system. It is used for stress reduction.  Licorice root protects the thymus gland (which produces T cells for the immune system) from being damaged by cortisol, the hormone that is elevated due to stress. Where to get it.

Lycium / Wolf-berry / Goji Berry

Lycium contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory carotenoids, flavonoids. It supports healthy vision and healthy bowel flora. It is also said to support the liver, kidney and can strengthen weak muscles and ligaments. Lycium polyacrylamide support the immune system and have been shown to enhance the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Learn more here. Where to get it.LEARN MORE:  Health Benefits of Oregano

Maca – 

Maca is known as “Peruvian ginseng,” although it is nothing like ginseng. It is a root that reportedly increases strength, stamina and libido. Where to find it.


Reishi mushrooms are the most well known medicinal mushrooms.  They can help in the treatment of fatigue, respiratory complaints, cancer, heart disease and liver ailments.  They are also regarded as general immunity boosters. Learn more. Where to find it.


 Rhodiola is used for a wide range of issues, including like most adaptogens, strengthening the immune system. Is is also used to restore balance in blood sugar and helps with fertility.   It boosts alertness, lessens fatigue, and combats depression. Learn more about rhodiola. Where to find it.


Schisandra is also calledwuweizi by the Chinese.It is most commonly used as a tonic. Schisandra protects the liver from toxins and is used for respiratory problems.  It can also improve memory.Learn more. Find it here.


This herb is considered the queen of herbs.  It’s used as a tonic primarily by women.  It is believed to increase fertility.  You can read more about the symptoms it is used to treat here. Where to find it.


Suma can be purchased in a capsule form or as a dried herb powder.  People often refer to suma as Brazilian ginseng.  It is commonly used to boost energy. It is used to prevent fatigue and boost immunity.  You can read more about Suma in this article. Where to find it.

You may notice a common theme among these herbal adaptogens, and there’s a good reason for it.

To be classified as an adaptogen, a plant must meet three criteria.  1.) be nontoxic and generally safe 2.) have broad benefits that improve overall immune system strength and not just for one organ or system and 3.) provide balance within the body

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