The sound advice of Hippocrates to, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food” rings as true today as ever. Rushing around to find the easy out to our ailments and lack of energy (instead of looking to nature and whole plant materials to find an answer) means we are missing out on what natural remedies can do for our entire bodies. You may not be familiar with them but there is a group of herbs called adaptogens and they support our whole system, inside and out, the sort of thing Hippocrates was referring to. It’s not just support for your entire body…you won’t believe what else adaptogens have up their sleeves.
We have become accustomed to the idea of finding something over- or behind-the-counter to “fix” a cold, ache or queasy stomach rather than looking to what we can find in our own kitchens or herb gardens. Hanna once said that using herbs and foods “work without danger of poisoning the system. They are effective and handed down from mothers to daughters. These remedies are at hand and with the economic loss in every pocket, are inexpensive.” What happened to using food and herbs as a way to heal ourselves without harmful side effects?
Can we ever move away from the quick fix mentality? I think so but we have to turn our focus from “magical” pills and utilize the healing properties of what nature has produced and man continues to copy. The most effective gift from nature with a wide range of benefits and a tradition reaching back thousands of years are the adaptogens.
The Basics on Adaptogens
“Adaptogen” is a term used by herbalists to refer to a natural herb that is proposed to increase the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue! In the past they have been called rejuvenating herbs as they are useful in treating imbalances of the body, assist in getting better sleep, help you ward off illness by boosting your immune system and increase energy and mental clarity. While prescription drugs remain in your system and often effect various organs, once the job of the adaptogen is complete, those herbs are eliminated or incorporated into the body without side effects.
Adaptogens are only now gaining a great momentum in the US but have been a favored group of herbs by Asians for thousands of years. What makes an herb adaptogenic?
- Nontoxic to the user; non-habit forming.
- Generates a nonspecific response (doesn’t target a specific body region and instead benefits the body as a whole).
- Creates a state of balance/homeostasis.
The basis of adaptogenic herbs is rooted in the thought that “The whole is only as strong as the sum of its parts.” It is counterproductive to treat only a symptom of an illness rather than treating the whole body and that’s why adaptogens are so powerful. Adaptogens generally work by strengthening the immune system, nervous system and/or glandular systems. In herbs like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Schizandra , Rhodiola, Reishi Mushrooms, Ginseng, Maca and Licorice Root, benefits for the entire body can be attained. When used in a daily regimen these herbs allow you to stay healthy, stable and happy and have even been used to treat not only stress related conditions but also have been effective in allergy and asthma reduction!
Adaptogens work to increase your body’s own ability to fight off illness before it sets in, a direct contrast to modern drugs which “attack” specific disease symptoms after you’re thoroughly sick. As we become more aware of the healthful benefits of these herbs, we are more excited about the value they provide our lives and hope you will consider their value to your health as well. For example, we recently learned that adaptogens are useful in helping our bodies cope with the imbalances that come from environmental pollutants. Whether the effects of radiation or daily smog are a concern for you, adaptogenic herbs can play a role in keeping you healthy.
The introduction of adaptogens into your diet is an easy way to not only prepare for cold and flu season in your home but can also help you fight the winter blues, keep you feeling energized and alert and help you maintain a balance in mind and body year round. In most cases, experiencing the healthful benefits from adaptogens takes time; your body needs your patience. While adaptogens seem like wonder herbs, they are not a cure-all and if you are currently taking prescription drugs you should speak with your doctor before beginning a daily regimen including them.