Anti-Stress Herbs: The Top 10 Best Adaptogenic Herbs

Stress is a major culprit for many diseases. After all, disease is simply dis-ease and what is stress? In its simplest sense, it is pressure or resistance and neither of these put the body at ease.

Looking at stress from its most basic function, there are of course many ways stress can come about. Stress can occur physically from stress or trauma. It can occur thermogenically from Sun burn. It can occur nutritionally from poor diet and foods that do not digest or throw hormones out of whack. And as we all know, stress can occur mentally from pure pressure, the pressure to impress ourselves and others, as well as emotionally in the form of resistance to our own emotions.

Whatever the case is though, there is plenty we can do to surrender and stop resisting. Amongst the many tools for dissolving stress are adaptogenic herbs, which are botanical substances that help the body adapt to both physiological and psychological stress.

There are many spiritual practices that help one take the path of least resistance in many cases; however, this can be a life long journey that takes many life times to complete – as my mentor says, “there is no secret potion for enlightenment.” He teases me, as a holistic health coach and someone who works in an industry that is always recommending people to take herbs, food and supplements to fix their life problems.

And while I am about to recommend some herbs, these herbs come with a life time of wisdom. If we look at ancient wholistic forms of medicine such as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda we find that both of these philosophies go far beyond nutritional and herbal support. Life according to Ayurveda is meant flow effortlessly, and be filled with an abundance of creativity, energy and productivity with the less effort we put in. Now this is a major difference from the Western “no pain, no gain mentality.” Believe it or not, life was not intended to be a struggle!

So in addition to the tools I will provide here, I highly suggest – as always – to begin your walk down a path to “enlightenment” however that looks for you now. If you need a starting point, I offer coaching sessions filled with healing exercises that work at the metaphysical level. There are also plenty of “spiritual healers” out there, endless books in the exoteric database and also hidden gems in the esoteric world if you seek.

I was fortunate enough to find one of the wisest men I’ve ever met and let me say this, one wise man is worth one-thousand good books. I highly suggest seeking a mentor. Bare in mind, the word mentor is short for tormentor…and that is what a true spiritual guide does – they take away all your delusions and illusions until all that is left is…you.

Until you find someone, or yourself, to guide you down a path  let’s talk about some of the tools Mother Nature has provided us with to help us balance and dissolve stress. Here are a few of my favorite and the most powerful adaptogen (stress-busting) herbs on the planet, how they work, and how to take them.

