There are many wonderful Ayurvedic herbs revered for their nourishing effect on the body and mind. There is an entire branch of the tradition called rasayana dedicated to practices and herbs which counter the ageing effects from life’s challenges. The healing interaction between herbs and people has long been recognised as a means to feeling happier and healthier!
Ayurveda recognised these herbs as panaceas, promoting longevity and health into old age. Several of these can also be understood by their adaptogen properties - plants found growing in often inhospitable conditions which have adapted to survive and thrive. When we eat these superfoods or herbal allies, they build our own adaptive responses and our resistance to stressors - be they environmental or internal.
Generally, adaptogens are defined as:
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “fight or flight”. This describes a Sympathetic Nervous System response to a perceived threat which triggers the release of hormones and physical and emotional responses to the danger. These responses prime us to take action and might just save our lives.
The problem is when those feelings of urgency and hyper-vigilance don’t subside, the continuous high level of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol starts to impact our health. The body is constantly on short term survival mode rather than supporting health for longevity. Effects can include physical and mental exhaustion, weight gain, poor digestive function, low immunity, chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances. Long-term stress also impacts our emotional well-being – including difficulty making decisions, over thinking, feelings of vulnerability and anxiety which further deplete our energy resources.
Adaptogens help break this cycle of stress through their action on hormones and the endocrine system, specifically the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands which control our hormonal and physiological responses to stress. These are the systems that are on overdrive when we are pushing ourselves on all fronts.
Herbs with adaptogen properties increase stamina and help the body to adapt to stress rather than react so that a health supporting balance of endocrine hormones can be restored. This responsive quality of adaptogens means they can trigger opposing reactions in order to restore homeostasis.
This is different to herbs such as valerian for example - a useful herb for decreasing anxiety known for its calming and sedative effect. Whereas Brahmi, an adaptogen with an affinity to the brain (and a leaf that resembles one!) can both spark a sharpness and clarity of mind whilst also promoting deep and restful sleep.
You can make adaptogens part of your daily support in lots of different ways - add organic ashwagandha powder to your smoothie or make a warm drink with organic shatavari and your favourite nut milk. In Ayurveda we also recognise the potency of herbs working in synergy - an enhance holistic effect is created with formulas containing several adaptogens with affinity to different areas of the body.
Ashwagandha is probably the most revered and well known of Ayurveda’s adaptogens. Also known as Indian ginseng it promotes energy and stamina. It is considered one of the best herbs for revitalising health and increasing strength whilst also promoting calm, balanced energy and restorative sleep. Rejuvenative for both men and women, it has a particular affinity with the male reproductive system and is especially recommended for balancing Vata.
Brahmi is Ayurveda's favourite herb for the mind to support improved clarity, focus and concentration. It is well loved for its’ joyful effect, uplifting the mind and settling the nervous system.
Tulsi or ‘holy basil’ is revered as a sacred plant in Ayurveda. It has a particular affinity with the respiratory system, clearing congestion and nourishing the lungs. It is also known as a sattvic herb” promoting a loving and compassionate attitude in those who take it.
Shatavari is Ayurveda’s herb of choice for women. Often referred to by its’ translation as “the one with 100 husbands” it promotes stamina and provides nourishment for the reproductive system. Cooling and sattvic in nature its’ also known for calming an overactive mind and enhancing feelings towards love and compassion.
Mucuna, also known as Kapikacchu has an affinity with the nervous system and healthy function of the reproductive system in both men and women. It is a natural source of L-dopa, an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Amalaki or amla is often called “the mother” as it supports both body and mind, whilst protecting immunity. Rich in antioxidants, it is a rasayana tonic, supporting health throughout the body’s organs and systems. It is especially supportive for digestive health, cleansing and promoting healthy tissues within the GI tract and stomach whilst also promoting proper bowel function.
Explore our range of adaptogen powders and herbal tablet formulas