Adaptogens: Herbal Medicine to Smooth Out the Stress


Strengthen resilience with food and herbs

How I work hard, yet stay healthy

The women I work with also work hard during the day and night. In their jobs, in their study, with their families; these are women with lots of ambition. But over time, they wear out. I want to share with you the herbs that I know from first-hand experience that don’t have side effects that as many stimulant  foods and drugs. These herbs will provide ongoing biological support to body and mind. I became interested in adaptogens many years ago because I wanted to enhance my own ability to work hard and play hard and sustain those efforts without getting sick. The way I stay healthy is by using foods and herbs.

Our bodies just don’t thrive on coffee and donuts.

Many people experience trauma in childhood and yet they show resilience and thrive, in spite of it. But their bodies often experience the toll: they feel tired or in pain or depressed. They need a natural high but they turn to self-medication with food, alcohol or drugs.

When I give corporate talks on health, I discover many women executives and leaders, often turn to pharmaceuticals like Adderall for performance. I help them get off those artificial nootropics and find natural alternatives like adaptogens for supporting their focus and attention.

Whether you work or play hard, are in trauma recovery or want  a stimulant without the nasty side effects, this is where adaptogens come in; they are gentle yet energizing, and provide balanced support for coping with  stress over the long term.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens help us to adapt to stress by restoring the biological capacity to cope and respond. They are also called “metabolic regulators” because they help us to adapt to environmental stressors.


  1. Should be generally free of side effects,
  2. be nonspecific, that it should increase resistance to a wide array of physical, chemical, and biological stressors, and finally,
  3. normalize function and restore body mind balance.

Most of our health symptoms begin with stress: fatigue, irritability, menstrual cycle distress, depression, pain and fibromyalgia insomnia, anxiety, food addictions and digestive distress. Stress sets off a cascade of physical responses that affect immune function our hormones our cognitive function system and importantly our internal clock, called circadian rhythms. If these stressors persist, this leads to chronic illness.

Adaptogenic plants and their active extracts support adrenal function, build endurance, and reduce fatigue. By supporting adrenal function, they also support immune function and resistance. Adaptogens help increase cellular respiration, helping our cells to “breathe.”

What Herbs are the Best Adaptogens?

Common adaptogens include Panax Ginseng, Eleuthero (also known as Siberian ginseng), and Ashwagandha, which has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 2,500 years to enhance vitality and endurance.

Polarity Tea

An Osteopathic-Ayurvedic healer, Dr. Randolph Stone, developed Polarity tea. This tea is beneficial for stress, fatigue, liver or gall bladder problems, and allergies, and is soothing to respiratory and intestinal mucus membranes. It may be slightly laxative and is also a mild stimulant.

Polarity tea is an adaptogenic Ayurvedic medicine comprised of 4 roots and seeds. One part licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), one part fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), one part fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum), and two parts flax seed (Linum usitatissimum).

Mix the dry ingredients together and store in a jar in the dark. To make the tea, use 1 heaping teaspoon to 1 cup of water and simmer for 20 minutes, strain and drink 1-2 cups a day hot or cold.

Source: By Roger Culos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)

The glycyrrhizic acid in licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol and increases the amount of cortisol production, making it useful in adrenal fatigue. The root is rich in minerals including sodium, potassium, iron, and manganese.

Licorice, prolongs the half-life of steroids. It is also soothing to the mucus membranes in the lungs, making it useful for people who smoke. Licorice has been shown in the lab to suppress herpes virus which often erupts during times of stress. 

Traditionally used in desert regions for its ability to help cells retain fluids, it is contraindicated for people with hypertension or edemawho should use Polarity tea only a few times a week. 

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L)

Originally from Asia and southern Europe. Fenugreek is a demulcent, from the Latin word demulcere, meaning “to caress”. It soothes digestion, reduces gas due to poor digestion, and reduces allergic reaction as it loosens mucus. The seeds have small amounts of l-tryptophan. It also supports sugar handling, making it an effective tea for hypoglycemia.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Endemic to Southern Europe. It relieves anxiety-related digestive problems and the essential oil is useful in treating depressed mood. You can incorporate Fennel seed into cooking or just chew it after eating. Flax is a natural anti-inflammatory and is soothing to digestion, rich in essential fatty acids.