The 10 Best Adaptogen Herbs

  1. Gynostemma Also known as the “immortality herb”, Jiaogulan actually contains 3 to 4 times more saponins than ginseng, making it the strongest adaptogen of all. It has been used traditionally by the Chinese as a longevity tonic extend lives and often referred to as, “like ginseng but better.” It’s abilities extend beyond just soothing the nervous system – it is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and a proven remedy to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It also happens to burns fat, enhances strength and endurance, and even has been used to treat bronchitis. Did I mention that it is a potent antioxidant that dissolves oxidative stress and has proven in lab studies to annihilate cancer cells? As an adaptogen, it helps the body with whatever it needs – if the body needs rest, it will promote relaxation. If the body needs to be energized, then energy it is! Because the immune system is suppressed during stress, it strengthens the immune system by preventing stress from harming the body. It is successful in treating hepatitis and protecting the liver. In one study, 300 athletes were tested with jiaogulan prior to a competition – the results – all had more vigor, quicker reflexes, and less nervousness. It’s high anti-oxidant abilities may very well be what leads to the 100 year life span of many Chinese jiaogulan users. What’s more, is that has natural killer cell activity in those with urogenital cancers. This herb is great for those with blood pressure imbalances, as it tonifies the kidney and heart meridian, which reduces the burden on the heart, by helping it pump the same amount of blood with less stress and effort. I could go on and on about this herb; however, I’m sure by now we have sufficient reason to start experimentation with this incredible super herb. And as a personal testimony, I have consumed Gynostemma for 6 years now and it truly has wonderful effects you can notice. I suggest taking either 1 teaspoon of powdered extract 3x day or Spring Dragon Tea. This tea also has a few other powerful adaptogenic extracts – its super potent and sweet.
  2. Licorice root- Here is another amazing plant with many medicinal properties as well as a sweet, delicious taste. It contains natural plant steroids that are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-tumor, and stimulates the immune system by elevating interferon levels, which stimulates SOD to form hydrogen peroxide, in turn supercharges white blood cells and hormones. It’s a fantastic herb for adrenal function, reducing inflammation and liver problems like cirrhosis and hepatitis. It’s commonly used to reduce prostate inflammation because it contains phytoestrogens, which help reduce the adverse effects of estrogen on the prostate – including impaired zinc absorption and elevated DHT formation – which can lead to pattern baldness, low immunity and facial hair on women. Licorice root blocks the formation of DHT from testosterone, so it’s helpful for these issues. Aside from its adaptogenic and immune properties, it builds nerve tissue, removes arterial plaque, reduces body fat, treats hypoglycemia, ulcers, is an antiseptic, antispasmodic, a subtle laxative and expectorant. It balances intestinal flora, balances blood sugar, protects the liver and stimulates aldosterone, a key adrenal hormone and has been used throughout history to treat hormone imbalances – and just about every known female imbalance. In women, licorice can give a women a sense of well-being and control. Again, take this 3 x daily either as a sweet delicious tea, as a powdered extract in an elixir or even use to make Bulletproof Marshmallows. Avoid taking it past 6 pm.
  3. Astragalus– This strong adaptogenic is also a vasodilator, making it great for physical work or anyone with poor circulation. Great for the spleen and lungs, and overall increases in life energy. Stress is a major cause of physical fatigue, hence the idea of adrenal fatigue and Astragalus incredibly useful for improving physical weakness and other drained energy disorders like candida, herpes, hypoglycemia and exhaustion. Sleep problems like night sweats and even fluid retention are symptoms of fatigued kidneys and adrenals, astragalus can help! Probably the most incredible ability this herb has is that as a prime anti-viral, anti-cancer immune enhancement. Like licorice root, it helps the body produce extra interferon in the body. It’s so powerful that it’s used with cancer therapies to counteract the immune suppressing effects of cancer drugs and radiation. The vasodilating properties help to lower blood pressure as well as break up blood clots, preventing heart disease. If you’re overly stressed, it will boost adrenal function for better energy while normalizing the nervous system and balancing hormones. In Chinese Medicine the kidneys and lungs are strongly associated – so it’s great for respiratory illnesses by helping regenerate bronchi cells.
