When I visited my parents in Portland, Oregon during Thanksgiving, my mom gave me a couple of mysterious, gold-and-red boxes.
“These are really, really good for you,” she urged. “You say you’re so tired all the time. This stuff will give you energy.”
I eyed the boxes suspiciously, which turned out to be Korean ginseng in both dried form (similar in texture to candied ginger) (mmm, candied ginger 🙂 ) and liquid concentrate form. When I asked what this is good for, my mom said it’s good for fatigue, stress relief, energy, brain power, etc., etc.
In Korea, ginseng is the subject of literally thousands of folk tales and legends (a poor but good-hearted son/daughter finds ginseng in the mountains, miraculously cures ailing parent no matter what disease). This miracle-cure reputation even shows in Korean ginseng’s Latin name, Panex, which has the same root as panacea. Little did I know though that this ancient super herb is one of the main players generating all the buzz in the wellness world in the West these days: Adaptogens.
What are adaptogens? Simply put, they’re herbs or mushrooms that support the body’s resistance to stress. But here’s what distinguishes adaptogens proper from say, chocolate: Adaptogens work by balancing your adrenal glands, which are in control of your hormonal response to stress. While pasta and dark chocolate have helped me manage stress aplenty, they don’t work the same way. Doh! Furthermore, adaptogens have special compounds that have *both* of opposing qualities, such as relaxing *and* stimulating–which means that the correct response is triggered according to the condition of the body, resulting in normalized health.
Adaptogens as a general rule of thumb have these benefits: Stamina, mental clarity, energy, fatigue relief, stress relief, immune support, increased endurance, resilience.
Here’s a list of some adaptogens you can try:
- Korean ginseng (aka Asian ginseng): A study by the University of Chieti shows that it helps athletic performance as measured by oxygen intake and improved endurance, while a University of Southern California study reports that ginseng increases the production of the body’s own antiviral compound called interferon. Other studies have shown ginseng to be linked to reduced risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke while giving you improved memory. Also, Korean ginseng gets a special distinction even among adaptogens as a libido booster.
- Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, explains that studies for eleuthero benefits have mostly come from Russia, where it was explored as an alternative to Korean ginseng. Research has shown that eleuthero can help you shake the symptoms of the common cold and Herpes Simplex 2.
- Rhodiola: Used by Ancient Greeks, Chinese emperors, and the Vikings to improve mood, reduce stress, increase focus, and more. Our own Jen tried rhodiola!
- Reishi mushrooms: Another super trendy adaptogen of my childhood fairy tales! Reishi is a medicinal mushroom that has been used as medicine throughout East Asia for thousands of years.
- Ashwagandha: One of the most powerful herbs in Ayurveda, Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to restore health after illness. This one also gets a gold star for boosting libido for both women and men, in addition to the other listed properties.
Are you ready to incorporate some of these ancient Far Eastern and Ayurvedic remedies into your life? Now, you probably don’t have a doting Korean parent hovering near you with ginseng extracts. Fortunately, adaptogens are widely available in so many formats these days at your local natural store or online.
I love REBBL Super Herbs Elixirs and not just because we’ve worked with them in the past. (Molly created an amazing chocolate chili with the Reishi Chocolate flavor). I like to grab the Reishi Chocolate, which is an amazing, creamy chocolate treat, for breakfast before heading to the office–maybe it’s a placebo effect, but it seems to help me feel less chaotic and stressed. They also have Ashwagandha Chai flavor, which is less sugary! Not to mention that REBBL is all fair trade and vegan. 🙂
Take a look at this Power Dust by Moon Juice, founded by Amanda Chantal Bacon. It contains a mix of astragalus, ginseng, eleuthero, schisandra, rhodiola, and stevia for a truly potent vitality mix. Simply add to nut milk, coffee (!), tea, hot/cold water, or smoothie. There’s also Brain Dust for those of us particularly looking to get smart.
We did a golden cocoa recipe including Ashwagandha. A must-try comforting (and delicious) self-care ritual!
Finally, do try ginseng “tea” if you have a caring Korean mom! Since I’m recovering from an injury, there’s never been a better time to indulge in this ginger + almond milk + turmeric + agave + tahini concoction–a version of Molly’s Golden Turmeric Milk recipe. It’s so good! I really do feel instantly less tired and more mentally refreshed after drinking this. (Thanks Mom!)
Are you a devotée of adaptogens? Which are your favorites?
Related: Why Green Tea Is Still a Top Weightloss Superfood
Top 10 Most Underrated Superfoods
How to Cure Junk Food Cravings the Healthy Way
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Photo: Pexels, Peaceful Dumpling