What are Adaptogens? A Brief Guide + DIY Adaptogenic Tonic

Dr. Josh Axe Contributes to Vitacost Blog | Vitacost.com/blog

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It’s no secret that modern-day life comes with plenty of stress. Stress about work, stress about the kids and pets, stress about time and how to make it all work – it’s not uncommon to experience some type of stress every day. And guess what this is doing to your body? In a nutshell, it’s hindering your body’s ability to function properly.

Introducing adaptogens. These therapeutic plants work to help our bodies deal with stress and improve symptoms that come from chronic increased cortisol levels. Adaptogen herbs have been used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, and researchers today are just scratching the surface of understanding their amazing mechanisms and benefits.

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What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that modify the body’s response to stress. They increase our ability to adapt and survive when faced with environmental factors or stressors that can cause damage to the body.

Who can benefit from adaptogens? People who are dealing with stress on a daily basis can certainly benefit from adaptogen herbs. Your body reacts to stressors by increasing adrenaline and cortisol levels, which causes the “fight or flight” response that enabled our ancestors to survive in dangerous situations. This response causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. And when you are dealing with stress regularly, it can begin to burn out your adrenal glands, weaken your immune function, alter your digestion and cause you to age more rapidly.

It’s true that chronic stress is killing your quality of life by altering the proper function of many body systems. That’s where adaptogens come into play. They help to naturally relieve stress and reduce the risk long-term cortisol levels.

5 Best Adaptogens & Their Benefits  

1. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been used as an adaptogenic herb in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 2,500 years. Of all adaptogen herbs, ashwagandha is the most commonly used and extensively researched. Traditionally, it’s been revered for its ability to relieve stress naturally, support immune function and enhance your stamina.

There are several human studies that highlight stress-related ashwagandha benefits, including a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Sixty four participants with a history of chronic stress were randomized to the placebo control group or the treatment group that received two 300-milligram ashwagandha root capsules twice daily for 60 days. At the end of the 60-day period, those in the treatment group exhibited a significant reduction in stress-assessment scores compared to those in the placebo group. Participants taking ashwagandha also displayed substantially reduced serum cortisol levels, suggesting that the herb effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress. (1)

2. Panax ginseng

Panax ginseng is one of the most well-known oriental medicinal and adaptogen herbs. It’s used to induce a sense of calmness and research indicates that it may even improve aspects of working memory performance. Ginseng is also valued for its role in helping to maintain homeostasis of the immune system and enhancing our resistance to illness or microbial attacks. (2)

In terms of ginseng working as an adaptogenic herb, research suggests that it increases our resistance to stress and aging, enhances our physical performance (including sexual performance) and promotes vitality. Researchers believe that these ginseng benefits may be due to its ability to elevate plasma levels of corticotropin and corticosteroid levels, which are hormones that have various metabolic functions and anti-inflammatory effects. (3)

3. Astragalus root

Astragalus root is an adaptogen herb that’s used in Chinese medicine as a tonic to treat a wide variety of disorders and help the body to respond to stress properly. Pharmacological research indicates that astragalus root has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunoregulatory and liver-protecting effects. 

According to a scientific review published in Aging and Disease, astragalus is one of the most important Qi tonifying adaptogens, which means that it enhances what’s believed to be our energy force in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s valued for its potential as a healing agent in aging and age-related diseases, and it works to improve the function of our immune, metabolic and respiratory systems. (4)

4. Holy Basil

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have used holy basil, or tulsi, to treat a number of health concerns, including infections, the common cold and disorders affecting the liver.

According to research published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil has the power to address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions. It protects our organs and tissues against chemical stress from pollutants, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion and restraint. (5)

Within Ayurveda, it’s known as “The Incomparable One” and “The Queen of Herbs” because it’s used as a tonic for the body, mind and spirit – offering solutions to many of our modern-day health concerns.

5. Rhodiola

For centuries, rhodiola has been part of traditional medicine systems in parts of Europe, Asia and Russia. It’s known to have a normalizing physiologic influence, helping the body to deal with stressors, while enhancing physical and mental performance, fighting fatigue and alleviating mood disorders like depression. (6)

A recent review published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice found that rhodiola influences the release of stress hormones while boosting energy metabolism. This make rhodiola an effective treatment for stress symptoms and suggests that it can help to prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications. (7)

DIY Adaptogen Tonic

This adaptogen tonic has healing, restorative and stimulating properties. It’s meant to promote well-being and help your body to deal with everyday stressors. Many adaptogenic herbs come in powdered form and can be used to make a tonic. Here’s an easy DIY adaptogen tonic that can be consumed to strengthen your immune system, aid digestion, nourish your organs and fight stress.


1 tsp. ashwagandha root powder
2 drops ginger essential oil
2 drops turmeric essential oil
½ tsp. of cardamom
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup water
1 tsp. honey


1. In small saucepan over medium heat, combine water and coconut oil.

2. Stir until warm, then add remaining ingredients.

3. Pour the tonic into a mug and enjoy.  

(Note: You can add in more honey for sweetness, if needed, and use any type of dairy-free milk, including almond milk or cashew milk.)

If you’re feeling the negative effects of stress on your body, you’re not alone. Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system, digestive issues, skin problems and high blood pressure. To help your body deal with stress and reverse the damage that it has caused, try using adaptogen herbs. These healing herbs have been used for medicine for thousands of years for their anti-aging and vitalizing properties.

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.