Adaptogens: What Are They and Why You Need Them Now

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

We all know the daily effects of stress: trouble sleeping, reaching for refined sugar or another cup of coffee to keep us going. But maybe there’s a greener, cleaner way? We investigate the concept of adaptogens – plants and herbs that could naturally reduce stress levels and tell you how to incorporate them into your everyday routine.

Stress is something most of us have to learn how to handle in our lives: from work to family, we all have things to deal with. Long-term, though, the effects of not dealing with everyday stress in a healthy way can start to negatively impact our overall physical and mental health.

Why? Because when our bodies are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol raises blood pressure, produces glucose, and is meant to deliver a rare, one-off shot of energy: an evolutionary tactic that was useful when humans were reacting to dangerous, life-threatening situations millions of years ago.

In modern life, we rarely face life-or-death situations, and the effects of cortisol can quickly wear us down. Just as the effects of stress are cumulative, the effects of feeding your body natural, healthy things can be too. We’ve done the research for you and picked out some healing herbs known for their long-term calming, balancing properties – which can also be easily incorporated into your day.


Holy basil is a mainstay in Thai recipes, imparting a clove-like, peppery taste. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, it’s used to tackle stress and anxiety, and is considered a sacred plant by Hindus. You can pick a bunch up at your local market, and it makes for an amazing curry – but it is also ideal for infusing into a soothing, warming tea while seated at your desk.


Turmeric is a medicinal herb which has been added to food and drink for thousands of years. Native to India, it contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps protect your heart’s health. You can find it in health food stores as a supplement; or try making yourself a nourishing daal and add a generous helping of this beautiful, marigold-orange herb.


Aloe Vera can be found in health stores and supermarkets in bottles as a juice drink, as well as smoothed as a gel on to burnt or troubled, acne-prone skin. Placing a plant in your bedroom or kitchen not only helps oxygenate your environment, but means you have a ready supply of this cooling, anti-inflammatory plant.


Instead of turning to caffeine for a pick-me-up, try ginseng, an ancient Asian root plant which is thought to balance our adrenal glands and manage cortisol release, creating more natural, balanced high energy levels. It’s also praised for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties – look out for it in skincare ingredient lists and as an over-the-counter supplement.


Also known as Winter Cherry, Ashwagandha is an Indian plant that is thought to be helpful as a stress-busting anti-depressant. Try picking some up the next time you pass a health food store – it’s readily available as a powder which you can sprinkle over your morning cereal or stir into a smoothie.