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Ayurveda traditional medicine operates with the concept of rasayana. Various substances are
classified in this tradition as rasayanas, meaning that they are believed to promote physical and
mental health, improve defense mechanisms of the body, and enhance longevity. Rasayanas are
referred to as adaptogens by some researchers.[11]
In 1969 Brekhman and Dardymov defined the general pharmacological properties of adaptogenic
substances. These include:
a.) The substance is relatively non-toxic to the recipient.
b.) An adaptogen has "non-specific" activity and acts by increasing resistance of the organism to a
broad spectrum of adverse biological, chemical, and physical factors.
c.) These substances tend to help regulate or normalize organ and system function within the

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American Ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius) - Bitter, slightly sweet, neutral, moist
Western Classification: Adaptogen, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, bitter tonic, immune amphoteric.
American Ginseng is milder acting and less stimulating than Panax ginseng. It is mildly cooling and
moistening and is appropriate for fatigue, recovery from pneumonia or bronchitis (especially with a
dry cough), CFIDS, asthma, chronic stress with depression or anxiety, and autoimmune diseases of
the lungs or GI tract. I find it of great benefit for jet lag, metabolic syndrome, adrenal deficiency,
immune depletion, sexual neurasthenia, and deficient insomnia. It is milder acting and much less
likely cause insomnia or nervousness than Asian Ginseng, making it more appropriate for regular use
by younger people of both sexes.
Dose: tincture (1:5): 3-5 ml TID
Tea: 1-2 tsp. dried cut/sifted root to 12 oz. water. Gently simmer for 1/2 hour, steep an
additional 1/2 hour. Take 4 oz. three times per day.

Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) - Bitter, sweet, warm, dry

Western Classification: Calming adaptogen, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic,
astringent, immune amphoteric, sedative (mild), thyroid stimulant.
This herb is one of the most prominent Rasayana (rejuvenative) remedies of Ayurveda. It is one of
the few calming adaptogens and has traditionally been used for anxiety, bad dreams, mild OCD,
insomnia, and nervous exhaustion. It acts as an antispasmodic and antiinflammatory and is very
useful for treating fibromyalgia (with Kava and Scullcap), restless leg syndrome, mild Tourette's
syndrome, and osteo-arthritis. It is an immune amphoteric useful for hyper- and hypo-immune
conditions. I find it especially useful for autoimmune conditions affecting the muscles and joints such
as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, polymyositis, and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). It
enhances male fertility (sperm count and sperm motility) and, due to its iron content, it benefits
iron-deficient anemia (take it simmered in milk with molasses added). Ashwagandha also stimulates
thyroid function. Studies in mice showed significant increases of serum T3 (18%) and T4 (111%) after
20 days of use (Panda, et al, 1998). I use it with Bacopa and Bladderwrack for hypothyroidism.
Dose: tincture (1:5): 1.5-2 ml TID
Tea: 1/2 tsp. dried root in 8 oz. water, decoct 10 minutes, steep 1/2 hour. Take 4 oz. TID. The dried
root starts to lose its activity after two years.

Asian Ginseng root (Panax ginseng)

Red Ginseng root- Sweet, slightly bitter, warm-hot, moist
White Ginseng root- Sweet, bitter, warm, moist
Western Classification: Stimulating adaptogen, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antiasthmatic,
cardiotonic, CNS stimulant (mild), immune amphoteric.
Ginseng, especially Red Ginseng, is the most stimulating of the adaptogens. Traditionally it is used in
Chinese medicine for older men with deficient kidney yang (impotence, fatigue, BPH, low back pain)
or for patients with vanquished qi (CFIDS, CHF). It is a useful part of a protocol for deficient
depression, exhaustion, Addison's Disease (with Licorice), deficient insomnia, diabetes, cachexia,
immune deficiency allergic asthma (use it with Schisandra and Licorice), erectile dysfunction, and it
helps prevent or treat leucopenia in patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation for cancer. A
human study using Asian Ginseng showed it reduced symptoms of COPD (Gross, et al, 2002),
improved survival times in patients with gastric cancer, and reduced incidence of metastases (Suh, et
al, 2002). Overuse of Ginseng in yang (excess) people can cause insomnia, anxiety, increased blood
pressure, and irritability. Several other closely related species of Panax such as P. vietnamensis and
P. japonicus are also believed to have adaptogenic action.
Dose: tincture (1:5): 1-2 ml up to three times per day.
Tea: Take 1-2 tsp. of the ground herb or one root, slowly decoct (in a nonmetal pot) for 1/2
hour. Let steep an additional hour. Take up to two cups per day.