  4. Siberian ginsengAlso known as Eluthero, this herb is the most effective of all adaptogen herbs, second to Jiaogulan. With adaptogen herbs, they work better with longevity as opposed to incrementally. They are best taken for several months to a year, as it takes time for the wisdom of these plants to start to rearrange your body chemistry to be in better balance and more immune. As far as benefits goes – it aids cardiovascular disorders, including heart attack and heart disease, lowers high blood pressure, inhibits growth and formation of liver cancer cells, which is one of the most difficult cancers to resolve! Ginseng also stimulates protein synthesis and the polysaccharides in it protect against alcohol induced gastric ulcers, making it excellent for anyone with a past of alcohol consumption or history of stomach ulcers. As the second strongest adaptogen, it is of course hormone balancing for both men and women as well as an aphrodisiac for both men and women! It is the only herb to clinically test as a plant source of testosterone; however, there is also Pine Pollen, which is another source that is just not clinically tested. This herb increases sperm count, seminal vesicle weight, supports key adrenal and prostate functions. If you’re a male and having troubling “getting it up” toss your Viagra, it’s toxic – ginseng enhances nitric oxide synthesis, which regulates muscle tone of blood vessels that control flow to the penis, leading to stronger erection for impotent men. Pair it with some Gelatinized Maca and your lady won’t know what hit her. The antioxidants found in ginseng help cardiovascular performance not only for sexual energy, but for sports workouts so if you’re looking for the extra lift to get outside and get active, look no further than some quality ginseng. Keep in mind that if you have fatigue that you do not want to over work – keep workouts light and energizing – you should feel more energized after any physical activity, not depleted. In woman, ginseng helps normalize hormones, notably those that guard against breast cancer, endometriosis and other hormone-driven problems. It is great for preventing or minimizing the effects of menopause due to the similarity of ginsenocides and female steroidal hormones on the vaginal mucosa, to prevent thinning of vaginal walls after menopause, and menopause discomfort during intercourse. It effects a woman’s mental energy through hypothalamus stimulation, a factor in turning a woman’s attention to love-making. It also has an insulin-like effect on sugar regulation, stimulating the removal of sugar in the blood, great for anyone with diabetes, blood sugar problems or those interested in general anti-aging. Like Gynostemma, ginseng has therapeutic affects against severe recurrent viral infection and syndromes like HIV etc thanks to killer cell activity. It also stimulates RNA synthesis in bone marrow cells, has anti-toxic effects against radiation, heavy metals, and airborne pollutants. If you’re interested in maintaining a youthful appearance, consumption of ginseng protects against aging skin and early wrinkling due to AGEs. It has long-term mental and psychological benefits, with noticeable improvement of mental outlook, depressive thoughts and lifting spirits and other cognitive disorders. Overall, ginseng is the quintessential herb for stress.
  5. Ashwagandha– Ginseng and Gynostemma are renowned as the best adaptogenic herbs due to their high saponin content; however, many people refer to Ashwaganda as than ginseng and here is why. Ashwaganda is one of the world’s most renowned herbs over all, not just as an adaptogen but as pure planet medicine. As an adaptogenic herb, it provides an energetic rejuvenating lift while at the same time calming and soothing the nerves. Chemically, it’s very similar to ginseng, yet is far superior in relieving stress. It is great for treating exhaustion caused by both physical and mental stress and strain. If you are trying to get your adrenals up to speed, then you have to nourish the thyroid – Ashwaganda doesn’t just help the adrenals, it also helps boost thyroid hormone, preventing stress via thyroid burnout or under-active thyroid – an unseen problem with many overly stressed people. On a more positive note, Ashwaganda is an aphrodisiac, increasing libido and performance in 70% of men who use it. It has a soothing and cooling effect on the body that stops internal bleeding, inhibits hemorrhoids and also hemorrhagic dysentery (bloody diarrhea). It has effectively been used to treat depression and mood disorders and rejuvenate the tissues, particularly muscle and bone, adrenals and reproductive system. Consumption of ashwaganda also improves nutrient absorption, strengthens the nerves, promotes restful sleep, lessens graying of the hair, and much more. It is one of the best anti-aging herbs on the planet. 3 x daily is ideal! I enjoy this herb especially nightly in a creamy elixir like this Golden Milk Latté.
  6. Nettle– This common “weed” is one of the best tonic herbs for kidney and adrenal health. It also happens to be FREE and abundant in the wild. It’s a beauty tonic to boot, as one of the highest sources of silica, an essential nutrient for strong skin, hair and tissues. It boosts thyroid hormone (great for low thyroid), improves metabolism so it helps burn fat and it also helps to clear mucus. Raw nettles are great for cleaning the liver, build blood, flush acidic waste and even help calm the nervous system. The root is a tool for reversing and inhibiting pattern baldness, an anti-inflammatory for the prostate and hormonal balancer for disproportionate testosterone/estrogen levels. As a kidney tonic, it removes uric acid in gout. As a digestive aid, it supports the growth of beneficial intestinal flora (probiotics) and removal of mucus in the colon. It doesn’t just support mood and energy via nourishment to the adrenals, it’s also a source serotonin – the feel good neurotransmitter. It is one of the most excellent foods/medicines for proper prostate function. It’s commonly used as an antidepressant, as a naturally antibiotic and anti-fungal (great for Candida), to dissolve kidney stones, to regulate the thyroid, to increase energy, to treat anemia and ulcers, and to treat constipation. It is considered one of the greatest tonic herbs for the adrenals, kidney, and liver. I take this herb 3 x a day in my tonics and even add this powdered extract to my Bulletproof Coffee – it’s tasteless and as a powdered extract, it dissolves completely without grit.
