Adaptogens – What are they, and why should you care?

If you suffer from any kind of chronic health condition, if you are an athlete, if you are recovering from an illness or injury, if you do shift work, work long hours, or experience any others of a host  of stressors… then you want to learn about Adaptogens!

What is an Adaptogen?

An easy way to remember the term Adaptogen is to remember that it starts with the word “adapt”. In other words, Adaptogens help the body to adapt to various things that cause stress, whether it’s environmental, physical, or emotional. They act on the hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal axis (AHP-Axis). To be categorized as an Adaptogen they must also be safe to take over extended periods of time when taken in the recommended doses. The term Adaptogen is a fairly modern one, coined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in 1947. The nice thing about Adaptogens is that they don’t stimulate the glands and organs so much as modulate them, which is very beneficial when they have been overworked.

What is the Hypothalamus?

The Hypothalamus is located in the brain just above the brainstem. One of it’s many jobs is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system (hormonal system) through the pituitary gland. it secretes neurohormones, which stimulate or inhibit secretions from the pituitary gland. It controls things like hunger, body temperature, thirst, sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, and circadian rhythms.

Pituitary Gland

A tiny gland located at the base of the brain. The Pituitary gland is divided into Anterior, Intermediate, and Posterior. It is responsible for, among other things, growth, metabolism, blood pressure, some functions of sex organs, temperature, and pain relief.

Adrenal Gland

The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. They are especially responsible for your stress response. They release hormones (i.e. cortisol). They are also involved in regulation of salt, potassium, and water, via the kidneys; mobilization of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins; produce androgens; as well as produce adrenaline and noradrenaline.


Given what the above systems look after, you can probably see why adaptogens could be so useful in such a variety of situations.

Some Adaptogenic Herbs

At The Herbwalker’s Apothecary some of our favourite adaptogens are:

Some Other Adaptogens:

  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
  • Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
  • Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

How can Adaptogens help?

Research, and clinical experience,  are increasingly showing us that adaptogens can aide in a wide variety of health situations, including but not limited to:

  • Nourishing the nervous system
  • Antioxidant
  • Antihistamine
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Calming
  • Relieve muscle pain
  • Relieve adrenal exhaustion
  • Tonify the immune system
  • Tonify the heart
  • Tonify the lungs
  • Tonify the kidneys
  • Protect the gastrointestinal system
  • Relieve fatigue
  • Enhance performance
  • Protect the liver
  • Support normalization of blood sugar levels
  • Promote longevity

Aadaptogenic herbs aren’t all exactly the same. Each has it’s own way for helping the body, it’s own specialty you could say. Rhodiola tends to be especially good for people who are athletes or work long hours. Licorice is really great as an adrenal tonic. Withania can be really nice where there are problems sleeping. Holy Basil can be really nice when there is a need for calming. Yet they do have benefits in other aspects of health through that AHP-Axis.

In short, Adaptogens are really quite amazing!

To learn more about Adaptogens check out this book:


Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief

by David Winston and Steven Maimes

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