Medicinal plants can provide a natural aid for wellness.
By Sharael Kolberg
Adaptogens, which are plants, herbs and mushrooms, are used to help the body adapt to stress in an effort to regulate bodily functions. From ginseng, ashwagandha and holy basil to cordyceps mushrooms, astragalus root and a Peruvian root called maca, these natural remedies are said to improve overall wellbeing, as well as address specific concerns.
Benefits of adaptogens may include increased cognitive function, reduced fatigue, boosted immune system and minimized anxiety. And it’s easier than ever to take advantage of adaptogen ingredients, as they are springing up in lattes and other drinks and dishes all over town.
The main health benefit of adaptogens is to help the body achieve and maintain homeostasis—stability of bodily functions. Depending on what your body is lacking or overproducing, the right adaptogen can bring your body back into balance.
For example, if you have too many free radicals in your system (caused by things such as stress, air pollutants or cigarette smoke), which can lead to damaged cells, adaptogens such as bacopa monnieri can help neutralize free radicals. Adaptogens can also stabilize cortisol levels, which can lead to improved healing, better ability to concentrate, lower blood pressure, increased energy and a boost in mood.
“In traditional Chinese medicine, there are a number of herbs and herbal formulas that are used as adaptogens, but not all adaptogens work the same way,” says Andrew Houn, of Beyond Acupuncture in Newport Beach, who has master’s and doctorate degrees in acupuncture with a specialization in herbal medicine. “They can be stimulating, calming, healing or cooling. The benefits are numerous. Consulting with a licensed acupuncturist to get an individualized herbal formula is the best way to get what you specifically need.”
Adaptogens are also nontoxic and do not typically have negative side effects. If you’re looking to improve a specific area of your health or just want better overall well-being, adaptogens can be a good source to achieve your physical and mental health goals.
How to Choose
There are reportedly nearly 70 adaptogens that provide herbal remedies for a variety of health concerns, from memory loss or inflammation to high cholesterol or anemia. Many of them have been used for thousands of years in parts of Asia and India, as part of holistic practices and Ayurvedic medicine.
In the U.S., however, they are considered to be a supplement and are therefore not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. They are not a cure, but are to be used as part of a balanced diet and fitness regime. Some adaptogens can interfere with certain medicines, so be sure to check with your health care provider before incorporating them into your diet.
“Adaptogens can help the body recoup energy, fight fatigue, deal with stress, restore physiological functions and provide metabolic support, but selecting which ones to take varies greatly based on a person’s symptoms and organ involvement,” says Dr. Joseph Dubroff, a naturopathic doctor at Holistic Solutions, with an office in Newport Beach. “Ginseng is used for adrenal tonics, ashwagandha is for a combination of lesser adrenal, thyroid and immune function, hawthorn is good for the heart [and] bacopa helps brain function. It is best to talk with a licensed naturopathic doctor to determine what will best treat your specific symptoms.”
Researching the healing properties of adaptogens can help you determine which ones to incorporate into your diet to address your health issues. If you are battling fatigue, you might consider incorporating ginseng, reishi or rhodiola. Suffering from anxiety? Try taking ashwagandha, Gynostemma pentaphyllum (also called jiaogulan) or holy basil.
For increased mental performance, add goji berry, schisandra berry or eleuthero root to your diet. These herbal supplements are not meant to be taken for long periods of time, but rather for short durations of up to three months—or six months, according to the Cleveland Clinic—otherwise they can become ineffective as your body can build up a resistance.
Taking too many adaptogens, taking them in high doses or for a long period, and interactions with prescribed medications can lead to side effects like upset stomach, headache, dry mouth, drowsiness, insomnia or high blood pressure, so it’s best to ask a health care provider for guidance.
Where to Find Them
Adaptogens can be taken in the form of a capsule, tea, tinctures or mixed into drinks and dishes. Next time you’re at your favorite eatery in Newport, scan the menu for a drink or dish that has added adaptogens for something that not only tastes good, but is good for you.
An Adaptogen Latte is on the menu at Malibu Farm in Lido Marina Village. This herbal superfood blend incorporates cacao, reishi, maca root (increases strength and stamina, and boosts sex drive), ashwagandha (fights depression and is anti-arthritic), shatavari (improves fertility), schisandra (may reduce stress, anxiety, depression and menopause symptoms, protect against liver damage and help fight effects of Alzheimer’s disease), and goji berry with honey and steamed milk.
At Thrive Juice Lab near UC Irvine, adaptogen boosts such as antioxidant-rich goji berries, which can improve immunity, may be added to smoothies and acai bowls. Other options are adaptogen mushroom blends like the Mushroom Mocha, a super antioxidant that provides immune support and can increase brain function.
“It’s really good to include things like this for your immunity, especially since people are getting sick this time of year,” says Aileen Morga, general manager at Thrive Juice Lab in Newport Beach. “Drinking a mushroom blend is healthier than drinking caffeine, but it still gives you a bit of a stimulant.”
At Gracias Madre, and sister restaurant Cafe Gratitude, located behind it, guests may order I Am Brave, the antiviral, immune-boosting shot made with ginger, lemon, cayenne, oregano oil and turmeric, an antioxidant that also reduces inflammation and contains curcumin, which is believed to have adaptogenic properties. Cafe Gratitude boasts a plethora of other adaptogenic drinks, too. Try I Am Cosmic, an antioxidant blue spirulina latte that also includes reishi, hemp seed milk and raw honey; I Am Restored, a latte that mixes ashwagandha, cordyceps, maca, pine pollen and raw honey; or I Am Stellar, a smoothie with blue spirulina, ashwagandha, cordyceps, reishi, goji fruit, coconut, almond butter, dates, vanilla and cinnamon.
Meanwhile, Vibe Organic Kitchen & Juice sells adaptogen add-ons such as cordyceps (anti-aging, anti-inflammation and possible anti-tumor effects shown in animal studies) and reishi (may boost immunity, improve sleep and help fight infections and cancer) for smoothies. Or choose the Ironman smoothie, which blends homemade coconut milk or cold brew coffee, almond butter, banana, maca, cordyceps, ashwagandha, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, cinnamon, chocolate pea protein and creatine.
Jan’s Health Bar in Corona del Mar has an adaptogenic coffee smoothie that brings together Common Room Roasters’ cold brew with almond butter, banana and super mushroom powder, a blend of reishi, lion’s mane, shiitake, king trumpet, cordyceps and turkey tail.
Parakeet Cafe, which recently opened in Crystal Cove Shopping Center, offers a full wellness drink section of the menu, including the Blue Mint Magic Latte with blue spirulina, dok anchan (butterfly pea flower), mint tea, milk and raw honey; the Flat Black Latte with activated charcoal, house-made lavender honey and milk; the Mushroom Cacao Chai Latte, which combines the Om mushroom blend, a mix of lion’s mane, reishi, cordyceps, chaga and ashwagandha, plus collagen, chai, coconut blossom cacao and milk; and the Moon Milk Latte with ashwagandha, reishi, turmeric, cardamom, ginger, house-made lavender honey and milk.
Several cafes, including Freelance Coffee Project at the west end of town, also serve matcha lattes for those seeking the benefits of matcha, a kind of green tea that provides increased energy, supports immunity and enhances brain function.
No matter what wellness aspect you’re looking to boost, there is likely an adaptogen to aid in that goal. So, next time you choose a drink, opt for one that not only tastes great, but helps improve your health, too.