Adaptogens can be defined as “any natural substance in herbal medicine used to bring back balance to the systems of the body”.
They are meant to normalize and harmonize your adrenal-stress response, bringing you up if you are down and bringing you down if you are up. (Note: They are an herbal medicine, so be sure to talk with your doctor before adding a bunch of new ingredients to your wellness regime.) If you’ve heard someone talk about “adrenal fatigue,” then you’ve probably heard of adaptogens. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, but they’re having a renaissance today. Some, like holy basil, can be eaten as part of a meal, and some are consumed as supplements or brewed into teas.
One thing I want to mention is that adrenal fatigue is still new – the technical term would be HPA-axis dysfunction. Chronic stress keeps your HPA axis (fight/flight response) constantly engaged; this leads to problems with burnout, chronic fatigue, brain fog, etc. Some western doctors will dismiss adrenal fatigue, but it’s fairly well-established in the integrative/functional/naturopathic world. If you’re struggling, adaptogens may help, but you absolutely need to work on your stress management skills and incorporate some nourishing self-care strategies to help your body recover (like steps #9-10 in my wellness makeover, sign up for my email list to get it at no cost!).
Learn about adaptogens
Check out this Nutrition Stripped article on Adaptogens. I absolutely love NS – it’s run by a registered dietitian and her articles are so well-sourced it’s insane. I am all for wading into woo-woo territory (crystals, anyone?), but when it comes to using food as medicine, we want it to be as evidence-based as possible. Especially when you’re considering various supplements (again, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re avoiding any contraindications! If your doc won’t address it or dismisses you, try finding an integrative practitioner or naturopath in your area). She points out that we don’t have a lot of research on adaptogens, but she sources what she’s found.
Aviva Romm (integrative doctor) tackles her favorite 6 adaptogens for women, and explains a bit more about why it’s so important to nourish the adrenal system.
Amy Meyers, MD, discusses what adaptogens are and some of her favorites.
Chalkboard Magazine is a good wellness resource – but you always want to have a discerning eye. They have many affiliates and partnerships that they promote, and their articles usually aren’t sourced. They provide great introductions to topics and I often find wonderful new products on their site, but I also don’t take their articles as gospel. Here is their ‘guide to adaptogens.’
Using adaptogens for sleep by Chalkboard Mag; be careful with affiliate links and always buy adaptogens from sources you trust. Add slowly so you know what’s making a difference in your life!
Adaptogens: where to buy
You’ve probably seen the adaptogenic coffee craze – whether it’s making your own latte or seeing these packets around (I found them at my hair salon!). Four Sigmatics is the big brand when it comes to mushroom coffee, and they are continuing to expand (I’m trying to get my hands on their chai but it’s been sold out for months). It’s a great introduction to shrooms, and you’re able to still get a coffee kick (caffeine-free options are available as well).
For some high-quality tea that could replace your morning coffee, check out this wild chaga tea. I haven’t tried it yet (it’s a bit pricey!) but it’s on my list.
Moon Juice and Sun Potion are great brands for sourcing your adaptogens. Moon juice allows you to make pretty colored lattes and has blends focused on various issues (brain health, sexual health, etc). Sun Potion has some blends as well as many individual adaptogens available for purchase.
Organic Burst is another brand for (a few) adaptogens. They specialize more in “superfoods” and have a variety of other powders and supplements.
As you can see, adaptogens can get pricey! I have found it helpful to start with either a blend, or just 1 or 2 adaptogens (this way you also know what’s helping!). Stress management doesn’t have to be fancy though – sometimes a week of a solid 8 hours of sleep/night and a soothing bedtime routine (maybe with some yin yoga) can be the refresh we need. Don’t let your mental wellness break your financial wellness.
If you do decide to buy some, store them in a cool, dark place, in a sealed container (they often come in bags, it might be helpful to move them into a resealable jar). Follow any special directions as well (some are best kept refrigerated!).
What adaptogens I found most helpful for PCOS, fatigue, and anxiety
I take 1 tsp of Maca daily in my coffee. It can be considered a stimulant, so I try to only have it in the morning. If you’re struggling with adrenal fatigue, I recommend moving away from coffee to matcha, or even a caffeine-free alternative like teeccino or herbal teas. I’ve also added maca to bliss balls (nut/date snacks) with cardamom to create a heavenly morning bite. To me, maca kind of tastes like cookie dough (it’s slightly sweet and vanilla-y).
Sometimes also called Indian ginseng, I take this to help manage my stress, which is CRITICAL in PCOS. I also struggle with some anxiety, so this helps shut my over-active brain down. I take 1/2 tsp at night in a golden latte, in capsule form (I have empty capsules I can throw some in), or sometimes I’ll throw it in my morning coffee. It’s quite bitter tasting so be careful with the amount you’re adding. Ashwagandha is good for that ‘wired and tired’ mood (AKA me, AKA daily).
Found in many Four Sigmatic products, I don’t exclusively take these ‘shrooms, I just have them as part of other products. These are also found in Rebbl drinks, which I might pick up for a treat yo’ self splurge.
As you can see, I don’t have a ton of adaptogens that I use, because they are expensive! I splurge on a lot of wellness items, including collagen peptides and good matcha, so I am very careful with what other high-price items I’m grabbing off the shelves.
My basic recipe:
(the more things that are organic, the better)
1c nut/seed milk of choice (or oat milk) - unsweetened (I like MALK)
0.5 tsp of adaptogen of choice (maca, mushrooms, ashwagandha, etc)
1 tsp raw manuka/local honey or 100% maple syrup
0.5 tsp ceylon cinnamon
1 scoop Vital Proteins collagen peptides
1 tbsp coconut butter or ghee
matcha + 0.5 tsp chlorella/spirulina
turmeric + ground cardamom + a pinch of black pepper
Mix in a blender, or warm together in a saucepan and froth (I bought a cheap one off Amazon)
more Adaptogenic Latte Recipes
Here are some different recipes ideas to incorporate adaptogens into your next latte!
Take a seat, grab a cup of matcha
Let’s talk about healing your life
Up-leveling your wellness practice
Finding new resources
and living Vivaciously Well.