  7. Amla berry– Stress, infection and intense exercise all increase the cellular demand for vitamin C – there are even studies showing how blood levels of vitamin C fall at an increased rate during these times. Adrenal fatigue is just referring to a lack of adrenal output, which places all cells of the body under increased stress. The result is a near automatic increase in sympathetic nervous activity to compensate for the extremely low levels of cortisol (an anti-inflammatory stress hormone) and high levels of systemic inflammation that usually is found next to low levels of this steroid hormone. When this happens, the immune system does not regulate properly, which means infection and in result a driving demand for b-vitamins, minerals and especially vitamin C. In times of stress, a dosage of 2,000-4,000 mg per day of food-grade vitamin C is recommended – in severe cases, up to 20,mg. Where are we supposed to get doses of vitamin C like this that won’t cause vitamin C flush (diarrhea) or a pro-oxidant effect in the case of consumption of large doses of synthetic ascorbic acid? Mother Nature has the remedy and it goes by the name of Amla. Next to Gubinge, Amla is the highest sources of vitamin C on the planet. Not only that, it’s a strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory that helps cleanse liver. Healthy adrenals aren’t the only aspect to having a body that is resilience against stress, a healthy liver is also a must. The liver also produces many hormones when under stress. Keep it clean and well-functioning is a must and healthy doses of food-grade vitamin C is one simple way to build a healthier liver and stronger adrenals. For extreme fatigue, take up to 10,000 mg a day, for general prevention roughly 2,000 mg is great.
  8. RhodiolaWhen it comes to dissolving the excessive cortisol in the blood (which can weaken the immune system) Rhodiola is King. It has a calming effect on the body as cortisol is dissolved. However, it really depends on your unique adrenal output on how you will react – most people actually experience more alertness when taking Rhodiola because it help slightly stimulate under-active adrenal and thyroid. As a side-note, cortisol is not the culprit – it is absolutely necessary to live and a powerful anti-inflammatory and is what wakes us up in the morning. The problem is that most of us live in a reactive, stressful state and the result is excessive cortisol output, which weakens the adrenals and immune system. most of us exist in a state of nearly constant exposure to this compound, resulting in lowered blood sugar response, abdominal weight gain, decreased memory, reduced cellular energy production, and diminished immunity. Rhodiola helps by not only reducing persistent raised cortisol and balancing the HPA-Axis, but also to balance and heal the entire communication system for the long-term, making the body much more resilient to stress. This results in not just lower “stress” but better energy, increased immunity, and significantly more balanced hormones. This will help to counter any emotional eating or other stress related compulsions. Again, 3 x a day with this herb, perhaps avoiding taking it past 6 pm.
  9. Holy Basil–  Holy Basil also known as Tulsi can be a super helpful for treating fatigue and energy depletion. It has many anti-stress properties and does not stimulate like Rhodiola or Ginseng. This makes it a safe herb for treating general fatigue. It is great for lowering cortisol during times of stress and it also lowers total cholesterol while stimulating the immune system. If you are experiencing the byproducts of fatigue such as insomnia or anxiety then you may want to try Holy Basil. Note that it also goes under the name Tulsi.However, if you have advanced chronic fatigue, you will want to use Holy Basil with caution. The reason for this is that Holy Basil is very good at lowering cortisol and might be too calming for someone who is very fatigued – better to go with Rhodiola in this case. Other than that, you will find that Holy Basil provides many of the same benefits found in the other adaptogens mentioned.
  10. Schisandra berry  Not many people realized this but schisandra berries are actually a powerful adaptogen. Whether the pressure is mental or physical, the adaptogenic qualities of schisandra will have a stabilizing effect on the entire body. For this reason many athletes love schisandra – it helps them perform at high levels and increases the capacity for both physical and mental endurance, while protecting the body from  harmful environmental and internal oxidative-stress. Schisandra improves cellular energy by increasing nitric oxide levels in the body. In Asia, schisandra is thought to be one of the most protective plants – especially for the skin. It’s ability to cleanse and detoxify the liver make it a great beauty herb, considering that the hair, skin and eyes are all a reflection of the liver. If you want to look good, keep your liver in good shape – it’s that simple! Schisandra berry contains powerful antioxidant properties, such as gomisin A and Wuweizisu C, that help rejuvenate skin by protecting the lipid membrane in skin cells – this means protection against sun damage! The high antioxidant count protects cells from oxidative damage during times of stress – this means less wrinkles, better hair, stronger joints and healthier tissues. Because excessive stress can cause inflammation, schisandra is great because it contains many anti-inflammatory qualities to help counter this effect. Additionally, schisandra berry increases the production of glutathione, the master anti-oxidant, which supports healthy liver detoxification. Lastly, schisandra contains lignans that offer more liver protection by supporting the function of the liver and even the regeneration of it. You can mix schisandra berry extract into water and sip throughout the day, add to raw ice cream recipes or make herbal tonics.