You love a handful of parsley thrown on top of a beef stew and can’t turn down a cream cheese and chives bagel. Herbs are the unsung hero of so many dishes, and there’s one group in particular that deserves some major props. They’re called adaptogens, and they’re the wellness world’s latest buzzy ingredient. There’s one adaptogen in particular that’s known for its stress-busting properties. Here’s what you need to know about ashwagandha.
Remind me, what are adaptogens again? Basically, adaptogens are herbs, plants and fungi that are used for their medicinal properties. “They are accurately named, as they adapt to the needs of the body to decrease inflammation, restore inner harmony and promote optimal health,” says holistic nutritionist Lorraine Kearney.
Got it. And…ash-what-now? Ashwagandha (pronounced ash-wa-gone-duh) is a woody shrub and member of the nightshade family. It’s typically found in warmer climates like India and the Middle East and its name is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” in reference to its, um, distinctive aroma.
And how does ashwagandha work? “Research has shown that ashwagandha can help boost your mood,” says nutritionist Chelsea Williams. In fact, one study from India also found that ashwagandha reduced the cortisol levels (aka “the stress hormone”) of participants suffering from chronic stress. Another study, published in the journal Phytomedicine, suggested that the herb may be as effective as the drug lorazepam for reducing anxiety. While none of these studies were conclusive (and more research is needed), there’s mounting evidence to suggest that this herb could have some pretty powerful benefits when it comes to reducing stress levels.
So, how do I use it? Williams adds a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder (she buys hers online from Moon Juice) to a turmeric or matcha latte, which she does daily for the herb’s mood-boosting benefits as well as to help manage her thyroid disorder (some studies suggest that ashwagandha can help balance thyroid hormones). Other ways to incorporate this adaptogen into your diet include sprinkling the powder into cocoa, oatmeal, nut butter or heck, even dessert.
Anything else I should know? Adaptogens are generally considered to be safe, Williams tells us, but you should always check with a doctor before adding adaptogens into your daily routine, as some can interact negatively with certain medications and conditions. She also cautions that they’re meant to be taken over a long period of time, so don’t expect to see any results the day after sipping your “super herb” smoothie.