Liz Connor looks at the potent power of healing herbs
STRESS is all around us. If we aren’t complaining about our frazzled mental state to our friends and colleagues, we’re booking into emergency yoga classes, throwing back green smoothies and meditating on our commutes to help keep the beast in check.
Herbalists have long touted adaptogens like ashwagandha, ginseng, liquorice root, holy basil and cordyceps as a way to bolster the adrenal system, which is responsible for releasing a range of hormones into the body — including cortisol
“Adaptogens usually grow in very stressful environments and have had to ‘adapt’ in order to flourish,” says Naomi Buff, the health and wellness guru behind superfood brand Naomi’s Kitchen (naomis.kitchen). “Maca, for example, grows at a high altitude, whereas rhodiola is found in harsh, mountainous terrains.
“Their properties of greater resilience and strength are transferred to us when we consume these nutrient-rich herbs and roots, such as helping our bodies adapt to stress, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or environmental.”
Adaptogens come in all shapes and sizes and promise a host of different benefits — so how do you know which one is for you? Naomi says ginseng is a universal winner: a blanket fixer adaptogen that can lift the spirits and ward off colds and flu. Ashwaghanda, meanwhile, is the go-to for easing anxiety (apparently it can suppress stimulatory hormones when you’re strung out and stressed). Schisandra is a skin-nourishing woody vine that’s great in winter; it can brighten the most lacklustre of complexions, with, according to some fans, the added benefit of helping stave off seasonal affective disorder.
There’s still limited scientific evidence around adaptogens and these potent plants might not be suitable for everyone.
“There are some groups of people who would be considered unsuitable for using the adaptogens due to their stimulant effects on the body, but also if they are taking any medications,” warns Dr Sarah Brewer, a GP and medical nutritionist.
If you have high blood pressure or suffer from heart problems or migraines, she suggests removing ginseng from your shopping list. Those prone to insomnia might also find the stimulant effect keeps them awake at night, She also advises children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to steer clear altogether.
Before taking any kind of adaptogen, Dr Brewer suggests you speak with your GP to check that they’re suitable for your own medical needs.
Do we actually need adaptogens as part of our daily routine?
“Having a well-balanced and healthy diet, accompanied with exercise, would be ideal before supplementing, however sometimes the therapeutic levels which may be recommended to help with ailments such as stress, tiredness and fatigue may not always be reached with diet alone, and extra precautions may be needed,” says Hannah Moffitt, a nutritionist at Holland & Barrett.
“I would never tell someone they need to take adaptogens,” says Naomi, “but I certainly believe in their natural healing abilities and have experienced first-hand how beneficial they [can be] for health. I recommend them to my clients if they are looking for a more holistic and natural way to heal.”
ADAPTOGEN SURVIVAL: Herbs like liquorice root bolster the adrenal system.