Energy without any jitteriness. Relaxed, yet alert and clear-headed. Stamina, performance, and workout recovery. Balanced hormone flow. This describes a state of vitality–an almost ideal physical state, particularly for athletes and others that do demanding work.
Yet, with the frequent and often persistent state of stress most people live in, this sense of vitality can seem rather elusive. Stress causes certain hormones to be more actively and even excessively produced (Cortisol) and while others are diminished (DHEA, Estrogen, Testosterone).
Over time, stress exerts strain on the adrenal glands; it may lead to feelings of overwhelm and rushing, or foggy thinking and exhaustion; stress also negatively impacts performance and muscle repair.
To put it simply, excessive, ongoing stress wreaks havoc on the body, as well as on mood and mental and physical performance.
While it is always best to address the root causes that lead to stress, as well as the mental, emotional, or physical reaction to the triggers that ultimately lead to stress, sometimes that is just not always possible in the short-term. Or it may be that the stress has gone unaddressed for so long, that the body has a lot of repair and recovery work it needs to do.
In these scenarios, we can use herbs to help bring the body back into a state of equilibrium, of hormonal balance, of productive energy with a relaxed state of being. The herbs most adept at helping to achieve this are known as adaptogens.
Adaptogenic herbs are defined by three primary characteristics:
- Generally regarded as safe (eg nontoxic),
- Support the body to resist the effects of stress
- Help balance and normalize the systems of the body.
Among the herbs broadly considered adaptogens, some are truly core–undisputed and widely used as adaptogens–while some are more fringe, only used as adaptogens by some herbalists in certain cases.
8 core adaptogens to look for include:
- Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)
- Dangshen (Codonopsis)
- Jiaogulan (Gynostemma)
- Tulsi (Holy Basil)
These herbs all have a balancing or normalizing effect. Remarkably, Schisandra has been noted to simultaneously stimulate the central nervous system for better response time, performance, and mental acuity, while also helping to calm and relieve anxiety. This is just one example of the many wonderful, balancing properties of these herbs.
Because they all have high levels of safety, these herbs can be taken by almost anyone over long periods of time to help protect or recover from the effects of stress, and to restore balance and harmony in the body.
Always do your own research, particularly if you take medication or have a pre-existing health condition. If you’re unsure about what to take, a naturopathic doctor, or registered herbalist is a good resource.
You can find these herbs as whole dried plants to make into infusions or tea, as powders or tinctures to add to smoothies, as capsules, or as blends of key adaptogens. No matter what form you take them in, these herbs will help to nourish and sustain you, while improving stamina, strength, and harmony.