What are adaptogens?

All About Adaptogens

If you’ve ever heard the word ‘adaptogens’ you probably think of magical herbs, that when harvested on the summer solstice, and consumed on a waning strawberry moon whilst the wind is blowing from the east, can heal all your ailments in one sip. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it, but who really has time for that? 

And maybe it is just a little too good to be true. I want to talk about my first experience drinking a medicinal mushroom tea a long time ago while I was working in a juice bar. I did not know the first thing about medicinal mushrooms other than I was hoping it was not the magic kind (not while I was at work anyway)!

The taste was earthy, as to be expected, but pleasant. It tasted like it was good for me and this new superfood tea quickly became my new thing. It was immediately obvious to me that there was something particularly special about this new trendy superfood mix, as every time I drank it my experience was unlike before.

If I was tired and drank it instead of a coffee, it gave me energy. If I wanted a cosy bedtime drink, it helped me to drift off into a pillowy soft dream land. If I was anxious, it grounded me. If I was sad, it made me smile. Whatever I needed, the mushrooms graciously gave me. It dawned on me that these mushrooms were far more special than any other superfood I was using and I was eager to find out exactly why.

What are adaptogens?

Medicinal mushrooms belong to a particular family of foods/herbs/roots that call themselves adaptogens, aptly named for their ability to adapt to their environment when ingested (you!). So a medicinal mushroom is an adaptogen.

Modern-day science has only recently started to uncover the magic of these plants, but it's not surprising that ancient healing modalities such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine have been harnessing their magical healing abilities for millennia.

In fact, our ancestors have known about these mysterious plants for a long time, and they knew exactly how to use them, what to mix them with to enhance their healing properties, what season was best to pick them in.

Shamans in the Amazon, when asked how they had this extensive botanical knowledge when they had no access to laboratories or microscopes, answered that Spirit taught them. Ancient botanical wisdom passed down through generations, straight from the source. 

I love that there is still some mystery around these wonderful adaptogenic plants, but that we can see the notable benefits one can experience from using them.

magic medicinal mushrooms

The benefits of adaptogens

The first adaptogenic herb to be studied by modern science was ginseng, and later ashwagandha, maca, reishi, chaga, lions mane, schisandra, cordyceps to name a few. Their ability to adapt to the individual person's particular needs was considered sacred by the ancients, and a scientific marvel in later explorations.

So what was this Hogwarts Herbology class type botany? Just how is it that these plants are so good for us?

Well, each of the adaptogenic plants have their particular specialities in how they can help our earthly embodiments. But what they all share is their wonderful capacity to regulate our body’s stress response.

Let's face it - our modern-day hectic and higgaldy piggaldy lives are inescapably stressful.

Stress can come in many forms other than just pressure at work and unhappy relationships. It creeps its way into our lives in many ways on a varying scale from major to minor by way of poor diet, overeating, under-eating, pollution, environment, high-intensity training, overtraining, the news, social media, traffic, gossiping, scary movies...the list goes on.

Physical, environmental, chemical, mental stress - they impair every system in our body.

It goes without saying that stress is linked to overall poor physical and mental health, and if left unchecked we are robbing ourselves of our right to a healthy and happy life. You would have to be a level 1000 shiny gold super saiyan meditator to make it through life untouched by stress in some way!

Not all stress is bad however, the pressure of an upcoming exam or a marathon is what pushes us to get the best of ourselves. What is imperative is how well our bodies buffer stress, and that is where adaptogens come in. 

The science

Adaptogens help to regulate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and the central nervous system to essentially maintain homeostasis in times of stress (Lian-ying Liao et al., 2018) - no small feat for our little super plants!

So not only do they reduce the harm caused by periods of stress, adaptogens have a positive excitatory effect on the human body without causing side effects that you may have with stimulants for instance. That explains my marvel way back with my first medicinal mushroom tea when every cup gave me a different experience.

Not only have they got our back in times of stress, adaptogens actually help us to recognise, respond, recover, restore and regenerate from stressors, meaning we may be less triggered the next time a similar stressor arises (Yance., 2013).

By managing our stress response you can expect; optimal immune system function, improved metabolism, improved mental health, balanced hormones, increased energy, peaceful sleep, and lots more.

It's not fully understood by science exactly how these incredible little plants are doing this from a biochemical perspective. But we do know they are doing it, and that just adds to the magic for me.

Recipe

Here is a really simple and beautiful recipe for an adaptogenic MACA drink! 

1. Gently heat some oat milk on the hob, add in a tablespoon of rose petals and allow to gently infuse for about 5 minutes while the milk simmers.

2. Add in a teaspoon of MACA and stir

3. Next, add spices to your taste, I like a pinch of cinnamon and a tiny drop of cardamom essential oil (or a tiny tiny pinch of powder).

4. Sweeten to taste with date syrup, put into a blender and whizz up until the rose petals are blended.

5. Pour into a gorgeous mug and enjoy the aroma before you drink. Sip the golden frothy loveliness consciously like it is the only thing that matters in the world, goes well with your favourite book and a comfy armchair :).

Hope you enjoy it, and see you next time,

Elizabeth 

(P.S - You can find adaptogenic plants in our entire MAGIC latte and coffee range, as well as in PERFORM and THRIVE and SUSTAIN! And of course our OG adaptogen product MACA!)

Sources: 

A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwideLian-ying Liao, Yi-fan He, Li Li, Hong Meng, Yin-mao Dong, Fan Yi, Pei-gen Xiao, Chin Med. 2018; 13: 57. Published online 2018 Nov 16. doi: 10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9

Yance DR. Adaptogens in medical herbalism: elite herbs and natural compounds for mastering stress, aging, and chronic disease. New York: Simon and Schuster; 2013. pp. 103–107.