Cordyceps fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) - Sweet, slightly acrid, warm, moist

Western Classification: Calming adaptogen, antiasthmatic, antileukemic, antioxidant,
hepatoprotective, immune potentiator, nephroprotective, sedative (mild).
The caterpillar fungus (winter insect, summer plant) is one of the more unusual adaptogens. While
the very expensive parasitized larvae are still available, most Cordyceps is now grown on soybeans. It
is used in TCM for deficient kidney yin and yang caused by chronic disease or extremely rigorous
labor/athletic training. It improves libido and sperm count, relieves fatigue, anemia, chronic coughs,
tinnitus, and bone marrow (erythroid) suppression due to radiation therapy. Cordyceps also has
active antitumor and antileukemic activity (use with Panax notoginseng and Isatis), it enhances
circulation and cardiac output, as well as lung capacity.
Cordyceps combined with Nettle Seed, Unprocessed Rehmannia, Dan Shen, and Rhubarb is very
useful for treating degenerative kidney disease. In human studies Cordyceps has shown significant
benefit for male sexual dysfunction, hyperlipidemia, low platelet counts, allergic rhinitis, tinnitus,
and chronic tracheitis.
Dose: tincture (1:4 or 1:5): 1-2 ml BID/TID
Tea: 1/2 tsp. mycelia powder or crushed mushroom to 10 oz. water. Decoct for 15
minutes, steep for 1 hour. Take 8 oz. once or twice per day
capsules (standardized proprietary extract CordyMax Cs-4): 2 capsules per day

Dang Shen root (Codonopsis pilosula) - Sweet, warm, moist

Western Classification: Adaptogen (mild), gastroprotective, hypoglycemic agent, immune
potentiator, nervine
Codonopsis, also known as "poor man's ginseng" is used in TCM as a mild substitute for Panax. It is a
spleen qi tonic and is used for poor appetite, gastric irritation, and/or ulcers, fatigue, and weak
limbs. It is also a lung qi tonic and can be used for shortness of breath with a dry cough and frequent
respiratory tract infections (use it with Prince Seng). Dang Shen is commonly used to strengthen the
immune system (cancer, HIV, mononucleosis) and is frequently used in Fu Zheng therapies to
prevent side effects from chemotherapy or radiation. It increases hemoglobin levels and the number
of red blood cells as well. It is also indicated for insulin resistance and NIDDM along with Chinese
Dioscorea, Astragalus, and Lycium fruit.
Dose: tincture (1:4 or 1:5): 2-4 ml TID/QID
Tea: 2-3 tsp. of the dried cut/sifted root or whole root and slowly decoct in 16 oz. of water
for 1/2 hour. Steep an additional hour. Take up to two cups per day.

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosis) - Sweet, slightly bitter, neutral

Western Classification: Adaptogen, anticholesteremic, antioxidant, antiinflammatory (mild), immune
potentiator, nervine.
Eleuthero (formerly Siberian Ginseng) is less tonifying than the true Ginsengs (Panax spp.). It is
neutral energetically and so is appropriate for daily use. It is indicated for the "average" American
who is overstressed, undernourished but overfed, doesn't get enough sleep or exercise, has dark
circles under his or her eyes, a quivering tongue, and contracting/dilating pupils. This description of
HPA axis depletion without overt pathology is precisely where Eleuthero is useful. Taken regularly it
enhances immune function, reduces cortisol levels and inflammatory response, and it promotes
improved cognitive and physical performance. In human studies Eleuthero has been successfully
used to treat bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy or radiation, angina,
hypercholesterolemia, and neurasthenia with headache, insomnia, and poor appetite. In clinical
practice I also use Eleuthero for white coat hypertension (along with Linden flower, Motherwort,
and Chrysanthemum flower), jet lag, and ADHD.
Dose: tincture (1:4): 4-5 ml TID/QID
Fluid extract: 1/2 tsp. 2-3 times per day
Tea: 1-2 tsp. dried powdered root to 12-16 oz. of water. Decoct slowly for 20-30 minutes,
steep 1 hour. Take up to three cups per day.

Licorice rhizome (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis) - Sweet, slightly bitter, warm, moist
Western Classification: Adaptogen, antihistamine, antiinflammatory, antidiuretic, antioxidant,
antitussive, antiviral, demulcent, hepatoprotective, immune amphoteric, gastroprotective.

Gan Cao (Licorice) is a versatile and commonly used herb in TCM, Unani-Tibb and European herbal
traditions. It is an immune amphoteric and can be useful for autoimmune disorders (Lupus,
Scleroderma, Crohn's disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis) as well as immune deficiency conditions
(cancer, HIV, CFIDS). It strengthens adrenal function and can be used with Panax ginseng and
Cordyceps for Addison's disease. It is also useful for treating allergies, gastric ulcers, PCOS (with
Serenoa and Paeonia), and spasmodic coughs. Excess doses of Licorice can have a
hyperaldosterogenic effect (increased retention of sodium and excretion of potassium). Women are
more sensitive to this effect than men and patients with hypertension should avoid using this herb
on a continual basis.
Dose: tincture (1:5): .5-1 ml TID
Tea: 1/2 tsp. dried root to 8 oz. water, decoct 10-15 minutes, let steep 10-15 minutes.
Take 4 oz. BID.

Rhaponticum root (Rhaponticum carthamoides) synonym: Leuzea carthamoides - Bitter, cool, dry
Western Classification: Adaptogen, anticoagulant, antioxidant, antitumor, cardiac tonic,
hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, immune stimulant, nervine
Is a Russian herb used as a CNS stimulant and as a restorative agent to the nervous system. Animal
studies have shown immunostimulant, antitumor, and cognitive enhancing effects. Human studies
have shown it is an effective adaptogen, antidepressant (especially for depression due to alcohol
withdrawal), immunopotentiator, hepatoprotective, and hypoglycemic agent. It has been listed as an
official medicine in the Soviet (now Russian) pharmacopoeia since 1961 and is a popular tonic for
athletes (it promotes muscle building and enhances lactic and uric acid excretion). Regular use of the
root reduces LDL cholesterol levels, blood viscosity, and blood pressure.
Dose: tincture (1:4) 2-4 ml TID
Tea: 1-2 tsp. Dried root, 12 oz. water, decoct 15-20 minutes, steep 40 minutes, take 4 oz. TID

Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea) - Sweet, slightly bitter, cool, neutral

Western Classification: Stimulating adaptogen, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antidepressant,
cardioprotective, immune potentiator, nervine.
Known as Rose Root or Golden Root, Rhodiola has a long history of use in Scandinavia, Eastern
Europe, and Russia as a rejuvenative tonic. Rhodiola has been an official medicine in the Soviet
Union (now Russia) since 1969, as a mild CNS stimulant, memory enhancer, cardiotonic, and immune
tonic. In human studies, this root has been shown to be effective for treating mild depression,
neurasthenia, impaired cognitive function (Spasov, et al, 2000), CFIDS, ADHD, erectile dysfunction,
amenorrhea, and infertility in women. I find Rhodiola useful for people with deficient (asthenic)
depression, altitude sickness (use it with Cordyceps, Reishi, and Holy Basil), and to aid in recovery
from head trauma injury. Avoid using Rhodiola in anxious, manic, or bipolar patients. Traditionally,
several species of Rhodiola are used in Tibetan medicine for nourishing the lungs, to increase blood
circulation, for relieving fatigue, altitude sickness, and weakness. There are a number of other
species of Rhodiola which may also hae adaptogenic activity.
Dose: tincture (1:4): 2-3 ml TID
Tea: 1-2 tsp. of the cut/sifted dried root and decoct in 8-10 oz. of water for 15 minutes,
steep (covered) an additional 45 minutes. Take one to three cups per day. Avoid taking it in the
evening as it may cause insomnia in sensitive people.
Standardized extract (3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides): 1/2-1 tablet per day

Wu Wei Zi berries/seeds (Schisandra chinensis) - Sour, pungent, warm, dry

Western Classification: Adaptogen, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, astringent, antiasthmatic,
hepatoprotective, immune amphoteric.
Schisandra berries mildly stimulate CNS activity and at the same time produce a calm, focused state
of mind. It can be used with Codonopsis or American Ginseng for neurasthenia and exhaustion. It is
very useful as part of a protocol for hepatitis B&C (use it with Milk Thistle and Turmeric), asthma
(with Licorice), and for nervous system disorders including Parkinson's disease, Meniere's syndrome,
deficient depression, and teenage or adult ADHD. Wu Wei Zi is used in Fu Zheng therapy to support
immune function and prevent side effects caused by cancer chemotherapy. Traditionally, this herb is
used to astringe a leaky jing gate (urinary incontinence, leucorrhea, diarrhea, and spermatorrhea)
and to reduce excessive sweating.
Dose: tincture (1:5): 2-4 ml TID/QID
Tea: 1 tsp. of the dried berries to 8-10 oz. water, decoct 5-10 minutes, steep 20-30
minutes. Take 4 oz. TID

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Mentioned, but not very common:
Goji (Lycium barbarum L.)
Jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus (L.) H. Karst.)
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba L.)
Aswagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal)
Sea-buckthorn (Hippopha rhamnoides L.)
True aloe (Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f.)
Gynostema five-leaf (Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Thunb.) Makino)
Medicinal mushrooms:
Ganoderma (Ganoderma lucidum (Curtis) P. Karst) anticancer action
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) bags.) Encouraging anticancer
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus L.) anticancer action
Phellinus (Phellinus linteus (Berkeley et MA Curtis) Teng) - another fungus containing the
anticancer active polysaccharide
Trametes (Coriolus) versicolor (Trametes versicolor (L.: Fr.) Pilate)
Versicolor camphor (camphor Antrodia (M. Zhang et CH Su) Sheng H. Wu, Chang TT et
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Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of your adrenal
system, the system thats in charge of managing your bodys hormonal response to stress. They help
strengthen the bodys response to stress and enhance its ability to cope with anxiety and fight
fatigue slowly and gently, without jolts or crashes. Theyre called adaptogens because of their
unique ability to adapt their function according to your bodys specific needs. Though the effects
may initially be subtle and take time to make themselves felt, theyre real and undeniable.
Where have they been all my life?
Unlike big pharma drugs, adaptogens werent born yesterday. In fact, theyve been used in Chinese
and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, to boost energy and resilience in the face of stress.
Recently, several studies have found evidence to support what those of us in the sustainable
wellness field already knew that adaptogens offer positive benefits and are safe for long-term
use. (Take that big pharma!)
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogens work a bit like a thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is
too high it brings it down; when the temperature is too low it brings it up. Adaptogens can calm you
down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating. They can normalize body
imbalances. By supporting adrenal function, they counteract the adverse effects of stress. They
enable the bodys cells to access more energy; help cells eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic
process and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. In short, adaptogens are amazing!

Which adaptogens should I use?

