If you read any wellness blogs or magazines, you’ve no doubt been hearing a lot about the “so hot right now” world of adaptogens. Like many contemporary wellness trends, the adaptogen craze is actually a rediscovery of a tradition that’s been around for millennia.
It may have stared a few thousand years ago in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet, when local herdsmen noticed the unusual vitality of their yaks grazing on cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), a rare and exotic mushroom.
In all corners of the world, each and every traditional culture has discovered and popularised their own versions of this very ancient form of herbal medicine. So, one thing’s for sure, these remedies have stood the test of time.
All adaptogens have been renowned as ‘wonder drugs’, prized for their ability to re-balance the body and cure a wide range of ailments. The adapt in adaptogen is a reference to the reputed malleability of theses remedies. Rather than have a specific realm of action, these herbs are all-rounders.
A few things have changed from a few thousand years ago:
Firstly, we now have a more detailed understanding of the body’s complex response to stress and, in particular, the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal axis which is the dynamic interweaving of our endocrine and central nervous systems. It appears that adaptogens do their heavy lifting in regulating our body’s response to stress and explains why they can have different effects on different people depending on their need. For example, they can both calm a stressed out nervous system and rejuvenate a worn out one depending on the body’s need at the time.
Secondly, we have extraordinary access to different adaptogens from all over the world: from the rare Himalayan mushrooms like cordyceps to herbs traditionally reserved for royalty like lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) and ginseng (Panax ginseng). Whilst in ancient times emperors may have sent thousands of their best soldiers to forage in the wild for one of these wonder herbs, we can now grab them online or down at your local health food shop. You can even buy hot chocolate and coffee blends with adaptogens.
And finally, we’re gathering some seriously impressive research data that show these ancient herbalists knew when they were on to a good thing. From the Russian researchers that were so impressed by eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) they sent it to space with their astronauts to studies showing the tumor shrinking ability of shitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes). Whilst some wellness fads are no more than hype, I’ve got a feeling that the buzz about adaptogens is here to stay. Mushroom coffee anyone? As with all herbal medicines, to get the most benefit I would recommend working with a trusted health professional of your choice like a naturopath or herbalist to ensure you get the right herbs for your individual needs.