Do you remember that movie Limitless? Lest we forget, Bradley Cooper was in it. If you missed it, blasphemy! The movie was about Bradley stumbling upon a pill that gave him sharp mental acuity, stamina and strength - how nice would that be! To find something that would allow you to function at your highest, most super human form.
In fact, you guys, I've felt that. On certain days and with certain herbs, I can feel my life's force. Introducing: Adadptogens.
I just recently moved to Soho-Chinatown-ish and from Mulberry and Kenmare down to Canal, I am always astounded by how many 80+ year old residents walk the streets with resilience, alertness and strength, sometimes with more outward and projected energy than I! What lines the streets too are markets and vendors selling herbs, mushrooms, and plants which I have come to know as many being adaptogenic.
What places like China and India have known for thousands of years is the power of plants and a specific class of them known as adaptogens, that have been proven to support strength, endurance, energy and mental stamina.
Adaptogens were first brought to ‘the west’ via scientific studies done by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They were looking for solutions to help further their citizens, soldiers, athletes and cosmonauts, the best, smartest, strongest, most resilient and energetic population - they subsequently borrowed from the east, herbs and plants that did in fact better their subjects; “The USSR wanted plants that would help soldiers endure nights of frostbite and high elevations in Afghanistan. The Russians found [herbs that] helped soldiers stay alert and energized during sleep-deprivation tests, and that put cosmonauts at the Russian space station in a better mood after weeks of cramped living. As for their athletes, the Russians tested [adaptogens] on nearly every type of Olympian, claiming it increased endurance and reduced recovery time. Near the end of their races, when exhaustion would normally have set in, Russian biathletes could shoot their targets without their arms quaking as they raised their guns" (National Geographic).
In studying classic adaptogens such as ginseng, Russian scientists came to find that this class of, yes legal and those that sometimes grow as far as your own backyard, plants did in fact, “increase people’s ability to take in oxygen, they increased the amount of energy cells were making, they increased immunity enormously so people rarely fell sick and could work long hours, and adaptogens helped people live long lives very healthfully. The real history of adaptogens however, really goes back perhaps even 6000 years ago, in China” (Susun Weed).
What Qualifies a Plant Adaptogenic?
China, Russia, Cold War ah! If this all sounds rather unapproachable, let me break it down for you because this class of plants are pure and utter gold. Just recently, I survived a week long work summit with energy and mental alertness via Eleuthero also known as Siberian Ginseng.
So what are adaptogens? According to one of my favorite herbalists, Susun Weed, there are three things that characterize a plant an adaptogen, adaptogens are:
Non-toxic in the sense that as much as you eat or drink, the build up of adaptogenic herbs in your body will not cause toxic harm. Normalizing in the sense that, this class of plants will help bring your body back to homeostasis and balance. And finally non-specific, in the sense that an adaptogenic plant won’t have a specific action when it enters your body, rather it will more generally support, “all major systems, such as the nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system, as well as regulating functions such as blood sugar" (Mother Earth Works). For example, “if you take an adaptogen and your blood pressure is high, it can bring your blood pressure down and if your blood pressure is low, it can bring your blood pressure up” (Susun Weed). Adaptogens enter your body and assess what needs to be done to bring your body back to balance - smart plants!
Start asking questions and investigating how to better your body and mind and you will come across adaptogens that include ginseng, ashwagandha, lemon balm, holy basil, rhodiola, schizandra, astragalus, nettles, eleuthero, and so on.
What Do Adaptogens Do?
Stress is everywhere, at work, at home, in your head and even everyday toiletries, perfumes, creams and so on can stress your body to the point of sickness. Adaptogens are, “plants that produce special substances originally intended to help them adapt to stressors in their own environments. They work by normalizing the body’s functions under stress. Research has shown, taking them can improve mental and physical performance while reducing fatigue” (Isagenix).
Adaptogens help you adapt to stress around you and within - and you will show up in the world resilient and energetic. Imagine actually having clarity, energy, and strength during your after lunch, 3pm work meetings. “Adaptogens are great for helping us not react to stress in stressed ways. Generally when we are stressed our adrenals make cortisol and other hormones that narrow down the blood vessels and drive up blood pressure” (Susun Weed). Most of us are chronically stressed and so cortisol is eminent throughout our bodies, unfortunately this, “really sets the stage for heart disease and stroke. Adaptogens help us adapt whenever we are stressed and for most of us that is all the time, so that we do not make cortisol - we don't have that hormone of stress flooding our body” (Susun Weed). Adaptogens not only have an effect on our hormonal system however, they beneficially support other major systems in our body like our nervous, respiratory, sexual, digestive, circulatory and immune systems to the point one can feel markedly different on a regime of these to me delicious, gleaming plants and herbs.
It’s time to connect with plants once more, especially as we age and that is every second. I look forward to filling you in on what I find through my new found love of studying herbalism and plant medicine.
(Always consult your doctor or qualified medical provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any suggested diets, exercises or other health related programs, especially if you have a medical condition)