Definition, Functions, Sources, Risks, and More


Dozens of adaptogenic herbs have been studied, says Retelny, but if you look on Instagram and particularly if you follow any dietitians or wellness influencers, you’ll notice some are more popular than others. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes, these include the following.

1. Holy Basil

“Many people use holy basil, also known as tulsi, in stir-fries and soups because it adds a spicy, peppery taste,” says Retelny. Eastern medicine followers even call the herb the “elixir of life” because it is so highly regarded for its health benefits, according to a past scientific paper. Retelny says people use the herb with a number of aims, from reducing stress to combating indigestion.

2. Ashwagandha

Sometimes called Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is likely one of the most talked about — and most commonly used — adaptogens, says Retelny. “The name ashwagandha in Sanskrit means ‘smell of a horse,’” says Retelny; it has a strong odor and a reputation for giving people vitality similar to that of that big hoofed animal. In Indian cuisine it’s blended into a seasoning called churna, but you can also take it in supplement form. Note that pregnant women should not use ashwagandha, and it may interfere with thyroid tests, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

3. Maca

This root is originally from the Andes mountains, according to a past review, and it’s known for its nutty, sweet flavor. Because of its malty taste, the powder form works well sprinkled in yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies. “I’ve seen manufacturers start adding it to food products, too,” says Retelny. As for its perks, like the others, it’s been tied to protecting your body from stress, says Blatner.

4. Reishi

“The reishi mushroom has been used for centuries in Eastern Asia as an adaptogen and as a medicine as well,” says Retelny. Unlike button or shiitake, you likely won’t be cooking with whole reishi mushrooms. “It’s more common to find them in a dried, powder form,” says Retelny. You can add the powder to savory recipes like soup, or, if you’re daring, steep the whole mushroom in hot water to make a bitter tea.

5. Siberian Ginseng

“This adaptogen is likely one of the most researched,” Blatner says of Siberian ginseng, which grows in China and Russia, and is a popular remedy for people who feel run-down and tired from stress. The herb, also referred to as eleutherococcus, is not technically in the ginseng family, according to MedlinePlus, and is easiest to find in supplement form.

6. Turmeric

Many people have this yellow spice in their pantries. If you’re letting it sit untouched, now is the time to change that. The compound in turmeric called curcumin is considered an adaptogen, past research notes, and it works to reduce inflammation in the body, according to a study published in Drug Design, Development, and Therapy in 2021. The Mayo Clinic notes, too, that turmeric is commonly found in curry (so consider whipping up this dish), especially because it may play a role in easing symptoms of conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

One thing to remember: While these herbs can be helpful, some people experience negative side effects, which is why you’ll want to discuss them with your doctor before starting any regimen.


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