This fantastic article was written by Angela Warburton, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, speaker, writer, and teacher. We encourage you to check out her website here, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
You may have heard a lot about adaptogens out in the world today or you might be asking yourself, what exactly is an adaptogen anyway? Adaptogens are basically substances that help the body adapt to stressors (mental, emotional, dietary, environmental…) and help to reduce the impact or damage that those stressors have on our body. How well we adapt has a direct impact on our life, vitality, and health.
Adaptogens help supports the body in its ability to successfully cope with stress. Stress is a normal part of life and of being human. We are built to handle bouts of stress quite well. Unfortunately, in our modern culture, we have prolonged or ongoing stress – be it through work-load, environmental stressors, hectic and busy lifestyles, emotional stressor or world stressors – which takes a toll on us and it’s ability to rebound.
Our bodies are natural adapters – when it’s hot, our body will cool so it doesn’t overheat. When it’s cold, we fire up our inner furnace so we warm up. So much of this happens naturally without us actually being aware of it. When we start to notice things falling out of balance (we’re hot when everyone else seems to be cold, or it’s the middle of the summer and we’re still carting a sweater around and wearing socks to bed), our bodies need extra care. The more out of balance we are, the less we’re able to adapt well.
Adaptability or resiliency requires energy (or QI as we’d call it in Chinese Medicine). The more stress we have, the more energy we need to cope or adapt to it.
Sometimes we really need to look deeply at the pace and intensity in which we are living our life. But sometimes, by taking extra care and giving the body the attention and care it needs during stressful times, we can provide that extra support that is needed to thrive.
Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years and has many great foods and herbs that are known to help support the body and mind in stressful times.
When we’re able to replenish the energy (QI) in our system and help regulate our ability to adapt, we’re more apt to feel great and live a healthy and vibrant life. Sound good?
The following are a list of herbs that are best used as dietary supplements to help support the body when under stress and/or build up resiliency at other times so that when stress hits (as it inevitably does), your body is more equipped to handle it and bounce back.
These are never meant to be used the way one would a drug, to overcome stress, but more as part of an overall ‘plan’ to help maintain balance. Moderate exercise, Yoga, meditation, a healthy nutrient rich diet and adaptogenic herbs are all part of balanced wellness plan aimed at prevention rather than reactive medicine
“Trying to treat disease when you are already sick is like starting to dig a well when you’re already thirsty” Chinese Proverb
Astragalus Root (Huang Qi)
One of the most powerful adaptogens and body regulators, this is a wonderful Qi tonic and immune system boosting herb.
Found in Chinese Herbal stores or many health food stores, this is a great addition to bone broths or broth-based soups. Also can be made into teas or taken in tincture form.
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Reishi Mushroom is a great strengthening and protective herb. It helps calm the nervous system and builds the Qi. It’s also great to support mental function and is an overall anti-stress herb.
Add it to your morning coffee or mate drink, you can add it into smoothies or even into power bars or baking.
Goji Berry (Gou Qi Zi)
Goji berries support root energy (Kidney’s) in TCM. This reserved energy is essential to handling life and all it brings our way. Also said to help build the blood, it is a great dietary addition to women around their cycle, just after giving birth or those who are entering menopausal years. It’s said to also help promote a good and happy attitude…and we all know how much that helps with stress!
Easily found in supermarkets, health food stores or Asian food or herbal markets. Delicious served as a tea (be sure to eat the berries after), or added into broths, soups or baking. You can even grab a handful to snack on or add it to your trail mix.
This thick milky substance produced by young worker bees is used as a nutrient-rich food to help keep the queen bee strong and to live a long time (A worker bee lives on average 40 days and the Queen bee can live up to 5 years!). Due to this, Royal Jelly has long been thought of as a longevity tonic. High in antioxidants, it is used to strengthen the immune system and has an ability to reduce inflammation.
You can find this in most health food stores in its jelly like form to be added to smoothies or taken straight as it is daily as tonic. You can also find it freeze dried or in capsule form. We call this a jing tonic and can be great for women looking to optimize their egg quality or for its anti-aging components.
North American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen)
This classic Chinese herb has long been used as a Qi tonic and is known to increase energy and vitality. It’s known help boost the immune system and can be used to prevent colds and flus. This North American version is less ‘hot’ than the Siberian version and has a nice balance of yin and yang energy, which makes it more suitable for longer-term consumption.
Taken in tea form, as a tincture or as an addition to soups or small addition to nourishing drinks or soups, this can be a great way to help keep energy up and prevent colds over the winter season.
Schizandra Berry (Wu Wei Zi)
Schizandra is a fantastic adaptogenic herb. It produces stimulation to all levels of the nervous system, balances brain function, helps to lower blood pressure, stimulates the respiratory system and protects the liver cells (you know that little organ that filters out toxins in our body!). It is known to help concentration, memory and your ability to stay alert without being overly stimulating (like you might find with caffeine stimulates). It has a beautiful mix of calming and stimulating at the same time. It also has an ability to boost our immune system and has a somewhat anti-aging effect. Uh, sign me up!
This herb can be found in Chinese herbal stores and is a great addition to a medicinal bone broth (see recipe at http://www.angelawarburton.com/2016/02/04/the-mighty-mighty-bone-broth/) and consumed daily in that form as nourishing food tonic.
Chinese Red Date/Jujube Date
The red date has been used for centuries as a tonic to help build strength and increase energy. It’s also known to help cleanse the blood and help aid in healthy circulation and energy flow. This food herb is an important component in so many Chinese Medicine formulas.
Different than the sweet dates we often think of snacking on, this red date is great in tea form, added to broths our broth soups or you can blend into a smoothie or soak and cut up for baking. You can find this in some health food stores, online or dried in Asian food markets and herbal stores.
Licorice Root (Gan Cao)
Licorice root has this magic ability to harmonize the ingredients in a formula. It is known as a powerful adaptogen and can also help the body detoxify. When added to formulas, it can help to balance out any toxic effects from the other herbs.
Used in Teas for centuries this tasty herb makes a great addition to many herbal blends.
Easily found in herbal stores – Western and Eastern.
Turmeric (Jiang Huang)
Used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is known to help increase circulation, reduce inflammation, protect against Alzheimer’s disease when taken alongside vitamin D. As well it is known to protect the liver and have anti-cancer properties.
Turmeric is easily found and is well known in so many traditional cultures. Used in cooking, added to lattes (golden latte), as a supplement or taken in smoothies, this is an easy addition into everyday life!
(note: turmeric has mild blood thinning properties so anyone on blood thinners should take extra precaution and enlist the help of a qualified practitioner to see if it is appropriate for use)
Rhodiola Root (Hong Jing Tian)
Rhodiola is a unique and amazing herb that grows in one of the harshest environments in the world and is thought sacred in Tibetan culture. It was said that “Those who drink Rhodiola tea regularly will live more than 100 years”. Rhodiola is used to prevent or treat lung disease in cold wet weather and is known as a powerful adaptogen. It has been used for thousands of years for its life-prolonging and wisdom (memory) enhancing qualities. This is a great herb for those who work hard, both mentally and physically and those who live under stressful conditions.
It’s important to consult a qualified herbalist before taking the herbs outlined above if you are on any medications. Each person is unique and Chinese Medicine is built on this principle with no two people being treated the same way as everyone has their unique state of balance. There can be contraindications and drug-herb interactions, which should always be considered before taking any herb or supplement.
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