6 Top Herbal Adaptogens

Did you know that ginseng is just one of a class of herbal remedies called adaptogens? Here’s an introduction to adaptogens, with more information about the specific effects and uses of each.

| June/July 2008

Adaptogen Ginseng

Ginseng’s Latin name, Panex, comes from the same Greek root as the word “pancea,” meaning all-healing — and that’s not much of an exaggeration.

Photo by iStockphoto/Chen Chih-Wen

Sixteen years ago, Patricia L. Gerbarg, a Kingston, N.Y., psychiatrist, contracted Lyme disease. But as sometimes happens, her blood tests were negative, so the condition was not diagnosed for five years. By that time, she had severe chronic fatigue, painful joints, muscle weakness, balance problems, memory loss and impaired mental function. After her diagnosis, Gerbarg took antibiotics for nine months. “They helped, but I still felt weak, low in energy and mentally fuzzy.”

Then her husband, Richard Brown, a psychopharmacologist at Columbia University, learned of a Russian herb, Rhodiola rosea, which purportedly strengthened the whole body. He thought it might help — and it did. “Within 10 days,” Gerbarg recalls, “I felt better. After three months, my energy, memory and mental function were restored.”

Rhodiola and several other herbal remedies are called “adaptogens.” The term was coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist, N.V. Lazarev, who was interested in substances that helped the body adapt to physical and emotional stress. Lazarev thought that adaptogens should:

  • Produce a nonspecific (total body) response that increases resistance against harm from physical and emotional stress (disease, anxiety, etc.)
  • Have a normalizing effect, improving the function of many body systems
  • Be nontoxic, causing no significant side effects

Since that time, the term adaptogen has been generalized to include herbal remedies that don’t necessarily boost energy or counteract stress, but still have a number of benefits including enhanced immune function, antioxidant action and physiological normalization. Unfortunately, in Western medicine the concept of adaptogens is still not widely known, and the idea remains controversial. “In the West, we’re not used to the idea that one drug — or herb — can have a broad range of physical and mental health benefits,” Gerbarg explains. But when you consider that stress has been linked to a host of other disorders, including depression, heart attacks, hypertension and increased susceptibility to infection, it’s easy to understand how one herb can have an all-encompassing, tonic effect.

For example, ginseng, another adaptogen, not only reduces stress-related hormones, but research shows it also improves stamina and relieves fatigue. Eleuthero, often called Siberian ginseng, improves stamina and enhances immune function, as do reishi mushrooms — another adaptogenic remedy. Ashwagandha, an Indian plant, helps decrease damage caused by stress, and reduces cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Schisandra berries can improve memory and aid digestion.

The dosage recommendations throughout this article assume you’re using typical extracts and formulations. When using a commercial product, follow the directions specified on the package. Adaptogens are meant to be taken as tonics, that is, over the long haul for the good of the whole body. For maximum benefit, adaptogens are often taken for at least three months, and while most people can take them daily without side effects, this isn’t true for everyone. If you experience any unusual symptoms while taking adaptogens, discontinue use or consult a knowledgeable health professional. To treat a specific condition, it’s also wise to consult an herbal professional.

10/11/2017 3:38:15 AM

how can you combine these into a master plan? They never say how you can use these and which you could use when cycling off others?

10/11/2017 3:38:02 AM


10/11/2017 3:38:00 AM


4/29/2016 3:56:20 AM

Is there a company that produces a capsule with all 6 top adaptogens in them? A company that has done a good job of using non GMO, organic herbs. Also one that has no stearates in the product. Anyone know of where to get these adaptogens all in one capsule? Tx.

6/21/2015 11:23:27 PM

I am most interested in healthy immune system as I am diagnosed with sjogrens syndrome I am looking for natural ways to improve I have joint pain as well as dry mouth. thanks Serena

4/25/2015 4:22:38 AM

The best part of herbal tonics are that they are both cure and best for precautions with least of least to no side effects. Have Tayyebi Shahi every morning and see the positive changes in you. Mase from all natural herbs. http://www.tayyebi.com.pk

4/25/2015 4:19:37 AM

The best part of herbal tonics are that they are both cure and best for precautions with least of least to no side effects. Have Tayyebi Shahi every morning and see the positive changes in you. Mase from all natural herbs. http://www.tayyebi.com.pk

6/2/2013 8:24:38 PM

What a fabulous post. And here I thought I knew most of my tonics. Rhodiola is a new one to me. It sounds like a wonderful medicinal. I might also make a great herbal non-alcoholic martini such as ALTAR. I will have to make a suggestion for a new curation on their site which is http://www.altarco.com/the-altar-story/the-art-of-the-herbal-martini/ Please forgive me if you consider the link spam, for that is not my intention.

I would love to get some feedback for any ideas that you may have for other herbal non-alcohol martini curations. Thanks

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