The lowdown on adaptogens

Jenny Tschiesche gives us an overview of the health benefits of adaptogenic foods and herbs

Adaptogenic herbs and foods are non-toxic and non-habit forming. Their role is to help the body adapt, rather like a thermostat, to changes in the body’s chemistry. One of the most common changes to body chemistry is stress. The resultant effects manifest themselves in many ways from digestive issues to fatigue and from ageing to anxiety. Adaptogens don’t treat a specific condition unlike other foods and herbs that may be useful in targeting a specific aspect of health. Instead, they’re for anyone looking to boost overall wellbeing.

As adaptogens help our body to react and respond in a non-specific way they can help boost immunity, boost energy, calm digestive disorders, manage weight and encourage balanced mood.

The form in which to take adaptogenic herbs and foods depends on the nature of the herb or food, but also the dosage you’re looking for. Some can be used as you might use other culinary herbs. The prime example here is, of course, holy basil which can be used as a part of a nutritious salad or mixed with its sweeter cousin, sweet basil, to form a pesto. Most adaptogens are likely to be in the form of capsules or tinctures, whilst some come in powder form and can be sprinkled over food or in dried form and be infused as teas. Tinctures and capsules are most likely to provide a higher dosage of the adaptogenic herb.

6 top adaptogens

1. Turmeric – Scientists in India found that turmeric helped the body stay healthy, based on numerous metrics such as weight, blood pressure, immunity and inflammation, whilst under stress. It is believed that turmeric has the ability to support the body’s innate antioxidant function, so decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity, as well as helping the body to maintain healthy levels of stress hormone production.

2. Maca – This is actually a member of the cruciferous family i.e. linked to cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. This is a powerhouse of nutrients containing seven essential amino acids and lots of fibre. It has been found to be a great use when trying to balance sex hormone levels and is also known to boost libido. Maca powder can be added to smoothies, porridge, breakfast bowls and home bakes.

3. Liquorice root – Modern living places a lot of strain on our adrenal glands. Liquorice root has been found to help regulate cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. In fact, chewing on liquorice root can serve two purposes because whilst it is giving our adrenals a break it can also distract from the state of anxiety by providing something to hold and chew. Liquorice can also be enjoyed as a tea by infusing the shredded or powered root in boiling water.

4. Mushrooms – such as reishi, cordyceps and chaga help to support the immune system, especially during times of stress. Reishi and chaga are immune-modulating, which means that they contain substances that help to promote the production of immune cells to prevent disease. Dried, powdered mushrooms can be consumed by making a tea infusion, or adding to hot chocolate.

5. Astragalus – This is great for boosting the immune system especially during the cold, cough and flu season. As well as being infused in boiling water and enjoyed as a tea infusion, astragalus can both be added to the pot as rice and/or quinoa are steamed.

6. Holy Basil – Also known as Tulsi, this is actually from the mint family. It is shown to help manage the stress response and improve symptoms of anxiety. It can be added to soups and stir-fries towards the end of cooking and has a peppery taste. It combines really well with liquorice as a tea infusion.

Jenny Tschiesche BSc(Hons) Dip(ION) FdSc BANT is consultant nutritionist to Indigo Herbs (www.indigo-herbs.co.uk)

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