I prefer combination adaptogenic herb formulas and the adaptogen herbs I consider most important
include Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero, Ashwaghanda and Rhodiola Rosea. Depending on your needs and
physical condition consult your doctor before taking any herbs and see cautions below you can
take these adaptogens individually or in a combination formula like my Be Well Adaptogens. When
buying a formula, look for one that has at least 3 of the above adaptogens and make sure it has
some Rhodiola in it. Again, remember consult your doctor first to get the all clear before you start.
Asian Ginseng
For thousands of years, Asian Ginseng has been one of the most valued (and expensive) medicinal
plants in the world. Its believed to affect the body by influencing metabolism within individual cells,
and it has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress. Western
herbalists say that it restores and strengthens the bodys immune response, promotes longevity, and
enhances the growth of normal cells. Research indicates that it promotes a sense of well-being and
may protect against some kinds of cancer.
Dose: 100-200 mg per day of a standardized extract. Most standardized ginseng extracts supply
approximately 4-7% ginsenosides. Or 1-2 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, usually taken in
gelatin capsules.
Caution: At the recommended dose, ginseng is generally safe. Occasionally it may cause agitation,
palpitations or insomnia. Consuming large amounts of caffeine with large amounts of ginseng may
increase the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset. If you have high blood pressure, your
blood pressure should be monitored when taking it. Ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or
breastfeeding women.
Eleuthero is used in traditional Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia, and
fatigue. In Germany, its use is approved for chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and
convalescing after illness. Western herbalists note that it improves memory, feelings of well-being
and can lift mild depression.
Dose: 2-3 grams per day of the dried root.
Caution: As with Asian ginseng, Eleuthero is generally safe. But occasionally it has been associated
with agitation, palpitations or insomnia in patients with cardiovascular disorders. If you have high
blood pressure, your blood pressure should be monitored when taking it. I generally dont
recommend it for pregnant or breastfeeding women, even though limited research hasnt turned up
evidence of harmful effects in the fetus.
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Like Asian ginseng,
ashwagandha is used to help increase vitality, energy, endurance and stamina, promote longevity,
and strengthen the immune system. Today, herbalists often recommend it for people with high
blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and impotence associated with anxiety or
exhaustion. It enhances endocrine function, especially the thyroid and adrenals. Ayurvedic healers
have long prescribed the herb to treat exhaustion brought on by both physical and mental strain.
Dose: 36 grams per day of the dried root
Caution: Avoid during pregnancy or if you are taking sedatives or if you have severe gastric irritation
or ulcers. Also people who are sensitive to the nightshade group of plants should be careful.
Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea acts like a hormone thermostat, especially as it pertains to cortisol, one of our main
stress hormones. I believe that cortisol, which is secreted in sync with your circadian rhythms is
usually, if not always, out of whack when youre stressed out and exhausted. This means the cortisol
level is either too high when it should be low or not high enough when we need more. Getting your
cortisol back in rhythm when youre compromised is crucial and Rhodiola literally helps balance the
cortisol levels in your body, raising or lowering it as needed. Thats why this herb is particularly
useful for treating my stressed out clients! Whats more, rhodiola has demonstrated a remarkable
ability to support cellular energy metabolism. It positively affects brain function, depression, and
heart health. In my experience, most patients who take rhodiola start feeling better within a few
weeks to a month.
Dose: 200 to 600 mg per day of a Rhodiola rosea extract standardized to contain 2-3% rosavins and
0.8-1% salidroside. Or 2-3 grams per day of the nonstandardized root.

