What the Heck Are Adaptogens (and Could They Help Me Feel Less Stressed Out)?

powdered green adaptogen in a latte

Raise your hand if you're feeling overwhelmed this week. Yep, us too. And while you usually turn to yoga and breathing exercises to calm you down (or you know, a Real Housewives marathon), lately your super clued-in wellness pal has been touting the stress-busting benefits of adaptogens. Here’s what you need to know about these so-called “super herbs.”

So, what are adaptogens? “Adaptogens are basically a group of plants that you take over a long period of time in order to help your body adapt to stress and other ailments,” says nutritionist Chelsea Williams. And while these herbs, roots and mushrooms are definitely having a moment, they’ve actually been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. But the important thing to know is that they don’t eliminate stress but instead help you cope with stressful circumstances by regulating hormones.

How can they help me? Different adaptogens can help with different things, Williams tells us. Some adaptogens can help boost your workout, while others can help improve energy levels and increase feelings of calm. The name comes from their supposed ability to “adapt” their function depending on what the body needs. Think of adaptogens like a thermostat that lowers and raises a room’s temperature, says Dr. Frank Lipman. “Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without overstimulating.”

What are some popular adaptogens? While there’s no clear consensus on exactly how many adaptogens exist, most experts seems to agree that there are approximately 15 plants that fall into the adaptogenic category. Some of the most common ones include ashwagandha, ginseng, ­­holy basil and maca—look for them at your local juice bar or health food store.

How do I use them? Adaptogens come in many different forms, including pills, powders and tinctures. Most adaptogens are flavorless, although some (like maca) have a slightly bitter taste and are best enjoyed when combined with other ingredients. Williams likes to add a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder (she gets hers online from Moon Juice) to her morning turmeric or matcha latte every day, but you could also sprinkle the powders into smoothies, tea or oatmeal.

Should I try adaptogens? “In order for an adaptogen to be defined as such, it has to be safe, non-toxic and non-habit forming,” says Williams. But always check with a doctor before adding adaptogens into your daily routine, as some can interact negatively with certain medications and conditions.

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Alexia Dellner

Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...
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