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What are Adaptogen Herbs?

Adaptogen herbs treat stress, anxiety, and help the body remain in equilibrium. They build up the immune system and are preventative remedies.

Adaptogen Herbs including nerviness and nootropics Ashwagandha, tulsi, licorice, chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary

I live in New York City which is fast paced and stress and anxiety can be found around any corner with sirens, crowds of people, cars honking, subway delays, crime, etc. This drew me to study herbs and apprentice at New York City's Flower Power Herbs and Roots as a way to understand how to naturally deal with stress and anxiety. The National Institute of mental health states that stress and anxiety is normally treated with medication and or psychotherapy. The medications include benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and beta-blockers none of which are not a cures as they only treat symptoms. Medications are prescribed by doctor and may have side effects such as, building up a tolerance and dependency and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

During my studies, I was most drawn to herbs that (see list below) treat stress, anxiety, and help the body remain in equilibrium. These herbs are known as Adaptogens which help the body deal with different types of stress including, emotional, physical, and environmental. They have immune building properties and are more preventative than curative.

Adaptogenic herbs are not actively discussed in popular media because they are preventative remedies and preventative is invisible. Invisible meaning that it prevents the dis-ease in the body that causes the state of imbalance.

What are Adaptogen Herbs?

Adaptogens are natural substances (herbs and botanicals) that help the body adapt to stress, increase the body's resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors, and they provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress.

The formal and simple definition of adaptogens is that they are relatively nontoxic, produce a nonspecific defense to stress, and have a normalizing influence on the body.
  • Nontoxic means they cause minimal side effects on physical and mental health.

  • Nonspecific defense to stress means it builds adaptive energy to keep the body balanced as it faces daily stressors.

  • Normalizing influence means it enhances the body's natural balance by helping to return to a natural state. Adaptogens are able to influence the body in a calming or energizing way, depending on what the body needs. This is known as a bidirectional effect.

Whole Plant vs Individual Constituents

I am drawn to adaptogen herbs because they are the whole plant versus individual constituents. An example of an individual constituent you may have heard of are flavonoids, found in fruits, vegetables, and Tulsi. Even though the constituents are considered the active ingredient by drug makers, each plant has dozens or even hundreds of constituents that work together as a microscopic army to build up the body's defense system. If the active constituent is isolated then it is working alone on the body without its "army" that helps it to prevent adverse effects (aka side effects) on the body as a whole.

Types of Adaptogens

There are well-researched adaptogens, probable adaptogens, and possible adaptogens. There are also complimentary herbs for adaptogens including nervines and nootropics that work synergistically to combat stress and anxiety.

Personal Apothecary

The herbs below are the ones that I like and keep stocked in my personal apothecary. You can find most of them at your local grocery store, health food store, or herb shop.

Well-researched adaptogen

Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera - I include this herb in many of my herbal blends. The flavor is light and pleasant and mixes well with many herbs. It is one adaptogen that is well researched and officially classified as an adaptogen herb. It is calming and helps to regulate the thyroid and adrenal glands. It works to relieve anxiety, fatigue, and nervousness. I also like the alcohol tincture and the glycerite both are pleasant tasting and a great addition to your medicine cabinet.

Probable adaptogen

Holy Basil (aka Tulsi) – Ocimum tenuiflorum (Rama), sanctum (Krishna), and gratissimum (Vana). I love all three and usually have at least two on hand. Rama is cooling and mellow, Krishna is crisp and peppery and Vana is floral and fragrant. The herb can enhance immune function and relieve anxiety while promoting cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and decision making.

Possible adaptogen

Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra – this herb is SUPER sweet and a little goes a long way. It is typically used in formulas for coughs and respiratory issues. It is an antiviral and anti-inflammatory. It also works well as a sweetener of bitter herbs and to mellow spicy herbs like ginger.


Nervines are calming herbs that help restore emotional balance and nourish the nervous system. They help to relieve stress and anxiety. Both of the herbs below are gentle enough for children.

Chamomile – Matricaria recutita – is sweet yet slightly bitter. It is one of the most popular herbs used as tea and most people already know it and have it on hand. It provides relief to anxiety, upset stomach, and insomnia.

Lemon Balm – Melissa officinalis – smells lemony and minty and is on the sweet side. It helps to improve mood, promote better sleep, and it also has antiviral properties. This herb blends well with the others.


Nootropics enhance memory and improve mood. These are the herbs known as smart drugs.

Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia and latifolia – this is a well-known herb used as medicine and in perfumes. It is calming to the mind and gut. It promotes restful sleep and prevents night-time waking.

Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – this is a well known culinary herbal spice and it also used as medicine. It is used to treat cloudy thinking and reduce anxiety.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, by David Winston with Steven Maimes (pictured above). Most of the information in this blog post is attributed to it. It goes into detail on all the herbs above plus many others. It is a great addition to any herbal reference library.


Daytime Infusion Blend Recipe

Ashwagandha 2 parts

Holy Basil 1 part

Lemon Balm ½ part

Licorice ¼ part

Nighttime Infusion Blend Recipes

Ashwagandha 2 parts

Chamomile 1 part

Lemon Balm ½ part

Lavendar ¼ part


  1. Anxiety Disorders, The National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders#part_2225

  2. David Winston with Steven Maimes, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief

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