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f ginseng were a Hollywood starlet, shed be cast as a brainy, energetic woman, playing roles that
shine with range and subtlety. And shed share the screen with her equally radiant and talented
herbal peers known as adaptogens.
Ginseng and other adaptogenic herbs share rare and coveted traits they mitigate the negative
impact of stress by strengthening and stabilizing your body. No category of herbs holds more
potential for overworked, overstressed Americans than adaptogens, says David Winston, RH (AHG),
herbalist, ethnobotanist, and coauthor of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief
(Healing Arts Press, 2007). They are a bridge that can carry us over stressful situations with our
health intact.
Sound like a newfangled health craze? Hardly.
Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, and eleuthero have been used for
thousands of years in ancient healing practices like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Even
so, many people have never heard of them.
Its high time we started making the most of them in the West, says noted cancer researcher
Bharat Aggarwal, PhD.
Stress and You
Imagine the bodys interior as the shimmering surface of a calm lake. A small rock hits the water. The
rock is an everyday irritant, like a traffic jam, that makes you late for the dentist. Plink. A few ripples
appear in the water. No big deal.
Thirty minutes later, the dentist says you need a root canal. Plunk. A bigger rock lands in your lake
and the circle of ripples extends to the shoreline. Your heart beats faster and your mind spins.
Then your credit card is declined as you try to pay. Splash! The ripples of stress transform into
Stress poisons every inch of the body. It cripples the immune system, upsets delicate hormones, and
disrupts digestion, among other things. Most dangerous of all, it dials up inflammation. Stress lies at
the root of every inflammatory disease, says Aggarwal, who is chief of the cytokine research section
in the department of clinical immunology, bioimmunotherapy, and experimental therapeutics at the
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Controlled inflammation is useful, like using heat to cook, he says, but uncontrolled inflammation
will burn your house down. He counts off a few of the inflammatory diseases influenced, if not
sparked, by stress: obesity, cancer, heart disease, arterial disease, depression, Alzheimers, arthritis
and the list goes on. There are no two ways about it, says Aggarwal. Any kind of stress, be it
physical, emotional, or psychological, will turn on inflammation in the body.
Thats where adaptogens come into play. The body has a master switch that responds to things like
stress, radiation, and tobacco smoke, says Aggarwal. That single switch controls more than 500
genes responsible for inflammation. Adaptogens ensure that the switch turns off and stays off. In
doing so, they help snuff out inflammation.
As far as something with concrete evidence of promoting health across the board, says Donald
Yance, MH, CN, SFO, master herbalist and author of Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism (Healing Arts
Press, 2013), there is nothing even in the same ballpark as adaptogens.
Body Harmony
Scientists in the former USSR laid the groundwork for adaptogenic research, publishing more than
1,000 studies on the herbs during the 1960s and 70s. Therefore, the original Soviet definition of an
adaptogen is considered the gold standard.
An herb is adaptogenic if it meets three criteria: First, its nontoxic, meaning its safe for everyone.
Second, its benefits are nonspecific, meaning it improves the entire bodys resistance to stress, not
just one particular system or organ. Third, it balances bodily functions, regardless of where the
disruption may originate.
In other words, an adaptogen works like a tuning fork on your body: It helps bring your system back
into harmony after a day of discord.
Roughly a dozen herbs are thought to be true adaptogens (see Which Adaptogen Is Right for You?
below). Another two dozen vie for placement on the list, meaning they show promise but scientists
need more proof of their powers.
If you havent heard the term before, it may be because Western medicine hasnt had a name for
adaptogens other than the dubious-sounding word tonic, says Mark Blumenthal, executive
director of the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit research and education organization
providing information on botanicals. The term adaptogen is not recognized by modern medicine,
which is more of a lament on conventional medicine than a reflection of the utility of the herbs.
Adaptogen refers to a plants ability to adapt to its surroundings. Plants fight stressors in their
environment by drawing on information coded in their DNA. For instance, plants know that shorter
days mean less sun for photosynthesis, so they drop their leaves. Or, a sun-loving plant in shade will
contort itself to reach for rays of light. This survival instinct is an adaptogenic response to stress.
The idea behind adaptogenic herbs is that a plants DNA can do for people what its done for plants
for millions of years make us more pliable, adaptable, and resilient. Each of these herbs has its
own personality, thanks to different active ingredients. Some are more stimulating, while others are
more calming; some dial down a hyperactive immune system, and others increase immune
The star adaptogen, ginseng, has up to 38 active ingredients, called ginsenosides. Some improve
digestion, some strengthen immunity, others boost sexual function. The potency of ginsenosides
varies by ginseng species, the roots age, and how it was grown and harvested.
Herbalists like Winston believe the power of an adaptogen lies in the synergy of its active
components. For that reason, the whole herb or a whole-herb extract is more powerful than a
product that contains a single isolated ingredient, he says. In other words, you cant expect the same
benefit from sucking on ginseng-laced candy as you would from taking a whole-herb tincture.
Enhancing Health
What sets adaptogens apart from other medicinal plants is their ability to nudge our bodies toward
optimal health, or homeostasis.
The best way to appreciate this nuance is to compare adaptogens with pharmaceuticals. Drugs are
typically designed to block or replace something. For instance, Celebrex lessens arthritis pain by
inhibiting COX-2, an enzyme that causes inflammation. But COX-2 also shields the body from heart
disease and stroke. Obstructing it brings on a two- to three-fold increase in heart attacks and
strokes, according to a Food and Drug Administration alert. Many conventional drugs are anti-this
and anti-that, explains Blumenthal. In contrast, adaptogens enhance the bodys overall ability to
adapt in ways that maintain optimal functionality.
Aggarwal worries about the number of people using sophisticated drugs called TNF inhibitors, which
turn off genes responsible for inflammation. The difference between using an adaptogen like
ashwagandha to lower inflammation and a TNF inhibitor like Enbrel, which blocks the whole
inflammatory process, is like adjusting the heat on your kitchen stove with a dial versus a fire
These modern drugs can turn off genes completely, he says, which can have serious consequences:
The FDA requires the packages for TNF inhibitors to carry a warning that the drugs can increase a
persons cancer risk.
As a cancer researcher, Aggarwal wonders whether his colleagues havent made a mistake in
ignoring ancient herbs like ginseng that have long safety profiles and thousands of years of data to
draw upon. Adaptogens allow us to safely dial a genes expression up or down, he says. Thats
Herbal Health Insurance
Like an award-winning actor, ginsengs brilliance lies in its quiet performance. But being understated
doesnt always win the Oscar, even if its deserved. Ultimately, what keeps adaptogens from raking
in the awards is the fact that its difficult to prove that something prevents disease, says Blumenthal.
How do you prove that you didnt get sick?
Yet the 67-year-old Blumenthal believes he owes his own good health in part to the adaptogenic
herbs hes been faithfully taking for nearly four decades.
I get a case of the sniffles every three or four years, and thats it, he says. Adaptogens are an
insurance policy to make sure your body has the support it needs to reduce fatigue, lower odds of
illness, and recover from stress. Thats worth it to me.

Catherine Guthrie is a Boston-based science writer and contributing editor to Experience Life.
Which Adaptogen Is Right for You?
Adaptogens arent one-size-fits-all, says David Winston, RH (AHG), herbalist, ethnobotanist, and
coauthor of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Finding a good match
between you and an adaptogenic herb is key.
Some herbs, like rhodiola, are quite stimulating and can worsen issues like insomnia and anxiety.
Others, like holy basil, are especially helpful for regulating blood sugar, which makes them ideal for
people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Its important to match the personality of the plant
with the personality of the patient, says Winston.
For expert guidance, consult a clinical herbalist. There is a searchable database of herbalists on the
website of the American Herbalists Guild, the only national organization representing professionals
in the field ( If there is not an herbalist nearby, a -naturopath,
integrative physician, or functional-medicine practitioner may also be able to advise you instead.
In the meantime, heres a rundown of the better-known adaptogens.

