Kitchen 101 : Adaptogens + How to Use Them

Over the past year, I’ve started incorporating adaptogens into my pantry, recipes and weekly regimen. I think you may be interested in doing so too! Adaptogens are a catagory of herbs and mushrooms that help protect the body from the toxic effects of stress; arguably one of the gnarliest health issues of our time. These potent potions may seem “of the moment,” but adaptogens have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to provide heavy-duty support for the body’s natural resistance to “adverse influences.” In these hectic times, these influences include anything that taxes the body, from illness to working out (ie: when you don’t take a much-needed rest day!)

Integrative medicine practitioner Andrew Weil, MD, likes to describe adaptogens as herbs “that can ‘tone’ the body and bring it back to homeostasis,” creating a non-specific response that helps it resist stress. And though they’re not necessarily on the radar of many Western medicine doctors, studies have confirmed the herbs have real promise in reducing stress and improving attention and endurance in the face of fatigue.

It’s HIGHLY worth mentioning, however, that these compounds and ingredients are potent medicine and are not universally effective. Before you start taking adaptogens in any shape or form, it’s important to understand YOUR constitution, state of being, state of digestion (your dosha, prakruit and vikruti in Ayurveda,) and then choose wisely. Some adaptogens will have negative side-effects if taken without this body wisdom applied. (If you’re needing a little help diving deep into your constitution and how to manage it, an Ayurvedic Consultation is for you. Let’s work together!)

So, which herbs and mushrooms are adaptogens? How do they work and how do you use them?

How do adaptogens work?

“Adaptogens specifically support your adrenals, the glands that manage your hormonal response to stress and help you cope with anxiety and fatigue,” says Amanda Chantal Bacon, the founder of LA-based apothecary-café Moon Juice. (She also likes to mix adaptogens with her chocolate therapy as I did here!)

“The charm of adaptogens is that they work with your needs specifically, adapting their function to your body’s needs,” she says.

I find that when combined with real food items meant to provide my body with nutrients helpful, nourishing, and soothing in times of stress, these super-powered ingredients help me feel grounded – in ritual and in effect.

What counts as an adaptogen?

To be an adaptogen, herbs have to be non-toxic to the body’s physiological functions, offer widespread support and bring the body back to equilibrium. Within that broad definition, there are different types.

Some adaptogens—like Asian ginseng, eleuthero (or Siberian ginseng), rhodiola rosea, and maca—stimulate the body, enhancing mental performance, mojo, and physical stamina.

Others, like reishiashwagandha, Ashitaba, and holy basil and Chaga mushroom help calm the body and soothe the adrenals when they’re super stressed. Astragalus has also become popular lately, thanks to its immune-boosting qualities.

How do you take adaptogens?

Adaptogens come in lots of different forms, including pills that resemble vitamins; tinctures that can be mixed with water; powders, which you can throw into a smoothie; and teas. There’s no “right” way to consume them (because it’s really a matter of personal taste) but I really like using them in powder forms because it’s easy for me to add them as ingredients to whole foods I’m already eating, just as I would spices. I blend them into smoothies and juices, dust over kefir with granola, stir into soups or brew with favorite teas. Some people take adaptogens almost every day. Others will take them several times a day based on their needs (check with a professional for guidance about what’s right for you). I don’t take them daily, or even weekly, but instead whenever I’m feeling a bit off balanced or in need of a little “well-being boost,” or whenever I’m not feeling like my “optimal self.”

 I’ve started incorporating different adaptogens into these specific recipes

I like using mushrooms like reishi and Chaga in foods with earthy, grounded flavors such as soups with beef or mushroom broth, or big bowls of umami noodle soup. I also like them mixed into the hot chocolate listed above. Ashwagandha is a less earthy root that mixes well into any place that would suit the mushrooms, but also soups (like the pumpkin listed above,) most types of tea, and even green juices. I like to use vibrant Ashitaba in my morning green juice.


Where do you buy adaptogens?

You can buy all of the adaptogens I use in recipes on this site in my recommended products page here. You’ll find that my favorite brands are Sun Potion and Moon Juice but I also love MoonDeli and locally, Rebecca’s Apothecary here in Boulder is also a great resource as well. You may also be surprised to find many of the most popular adaptogens are available in your favorite natural foods store, not far from other real food ingredients that make your body thrive.

With a solid foundation of body wisdom, these incredible plants can be great allies to support your bad-ass, high achieving lifestyle.

Dig in!