What are adaptogenic herbs?

What are adaptogenic herbs?

| Abigail McShinsky | July 28, 2018 |

Used for ages, yet labeled more recently, “adaptogen” is an increasingly popular term. Learn how you might find your zen with one of these unique plants.

Adapting to stress with herbal support

If you were to ask a handful of herbalists what their favorite classification of herbs is, I’d venture to guess you’d hear the phrase “adaptogens” come up more than once. The reason this class of herbs is a common go-to can be boiled down to one word: stress.

When the body experiences stress (whether physical or mental), it diverts resources to the brain and skeletal muscles so we can flee whatever threat our body is perceiving. Depending on the severity, our heart-rate may increase, along with our blood pressure, our breathing speeds up, and digestion decreases. These can be life-saving measures in the face of a tiger, but do we really need to call in the calvary because we missed a deadline at work?

What if instead you had a resource that, over time, could help your body better adapt to stress, and respond more appropriately? Reserve the calvary for when the tiger is real, and rely on other responses when that deadline approaches?

Adaptogens: It’s a matter of terms

This is where adaptogens come in. The term “adaptogen” was coined in 1947 to describe plants that “increase the body’s resistance to stress resulting from trauma, anxiety, and fatigue” (Medicinal Herbs, 315). A similar definition details adaptogens as herbs that help “protect the body against physical, mental, and emotional stress by strengthening the immune system” (61). Given the prevalence of stress in our modern society, you can see why adaptogenic herbs are so favored.

If the definition of “adaptogen” seemed a little vague to you, there’s good reason: this term doesn’t describe a single family of plants, but instead a collection of actions a plant may have that results in strengthening of the body, and a healthier stress response. Though it’s important to note: adaptogens can work in different ways. So, what works wonders for me may not work so well for you.

For that reason, let’s take a look at a few unique adaptogenic herbs, so you can find the one that compliments your needs best.


To me, ashwagandha is royalty in the world of adaptogens. Ashwagandha is a traditional ayurvedic herb that has been used for thousands of years to help us better adapt to the stressors of life. According to Doctor Tieraona Low Dog in National Geographic’s Medicinal Herbs, “In Sanskrit, the name ashwagandha means ‘the smell of a horse,’ which...may imply that the roots can impart a horse’s strength and vigor,” (317). While that may sound intense, Ashwagandha is a multi-faceted herb, and rather than stimulate the body, it also has a calming effect, implied by the meaning of it’s Latin species name, somnifera, which means ‘to induce sleep,’ (317). Ashwagandha is like a big hug when stress hits – strengthening and soothing!*


If Ashwagandha is known for strengthening and soothing, Rhodiola is its daytime counterpart – energizing and enhancing. As an adaptogen, it has been traditionally used to support strength and endurance, and modern herbalists typically suggest Rhodiola to “combat fatigue caused by stress and enhance work performance by increasing attention span and concentration,” (335).*


Maca (the root is what we consume) is a hardy plant that is well adapted itself at facings life’s difficulties. This is because it happens to grow in one of the most challenging habitats on the planet – the high Andes mountains of Peru, more than 12,000 feet above sea level! So, Maca knows a thing or two about stress.

And, when that stress hits us, many systems in the body are left with fewer resources than they’d like while the body fights that perceived threat. That heightened stress response is using up a lot of energy, as well, and depleting key nutrients. A lot is happening. Maca, however, is an adaptogenic multi-tasker, and is not only rich in trace nutrients that nourish and build our body, but can help moderate stress, support healthy energy production, hormonal balance, and more!* Maca is the go-to for building and balancing!

Simple, daily delivery

If you’re intrigued by the notion of incorporating adaptogens into your day-to-day, but are a tad unsure where to start, stress-support supplements can be a great place to begin! Products such as Adrenal Strength® combine adrenal-nourishing foods and nutrients with herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola to take the guesswork out of adaptogenic support. If you think maca might be more your speed, Daily Maca Plus for Men Nutrient Booster Powder™ and Daily Maca Plus for Women Nutrient Booster Powder™ make taking your adaptogens easier than ever – scoop, blend, and sip!

And maybe you’re curious, yet still on the fence? Or, you’re hungry to learn more? Wouldn’t it be nice to sit down with an expert on botanical medicine and go a bit deeper? Well, we did just that for you with the incredible Doctor Low Dog in our podcast That Supplement Show.

Here’s to good health and less stress! I’m off to sip a glass of Chocolate Ginger Maca Milk and let the good vibes in!

MegaFood Chocolate Ginger Maca Milk

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.