Common Name: American Ginseng

Botanical Name: Panax quinquefolius

Personality: American ginseng is Asian ginsengs less-stimulating cousin. In Traditional Chinese

Medicine, herbalists define medicine based on the concept of yin and yang, or ice and fire. Some
consider American ginseng to have a yin, or cooling, effect on the body, but Winston considers it
mildly warming, having a nourishing effect on the body without being overstimulating.
Like all adaptogens, American ginseng corrects imbalances in the endocrine system, including the
adrenal glands. But it also has specialized properties that help improve pancreatic function. That
detail makes American ginseng especially beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome and type 2
In general, American ginseng is ideal for people in their 40s and 50s who are still healthy but want a
nourishing herb that will enhance strength and boost vitality without being overstimulating, says
Winston. American ginseng is also good for allergic asthma and for inhibiting inflammation.
American and Asian ginseng costs from $27 per root for farmed ginseng up to $10,000 per root for
wild. The expense makes it an easy target for less-than-scrupulous manufacturers, so always buy
from a company you trust.
Dosage: Tincture 60 to 100 drops, up to three times a day. Capsules two 500 mg capsules twice
a day.

Common Name: Asian White Ginseng

Botanical Name: Panax ginseng
Chinese Name: Sheng shai shen

Personality: Asian ginseng is considered one of the most stimulating of adaptogens. With the ability
to restore moisture to the body, Asian white ginseng is ideal for someone who has a lot of dry
symptoms, such as dry mouth, dry cough, or dry asthma.
Generally, Asian white ginseng is best for people in their 50s and 60s who have a good level of
energy and vitality, says Winston. It can also be used to relieve jet lag and enhance immune
Dosage: Tincture 20 to 40 drops, up to three times a day. Capsules two 400 to 500 mg capsules
two to three times a day.
Common Name: Rhodiola
Botanical Name: Rhodiola rosea

Personality: Rhodiola has broad-reaching effects including restoring immune function, balancing
blood sugar, and enhancing fertility. It also boosts alertness, lessens fatigue, and combats
depression. Winston recommends it to people who feel depleted and fatigued due to a stressful
lifestyle or rigorous physical work. It can also be used to support people with cancer, fibromyalgia,
chronic fatigue syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart issues.
Rhodiola is a stimulating adaptogen and can cause insomnia in sensitive people. It can be drying and,
therefore, worsen dry mouth or constipation.
Dosage: Tincture 40 to 60 drops, up to three times a day. Capsule formulations vary, so follow
label directions.
Common Name: Holy Basil
Botanical Name: Ocimum tenuiflorum, Ocimum sanctum

Personality: Holy basil is one of the mildest adaptogens, in terms of stimulants, but it has a far reach.
Studies show it enhances health due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Additionally, holy basil strengthens memory and concentration. One quality that sets it apart, says
Winston, is its ability to improve digestion and eliminate gas and bloating. Holy basil also reinforces
the bodys ability to control blood-sugar levels, making it an excellent choice for people with type 2
diabetes or prediabetes.
Dosage: Tincture 40 to 60 drops, up to three times a day. Capsule formulations vary, so follow
label directions.
Common Name: Asian Red Ginseng
Botanical Name: Panax ginseng
Chinese Name: Ren shen

Personality: When Asian white ginseng is steamed, it turns red and becomes more stimulating. Red
ginseng is best for people whose vitality is depleted. It balances the immune system, bolstering it
when a person is fighting cancer and downshifting it when someones immune system is in
overdrive, such as with autoimmune diseases and allergies. Red ginseng can, however, exacerbate
anxiety and insomnia.
Dosage: Tincture 20 to 40 drops, up to three times a day. Capsules two 400 to 500 mg capsules
two to three times a day.
Common Name: Eleuthero
Botanical Name: Eleutherococcus senticosus

Personality: In the same family as ginseng but a distant relative, eleuthero relaxes the arteries,
strengthens the immune system, and increases endurance and stamina. This adaptogen is ideal for
people in their teens, 20s, and early 30s.
Winston recommends eleuthero for stressed-out, type A personalities who work long hours and
skimp on sleep. It can be used during a time of chronic stress, such as finals week or a big work
project; it is extremely safe and rarely overstimulating.
Dosage: Tincture 60 to 100 drops, up to four times a day.
Common Name: Ashwagandha
Botanical Name: Withania somnifera

Personality: Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen, making it ideal for people with anxiety, insomnia,
or nervous tension. It can relieve muscle spasms and, therefore, is helpful in treating fibromyalgia.
The herb also stimulates the thyroid, so it can be helpful for hypothyroidism.
Dosage: Tincture 30 to 40 drops three times a day. Capsules one 400 to 500 mg capsule twice a

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Adaptogenic Herbs:
An Herbal Remedy Index
This categorized list of adaptogenic herbs are among those herbal medicinal plants most recognized
around the world as adaptogens.
This class of herbs is frequently used as a unique and natural alternative medicine and herbal
remedy for treating the many forms of stress we encounter in our daily living and the widespread
stress-related complications we fall victim to.

