Herbal Adaptogens: Building Resilience in Times of Stress

Knowing how to build resilience when exposed to stress should be an essential part of self care.

The wear and tear of stress on mind and body can be a factor in the progression of disease. Stress influences our mood, attention and memory, it contributes to an increase in body weight, abdominal fat, cardiovascular conditions and puts extra pressure on our immune system.
And its not just the extreme stressful events that can take their toll, it is also the events of daily life that can elevate the stress response and contribute to this wear and tear on the body.

A group of “elite” herbal plants

Throughout the world herbal disciplines including Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western have used a group of “elite” plant medicines traditionally known as tonics, now commonly know as adaptogens, they are used to protect and support the mind-body from a stressor. Herbal adaptogens/ tonics may be used for the treatment of

immune dysfunction, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, hypertension, chronic inflammation, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergies, insomnia, drug addiction and premenstrual tension, they may even be useful for slowing the aging process.

The term adaptogen

The termed adaptogen is quite new, it was first proposed by a scientist from the USSR in 1940 N. Lazarev. Lazarev had 3 criteria for a herbal plant to be classified as an adaptogen.

  • They must be non specific and must assist the body in resisting a wide range of adverse conditions such as physical, chemical or a biological stressors.
  • Adaptogens must maintain homeostasis in humans, these substances can offset or resist physical disorders caused by external stress.
  • Adaptogens must not harm the normal function of the human body.

Then in 1969 Berkhman and Dardymov rewrote the criteria of plant adaptogens with these.

  • Adaptogens should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders on the physiological function of an organism.
  • The action of an adaptogens should be non specific ie it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors physical, chemical or a biological nature.
  • A adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the fore-going pathological changes

As the scientific evidence and clinical trials continue on plant adaptogens the criteria may change but at this time the beneficial effects of adaptogens are related to regulation of homeostasis via the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and control of the key mediators of the stress response.

Initially true adaptogens were recognised as

  • Rhodiola rosea, Rhodiola is an arctic herb, the parted used is the root, also know as Rose root, Golden Root, Arctic root. It has sustainability issues so make sure if you use it you know it is coming from a sustainable source. It increases our resistance to stress, it can be taken for prolonged and chronic fatigue including mental and physical fatigue, it is used to treat anxiety, stress and mood disorders and it is an antioxidant and anti inflammatory.
  • Schisandra chinensis is a traditional Chinese medicine, it has also been used in Russia over along period, it is taken for its immune balancing effects, to support endurance and mental performance in people with fatigue, it is used a liver support, is an anti inflammatory and antioxidant, has mood enhancing effects and treats the symptoms of stress
  • Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng) can be taken to increase stamina and resistance to stress, improve learning and memory, support immune function, for exhaustion and convalescence

As further studies into herbal medicine continues more of the adaptogenic properties are being found in other herbal medicines including
Reishi mushroom
Holy basil
Panax and American Ginseng.

Because of the broad ranging effects of adaptogens they can be used to treat a wide range of stress induce conditions and chronic health conditions because of their ability to regulate several body systems including the immune, nervous, cardiovascular, digestion , endocrine and our own physiological response to stress.

Plant adaptogens are best used with companion herbs like immune modulators, relaxing and antiinflammatory herbs as these work synergistically together to support the individual specific health needs.

Discuss the option of using adaptogen herbs with your naturopath and check if they will complement any other medications you may be taking.


  1. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.pa.09.040169.002223 NEW SUBSTANCES OF PLANT ORIGIN \WHICH INCREASE NONSPECIFIC RESISTANCE
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/#!po=60.1563 Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28761074-antidepressant-like-effects-and-cognitive-enhancement-of-schisandra-chinensis-in-chronic-unpredictable-mild-stress-mice-and-its-related-mechanism/?from_term=schisandra+chinensis+stress&from_pos=9
  4. The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature
  5. Emerging Roles of Ganoderma Lucidum in Anti-Aging
  6. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6320760/Schisandra
  8. Chinensis Lignans Suppresses the Production of Inflammatory Mediators Regulated by NF-κB, AP-1, and IRF3 in Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated RAW264.7 Cells
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/
  11. Impact of dibenzocyclooctadiene lignans from Schisandra chinensis on the redox status and activation of human innate immune system cells
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/#!po=60.1563A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2963645/?from_term=eleutherococcus+senticosus&from_filter=pubt.randomizedcontrolledtrial&from_filter=pubt.systematicreviews&from_pos=8
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16261511/
  15. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584918310906?via%3Dihub
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/#!po=60.1563

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