Adaptogens – Support for Stress and Anxiety part 1

Balance and support
Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Adaptogens refer to a group of herbs, roots, and mushrooms which have been used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to promote wellness.  The term adaptogen indicates their primary usage — they help the body adapt to psychological, physical, and environmental stress through a nonspecific resistance.  In general, adaptogens are known to promote relaxation, relieve fatigue, and reduce the effects of stress on the body while improving memory, cognitive function, and focus.  They are also known to possess anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties.

Panax ginseng is the most commonly known adaptogen, but ginseng is considered a stimulant while the others are not.  Some others include Ashwagandha, Holy Basil (aka Tulsi), Eleuthero (aka Siberian ginseng), Astragalus, Rhodiola, Cordyceps, and Reishi mushrooms.  Adaptogens have a synergistic effect and are often combined to maximize effectiveness, but they are also used alone.

I use two of these regularly,  Ashwagandha and Holy Basil, and they are the ones I am writing about here.  Rhodiola sounds like something I could benefit from and will likely be my next purchase, so I will write about that when I have more information.  I like try something and monitor it’s effects for a while before I start mixing and matching…this makes sense for various reasons, so please keep that in mind.


I’ve been using ashwagandha regularly for about six months now, and I’d hate to use the term “life-changing,” but it seems to make a big difference for me.  It really helps with managing stress and keeps my anxiety in check (usually).  Since I already wrote about it in this post, I won’t go into details here.  Unlike most adaptogens, which may take some time reach peak effectiveness, I’ve found that ashwagandha worked the very first time I tried it.  I freely admit that it’s right up there with coffee and water on the list of things I’d rather not be without.

I purchase dried root and make it into a decoction using 1 tablespoon to 3 cups of water.  After simmering for 20 minutes, I add a fruity herbal tea (Celestial Seasonings Black Cherry Berry is my favorite) and let the whole thing cool.  I sweeten with stevia, keep it in a glass jar and prefer to drink it cold or room temp.  You can buy ashwagandha capsules and extract in health food stores or online.  You can also make your own tincture using powdered root.

I should add that some sources suggest taking ashwagandha for a restful sleep, but that doesn’t work for me.  I find it to be too energizing, so I avoid it near bedtime.

Holy Basil – “Liquid Yoga”

Yes, I said liquid yoga!  These are not my words, they are from an article in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, which can be found on the National Institutes of Health website.

Regular consumption of tulsi tea may be compared with the regular practice of yoga, which can be considered “adaptogenic” through nurturing and nourishing the body — mind — spirit while fostering a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

Pretty substantial claim, considering the mountains of research supporting yoga’s positive effects on our health and well-being.  It’s worth noting that the author is a consultant to a company which manufactures tulsi products, but that doesn’t necessarily negate his claims.  The article is worth reading, and a good starting point for further research.

Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum L. or Ocimum sanctum L., is commonly known as Tulsi.  It is native to India and considered sacred in Hindu mythology, as it is believed to be the earthly incarnation of the goddess Tulsi.  Holy basil is a member of the Lamiaceae family of plants (mint) and is related to all of the basils you know and love.  They cannot be used interchangeably however, holy basil has a number of unique properties which are not found in other basils.

Medicinally, holy basil is used for a variety of ailments, but I’ll stay focused on stress and anxiety here.  Clinical research shows holy basil extract to be effective at reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety including headaches, GI disturbances, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction of recent origin.  What caught my attention was that it showed a two-thirds decrease in stress-induced forgetfulness after 6 weeks when compared to the placebo group.  Another study demonstrates holy basil’s effectiveness on reducing noise-induced stress in rats…a bonus considering my noisy neighbors and excellent hearing!

tea cup on a rainy day
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I make tea with my holy basil, and that’s the traditional way of consuming it.  It has a spicy flavor and aroma reminiscent of clove.  I like to toss in some cinnamon or fresh ginger because the flavors blend well together, but it’s delicious on its own.  I use 1 tsp. of dried Rama Holy Basil leaf to 1 cup of water.  I also have a tincture steeping.

Liquid yoga?  It does seem to help me maintain a calmer disposition, yet I’m able to remain focused and motivated.  Things don’t bother me as much.  While I drink the tea often, I don’t drink it regularly, so I’m not sure if I am experiencing it’s full effects.  I’ve been making it a point to have at least a cup a day, so we’ll see in a few weeks…

While Holy Basil is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, it is not safe for everyone.  It should be avoided if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.  It may also interfere with conception by decreasing sperm count and motility, although this is reversible.  It can cause prolonged bleeding time, so people taking blood thinners or planning a surgical procedure should definitely talk to their doctor before use.

Holy Basil is also known to for its effects on blood sugar, and may induce hypoglycemia.  This is important for both diabetics and for people who tend to not eat when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.  You really don’t want to make yourself feel worse, so it’s important to pay attention to your body.

And I know it’s easier said than done, but please remember to eat something when you’re stressed…you’re not yourself when you’re hungry! 🙂 It really might make a difference!


Featured Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash







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