Chinese Herbal Medicines

Adaptogenic Herbs Known As
Qi Tonic Herbs, Superior or Kingly Herbs:

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), Korean or Chinese ginseng Ren shen --stimulates the central
nervous system, adrenal exhaustion
*Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Milk vetch Huang qi
--helps support the immune system, cardiac function
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), Chinese caterpillar fungus Dong chong xia cao
--lung and kidney tonic, normalizes immunity responses, treats fatigue
Dang shen (Codonopsis pilosula), Codonopsis, Asian bellflower Dang shen
-- immune tonic, aids the digestive tract, builds red blood cells treating anemia and tiredness
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticolsis), Siberian ginseng Ci wu jia
-- adrenal and immunity tonic, improves stamina, aids recovery and helps fatigue
*He shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum), Fo-ti He shou wu
-- tonic for the liver, kidney, and blood, calms nervousness
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) - Jiao gu lan
-- enhances immune system and cardiac function, a calming nervine for anxiety/stress headaches
and insomnia, agitation
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis) Gan cao / Yashtimadhu
-- small amounts regulate autoimmune systems and HPA axis function, soothes gastro-intestinal
*Lycium (Lycium chinensis, L. barbarum), Goji, wolfberry Gou qu zi
-- nutritive antioxident, fortifies immune system, lowers blood sugar levels
*Prince seng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), Pseudostellaria Tai zi shen
-- supports and boosts immunity
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma laucidum) Ling zhi
-- regulates the immunological responses, calms the mind and soothes nerves
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), Chinese Magnolia vine Wu wei zi
-- balances the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems; relieves anxiety, stress-induced
palpitations/asthma; promotes the production of glutathione, an essential liver antioxident and
healthy liver function

Ayurveda Herbal Medicine

Adaptogenic Herbs Known As
Rasayanas or Rejuvenating Herbs:

*Amla (Emblica officianalis), Indian gooseberry Yu gan zi / Amalaki

-- antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, strengthens circulatory system
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Indian ginseng, Winter cherry Ashwagandha
-- a calming nervine for stress-induced insomnia, anxiety, relieves muscle spasm, regulates the
adrenal gland
*Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) Fo ti tieng / Kula kud
-- an herb for anxiety, mental fatigue, irritability, also to enhance memory and concentration
Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Indian tinospora Kuan jin teng / Guduchi
-- normalizes immune function, supports liver function
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum, O. gratissimum), Sacred basil Luo le / Tulsi
-- calms the nervous system, helps adjust cortisol hormone levels and blood sugar
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis) Gan cao / Yashtimadhu
-- supports a healthy immune response, HPA axis system, aids inflammation of stomach and bowel
*Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Indian asparagus Shatavari / Tian men dong
-- a nutritive tonic for chronic fatigue, immune system
Shilajit (Asphaltum bitumen) Shilajit / Mumie
-- helps lower blood sugar and total cholesterol levels

Western Herbal Medicine

Adaptogenic Herbs Known as

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Sang, seng Xi yang shen

-- helps correct HPA axis imbalances, gently energizes the central nervous system, relieves fatigue,
boosts immune system, enhance stamina
*Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)
-- supports immune function, anti-inflammatory properties
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Siberian ginseng Ci wu jia
-- anti-stress, strengthens immune health, increase physical endurance, aids in recovery and fatigue
*Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)
-- antioxidant, helps support the heart and palpitations, maintain healthy blood pressure, protects
arteries and blood vessels, anxiety, insomnia, irritability
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis), - Gan cao / Yashtimadhu
-- regulates immune and HPA axis function, soothes gastro-intestinal tract, supports healthy
digestive system
*Maca (Lepidium meyenii), Peruvian ginseng
-- a nutritive, increases energy and stamina, balances body systems
*Manchurian Thorn Tree (Aralia manshurica)
-- stimulates the central nervous system, improves immune health, increase stamina and
Rhaponticum (Rhaponticum carthamoides), Maral root
-- stimulates immune system, stabilize blood sugar levels, heart tonic, aids in performance,
endurance and recovery of physical stress, helps recuperation after illness, prevents stress-related
sleep problems, weight loss, depression and fatigue
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Golden root Hong jing tian
-- broad reaching effects regulate immune function, mild nervous system tonic balances stress-
related cortisol hormone levels, reduce fatigue, protects the heart, enhance brain function,
antioxidant, antidepressant
*Suma (Pfaffia paniculata), Brazilian ginseng - Para todo (Indian tribes of South America)
-- balance blood sugar levels, enhance the immune system, strengthen the muscular system, and as
a general restorative tonic after illness.
*Non-confirmed adaptogens, but showing possible evidence as adaptogenic herbs (lacking the same level of
scientific research)

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Impatience, anxiety, irritability. Maybe you've seen the effects of stress in your customers'
behavior, or maybe they've come to you looking for suggestions on how to calm their nerves
and reduce the impacts of stress on their bodies, minds and souls.

The American Academy of Family Physicians in Kansas City, Mo., estimates that
approximately two-thirds of all office visits are for stress-related complaints. Yet stress itself
is not an illness; it is simply a fact of life--and always has been. The stressors have changed
over the years, but human physiology has remained the same.
Humans once were regularly at risk of being attacked by wild animals or hostile people. Our
bodies still respond to threats by secreting hormones that change our physiology and thus
enhance our ability to run away or defend ourselves. This response, termed "fight or flight,"
includes intense stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands
resulting in increased respiration rates and higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels as
well as increased heart rate and force of contractions. At the same time, there is a decrease in
digestive secretions. In cases of acute stress, the situation is often resolved quickly, and
normal physiology returns. If stress is prolonged or chronic, however, the body's calls to
action become detrimental.

