5 Trendy Adaptogens and How They Can Help

By Jessica Hamlin

Have you seen ashwagandha, maca, or other funky-sounding substances buzzing around Instagram, health food stores, or cafes lately?

What are these things—and why are they in smoothies or supplements like Brain Dust?

Turns out they’re called “adaptogens,” a large category of non-toxic plants that are meant to help your body adapt to different situations and get back to its natural state. They take the form of herbs, roots, mushrooms, or berries that have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries.

Some adaptogens can help the body deal with stress and energy, which seems to be part of the reason they’re so popular right now. Hello, adrenal fatigue. Other adaptogens can help with libido, mood, and focus.

How They Work

Adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system (say that three times fast), both of which play a role in the body’s response to stress, integrative and lifestyle medicine doctor Brenda Powell tells Time.

Adaptogens may tweak hormone production and physiological responses to stress, she adds, to ensure that your body functions as it should.

5 Adaptogens to Know

Let’s talk about a few adaptogens you may have seen or heard about. Most of these can be found in the form of capsules, extracts, teas, powders, drinks, or other products at Whole Foods or your local health food store.

Maca: This root can help boost energy, mood, and libido. Bow chicka wow wow.

“I will usually start clients on maca and have them add that to their morning smoothie,” holistic nutritionist Shauna Faulisi tells Do The Good Stuff. “You want gelatinized maca [maca that’s been heated] otherwise it’s difficult for the gut and stomach to digest it.”

Trader Joe’s sells organic gelatinized maca that’s just powder, so it’s easy to add to a smoothie. Some people swear by it as a way to kick their coffee habit.

Maca has a warm, nutty taste and may be a bit strong tasting for some people at first, so add one tablespoon or less to a smoothie or coffee and see how it tastes and feels for you.

Ashwagandha: The root of this popular herb is often taken orally to help improve brain function, relieve stress and anxiety, and reduce pain and swelling.

Tulsi: Also called “holy basil,” this herb is more spicy and bitter than regular basil. You can still cook with it though, or prepare tea with its leaves.

Tulsi has been found to help:

  • protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals
  • physical stress from prolonged physical exertion and exposure to cold and excessive noise
  • normalize blood glucose, blood pressure, and lipid levels
  • psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function

I’ve tried Tulsi tea from Whole Foods for its supposed “caffeine-free energy.” I didn’t really feel an energy boost, but all the other alleged benefits might be good reasons for me to revisit that box of tea.

Rhodiola: This herb helps prevent fatigue and stress—yes, please. Evidence also suggests it enhances immune system function and can increase sexual energy. Studies show it might benefit physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions.

Schisandra: This super berry has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It can help boost liver and adrenal functions to help prevent adrenal fatigue—the condition making so many of us tired.

Faulisi thinks it “feels really great” and likes to recommend it to women since it may help with their blood circulation. One way to try it is Dragon Herbs’ goji and schisandra drops.

Medicinal mushrooms are also considered adaptogens. You can read more about these functional fungi in our coverage.

How to Try Adaptogens

It’s a good idea to look into possible side effects if you want to try a certain adaptogen. If you take other medications or supplements, check with a health professional about possible interactions.

If you’re curious about taking adaptogens, Faulisi advises trying one at a time—perhaps in a smoothie—and seeing what they do for you. We’re all about this listen-to-your-body approach.

Many adaptogens exist so it may take time to find out what adaptogen is right for you, if any.

“I’m a big believer in focusing on great greens and vegetables that are going to do good for you long-term,” Faulisi says. “Adaptogens, I like to say, are used as the icing on the cake for a little extra boost.”