We all go through a certain amount of daily stress, whether it’s a missed deadline, a flat tire, or a hair-pulling conversation. Fortunately for us, our bodies are remarkably talented at overcoming this stress and marching onward. Over time, however, this consistent low-grade stress builds up, causing depression, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, and more.
A class of medicinal herbs called “adaptogens” were discovered in the mid-1940s as being able to help our bodies “adapt” to stress. This relatively safe and nontoxic class of herbs are defined not by their plant family but by their actions, which support the production of stress-related neurotransmitters and hormones to strengthen and tone our nervous system and organs. Many of the plants that are considered adaptogens are also well known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for increasing energy, brain function, and overall vitality. Adaptogens are sometimes called “modulating” because they increase or decrease the function of a particular body system or hormone based on what the body needs (Groves, 2016). For this reason, I picture this smart class of herbs acting as little soldiers that travel though the body assessing the state of things and forming a gentle plan of action that’s specific to each individual.
Clockwise from center top: Ashwaganda, rhodiola, fennel, ginger, cloves, allspice, dried orange peel, cinnamon sticks, licorice, eleuthero (center).
It may be time to integrate adaptogens into your daily herbal routine when stress leaves you feeling burnt out and tired for an extended amount of time. For me, this happens after a stressful deadline when I feel a certain amount of mental fog and overall weariness.
Adaptogens can be either energizing (ginseng, rhodioloa, and eleuthero) or calming (reishi, ashwaganda, holy basil, gotu kola). Please note that ginseng needs to be sourced ethically due to its at-risk status as an over-harvested wild plant. To learn more about adaptogenic herbs and ways to use them, consider reading Agatha Noveille’s book Adaptogens: 75+ Herbal Recipes and Elixirs to Improve Your Skin, Mood, Energy, Focus, and More.
The Adaptogenic Chai Recipe, below, blends energizing rhodiola and eleuthero with calming ashwaganda and traditional chai spices for a delicious and well-balanced blend.
In herbal formulations, a “part” is a self-determined measurement. It could be 1 tablespoon, 1 cup, or any other amount that you determine based on the yield that you’d like and how much of the ingredients you have on hand.
Directions: Combine all herbs except the fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, and loose leaf black tea. Mix well, then package, label, and store in a cool dark place. To use, add ¼ cup chai blend, freshly chopped ginger, and 1 cinnamon stick to a stockpot and cover with 1 quart distilled water. (For a smaller batch, use 1 teaspoon of herbs per cup of water.) Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 45 minutes. For a caffeinated chai, add 2 parts loose leaf black tea when the decoction is finished and then let steep for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Strain, return to stock pot, and add cream or nut milk to taste.
Because my partner and I drink this chai every morning as a coffee replacement, I decoct 2 quarts at a time (without loose leaf tea), and then refrigerate. Each morning, I bring our daily portion to a simmer then remove from heat, add loose leaf black tea, and let steep 3 to 5 minutes before straining and adding local, organic cream to taste.
For a calming twist, leave out the black tea and instead add 1 dropperful of kava-kava tincture to each person’s cup. In fact, this soothing beverage is so wonderful at calming nerves and encouraging peaceful discourse that I plan on bringing 2 quarts of kava-infused chai to my family’s holiday gatherings, where political conversations tend to disrupt the otherwise good vibes.