The body expends a great amount of energy keeping itself in a heightened state of readiness.
When weakened by prolonged stress--be it caused by lack of sleep, poor diet, chemical toxins
in the environment or mental assaults--the body's ability to maintain homeostasis can be
compromised, and illness can result. Adaptogenic herbs have traditionally helped prevent
the imbalances that can result from stress and have therefore prevented or minimized

Attuning With Herbs

An adaptogenic substance is one that demonstrates a nonspecific enhancement of the body's

ability to resist a stressor. The term was first introduced in 1947 by Russian scientist N.V.
Lazarev to describe the unique action of a material claimed to increase nonspecific resistance
of an organism to an adverse influence. In 1958, I.I. Brekhman, a Russian holistic medical
doctor, and his colleague I.V. Dardymov, established the following definition of an
adaptogen: It "must be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological
functions of an organism, it must have a nonspecific action, and it usually has a normalizing
action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state." [1]

As it turns out, many herbs have exactly these properties. In keeping with the definition,
modern herbalists say adaptogenic herbs are plants with properties that exert a normalizing
influence on the body, neither over-stimulating nor inhibiting normal body function, but
rather exerting a generalized tonifying effect.

At the core of an adaptogen's scope of actions is the ability to help the body cope more
effectively with stress. Specifically, adaptogens recharge the adrenal glands, which are the
body's nominal mechanism for responding to stress and emotional changes. The adrenals,
which cover the upper surface of each kidney, synthesize and store dopamine,
norepinephrine and epinephrine. These compounds are responsible for the changes that
occur during the fight-or-flight reaction. The question is, if adaptogens normalize the body
and enable energy to be used more productively when stressors are not physical threats, can
they be used to enhance general health and performance? Several studies indicate they can.

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Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian

ginseng)[citation needed]
Rhodiola rosea[citation needed] Yes[citation needed] Yes[citation needed]
Schisandra chinensis[citation needed] Yes[citation needed] Yes[citation needed]
Panax ginseng[citation needed] No (effect after 14 weeks)[citation Yes[citation needed]

Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiao Gu Lan)[citatio

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Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) is often called Indian ginseng, seemingly to group it

with the ginsengs because of its similar actions. Though unrelated to other ginsengs, it
appears to share their many properties and actions. Considered a tonic, an alterative, an
astringent, a nervine and a sedative, [13] ashwaganda has been used in Ayurvedic medicine
for more than 2,500 years. Recent studies show ashwaganda to be immuno-modulating and
to aid in cases of anxiety and other psychological complaints. [14-16]

Astragalus (Astragalus spp) is one of the more famous tonic herbs from China. In
traditional Chinese medicine it is said to tonify the blood and spleen and aid the defensive
chi. Thus, astragalus is often added to formulations used to treat weak patients. Similarly, it
is used in combination with other herbs to enhance recovery following an illness or
prolonged stress and to boost vitality. Astragalus is said to protect and enhance the
functioning of distressed organs. [17] Numerous studies show the herb enhances immune
function by increasing natural killer cell activity, [18] increasing T cell activity, [19] and
enhancing macrophage activity [20] in immune-compromised patients.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra and G. uralensis), another popular herb in China, is said
to tonify the spleen and strengthen chi. Licorice is perhaps the only herb claimed to benefit
all 12 meridians in Chinese medicine. Rich in both saponins and flavonoids, it is anti-
inflammatory because the saponins have a structure similar to that of corticosteroids.
Licorice root also promotes or enhances immune system functioning and has a stimulating
effect on the adrenal cortex. [21,22] Additionally, licorice can inhibit the breakdown of
adrenal hormone by the liver, thereby increasing corticosteroid levels in circulation while
inhibiting cortisol's ability to promote thymus atrophy. [23]

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* Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis, also called wuweizi by the Chinese) is commonly used
as a general tonic and to promote liver health. In addition, it can be used as an adaptogenic
tonic to counter the effects of stress and fatigue. Scientific studies show it has normalizing
effects in cases of insomnia and neurasthenia, and improves mental coordination and
physical endurance. [35] Research suggests schisandra may actually influence electrical
discharges in the brain. [36]

* Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), a member of the gourd family that grows in

southern China, Korea, Japan and India, is also relatively new to the list of adaptogens.
According to recent studies, jiaogulan contains nearly four times as many saponins as Panax
ginseng does. [37] These saponins, known as gypenosides, are similar to the ginsenosides
and panaxosides found in Asian ginseng. Preliminary studies also suggest jiaogulan may
have even more powerful regulatory effects on a number of body systems than does Asian
ginseng. In addition, jiaogulan has demonstrated antibacterial and anti-inflammatory
activity and a beneficial effect on blood pressure regulation; it also has been shown to bolster
the immune system, improve fat metabolism, moderate cholesterol levels, and enhance
strength and physical endurance. [38]

* Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola

frondosa) mushrooms may not be adaptogens in the classic sense, but each has adaptogenic,
antitumor and immune-potentiating properties. [39] Reishi and shiitake traditionally have
been used as tonics, while reishi has been called the elixir of immortality.

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