Winter, and the holiday season, can be a time of joy and celebration. However, for many, it is also a stressful time. The pressures of balancing family and work obligations, as well as the physical stress of being in cold weather and eating foods that one is unaccustomed to—can all put extra pressure on one’s body and mind. Winter is a great time to turn toward herbal supports such as adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens help your body and mind adapt to stress.
What Is An Adaptogenic Herb?
Adaptogenic herbs support your body in dealing with stress. Roots, berries, various plants, and mushrooms can serve as adaptogens. Some adaptogens, such as tulsi and ashwagandha, have a balancing effect on the mind and body. Adaptogens such as rhodiola are energizing. And, adaptogens such as gotu kola have a calming effect.
Adaptogenic herbs tend to have broad-spectrum functioning. This means that a single herb such as ashwagandha, schizandra, or tulsi (holy basil) may have a number of usages. For instance, schizandra is supportive to the nervous system, liver, and endocrine system. Therefore, if someone is having challenges with mood related to their hormone balance, schizandra may be a good choice.
We can also turn to ashwagandha as an example. Ashwagandha tonifies the nervous system and mind, supports a healthy sleep cycle, and can boost libido, especially for men. This rejuvenating root can also be good for building muscle tissue. You can see how one might choose ashwagandha as an adaptogenic support based on a number of different reasons.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
Depending on the herbs, adaptogens work in a variety of ways. However, they generally assist the body’s chemical response to stress by supporting the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that enable us to adapt or cope with stress. The can help prevent burnout and fatigue due to stress.
How to Take Adaptogens
The good news is that there are as many ways to enjoy adaptogens as there are benefits. Adaptogenic herbs can be taken as tinctures, capsules, teas, and found in special Ayurvedic products such as herbal ghee and herbal jams. In fact, the famous Ayurvedic herbal jam Chyawanprash contains a number of adaptogens, including ashwagandha, tulsi, and bacopa. Chyawanprash also contains a number of rasayanas (rejuvenating herbs) and aromatics. With the addition of ghee, honey, and black sesame seed oil, it is a deeply rejuvenating blend.
Another wonderful way to enjoy adaptogenic herbs is as a tea or blended into milky beverages such as chai or hot chocolate. Mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and cordyceps work particularly well in this manner. You can read our post Ayurvedic Drinks for Winter for four great ideas on incorporating adaptogenic herbs and other beneficial herbs and spices into tasty winter beverages.
An Adaptogen for Every Reason and Season
In closing, whether you are looking to calm down, boost your energy, regulate sleep, or aid performance, there is likely an adaptogenic herb for you. If you aren’t sure where to begin, there are many great herbal and Ayurvedic books available, such as Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves, or Ayurvedic Herbology East & West by Vishnu Dass. In addition, there are host of excellent Ayurvedic books with practical advice by Dr. Vasant Lad and Dr. David Frawley. If you still have questions or want personalized advice, look up your local herbalist or Ayurvedic practitioner!
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.