Another important adaptogen is Rhodiola.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

By Amazonia Exotics U.K (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Rhodiola is my go-to plant to enhance dopamine and hence focus and attention and to replace or reduce caffeine intake. It increases resistance to a variety of chemical, biological, and physical stressors. Rhodiola is a mild anti-depressant and a stimulant useful for the treatment of anxiety. Rhodiola is also an anti-inflammatory.

In my experience Rhodiola is a very gentle yet potent botanical, making it especially useful for someone who can use only one botanical or who has multiple chemical sensitivities. All of these actions make it an ideal botanical for the treatment of traumatic stress. 

For fatigue associated with stress, start a dose of 10 drops 2-3 times a day gradually increasing up to 30-40 drops for 1-2 months. For memory, concentration, and enhanced cognition take 100-400 mg/day using a standardized extract containing at least 3 % rosavin extract or tea from roots.

No serious side-effects have been reported but rhodiola can be stimulating, so it should be used earlier in the day. People who develop mania in response to antidepressants could respond similarly to high doses. Some individuals, particularly those who tend to be anxious, may feel overly activated, jittery, or agitated. If this occurs, you may need a smaller dose with very gradual increases.

By Amazonia Exotics U.K (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)

Ashawaganda means “the smell and strength of a horse,” suggestive of its power. Has been called Indian ginseng and is considered the pre-eminent adaptogen from the Ayurvedic medical system used to treat chronic stress and fatigue.

Human studies show that Ashwagandha is superior to Panax ginseng in its ability to increase endurance and prevent adrenal exhaustion, ulcers, and vitamin C deficiency. Animal studies show that Ashwagandha may improve memory, stabilize mood, improve stress tolerance, decreases anxiety, support the immune system, and prevent morphine dependence. Ashwagandha increases libido and reduces inflammation and helps to normalize sleep.

I prefer the liquid extract to capsules, allowing titration of dosages specific to the individual. There have been no side effects reported.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is particularly helpful to support Hypothalamic Pituitart Adrenal  (HPA)axis function. It provides a “bottom” where one has fallen, and thus builds foundation vitality Farnsworth, Kinghorn, Soejarto, and Waller (1985) reviewed the results of clinical trials of Eleuthero on more than 2,100 healthy human subjects, and the data confirmed adaptogenic effects including increased capacity to tolerate physical and mental stress.  It is important to obtain high quality Eleuthero extract; dosage can range from ½ to 1 teaspoon a day.  There are no serious adverse effects related to the use of eleuthero though too frequent use could induce euphoria and sleeplessness.


When should I take Adaptogens for the Best Effects?

It is best to take your Adaptogens before 3 p.m. Adaptogens are designed to gently stimulate and support cortisol rhythm which is naturally high in the morning and low at night. Actually we use licorice for just this purpose of regulating this rhythm. This is also why we should not drink coffee at night because it upsets this rhythm. When we use adaptogens (or any natural medicine) to support our health we want to align the timing of its use with our own biological rhythms.

We are designed to be “live wires” in the morning and to rest by early evening. Under extraordinary circumstances we can push our bodies and minds to perform an exceptional physical or cognitive task for a period of a few days or weeks. Adaptogens are perfect to to support this extraordinary effort, but we must then allow for deep restorative rest. Then, I use ginseng for recovery.


Try this!

Fruity Turmeric Adaptogen Smoothie

I incorporate turmeric in either powder or fresh root into my daily smoothie. Curcumin is adaptogenic and a good anti-inflammatory, making it valuable for pain, depression, and stress.

I call this my Fruity Turmeric Smoothie from my new book The Good Mood Kitchen.


½ c. frozen pineapple or mango
1 fresh banana
1 c. milk (hemp or coconut milk)
1 tbsp. coconut oil
½ tsp. turmeric, fresh
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ginger, fresh
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. green tea powder (optional)
¼ c. goat yogurt (optional)
1 tsp. raw honey or 10 drops of liquid stevia (optional)


Add ingredients to a blender in the following order: frozen fruit, banana, milk, oil, spices, and remaining ingredients.

Rotate your adaptogens

It is wise to use herbal adaptogens for short term, for example for acute stress use an adaptogens for a few days or for chronic stress for six weeks and then rotate the type of adaptogen and use for another six weeks. This allows the body to benefit from subtle differences among the herbs. Experiment with the best effects for you. Adaptogens will smooth out your stress and support your innate resilience.

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