Today was rough. A restlessness has been creeping up on me and it boiled over. It has been a long few weeks of navigating not only adjustments in my own family (sports coming to a grinding halt, working from home, trying to set up space for three kids to stay connected to their classrooms and school work), but also allowing many people the space to discuss their feelings – both clients and friends. I was keeping all the emotions and stress in check… or so I thought. The feelings of overwhelm finally took over today and I found myself unable to settle, frustrated and angry… and feeling defeated.
I have largely tried to look at this pandemic as a pause, a reset for what is needed in our lives, but the ever-increasing restrictions have taken away what gave me my peace. No longer can I escape when I need some silence. I cannot just go wander the woods, getting lost in all it has to offer. Social distancing has a purpose, but it doesn’t come without a cost to those of us who feel restless when cooped up! Don’t get me wrong, I believe people are getting sick, and that some precautions need to be taken, but I have a very hard time giving in to fear over resilience. It’s one thing to distance, but another entirely when you remove the freedoms to go to the great outdoors. Taking away the ability for me to freely connect with nature beyond my backyard was the straw that broke this mama’s back!
I know that nature is what grounds me but in these times where that isn’t possible, I have turned again to those herbal allies I know will sustain and support me, restoring my resilience and capacity to deal with the stress of it all. We’re all trying to find a resolve and a new normal and many of these plants will no doubt be a great option for you too! These herbs hold the clue to their abilities in their name – literally helping us to adjust and our bodies to recalibrate depending on what we’re experiencing emotionally and physically. These amazing plants are called adaptogens, and they can do it all! They give us energy when we’re feeling tired, bring us peace when our thoughts are scattered, and give us clarity when everything around us is in chaos.
The term ‘adaptogen’ was coined by Russian pharmacologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1947, while researching an organism’s ability to resist stress. As more scientists provided research and information they determined that adaptogens should demonstrate the following traits:
- be nourishing
- help normalize the body, so it should bring up something low and reduce that which is high (ie: energy levels)
- be non-specific, acting on multiple areas of the body at the same time
- be safe and non-toxic, and have the ability to be used for extended periods of time
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera
This plant is one of my absolute favourite tonic herbs across the board.
Ashwagandha is a shrub from the Solanaceae or nightshade family, the roots used for their powerful medicinal qualities. You may have heard it referred to as “Indian Ginseng” but when I consider ginseng I think of how it supports energy and stamina, ashwagandha provides more calming and nourishing stress support.
Ashwagandha is best known in Ayurvedic medicine, having been used for over 3000 years as a general restorative, improving health and preventing disease. It can be used to replenish your blood, build bone strength, and boost nutrient absorption in the body. It can calm nervous tension and also help you find deep sleep. This herb supports healthy levels of cortisol, is an antioxidant support and helps to naturally fuel pathways in the brain responsible for releasing GABA (a neurotransmitter that helps to calm us down). Its attraction to our adrenal, endocrine and nervous systems point us to its use in correcting gaps with our energy or vitality and overall wellbeing.
A tincture is my first choice for most, but if you can’t take its bitter taste, you can mix the powdered root into your smoothie, or as my kids enjoy it in a warm mug of almond milk with a little raw honey.
Note: Do not use Ashwagandha in pregnancy. While it is not likely to be an issue, use caution if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade family; avoid taking this with pharmaceutical sedatives and pain medications.
Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum
A member of the Lamiaceae family, Tulsi is an incredibly fragrant herb that helps to increase circulation, aid digestion and protect us against seasonal illnesses.
Also called Holy Basil, the leaves of this herb can be used for calming busy minds, while directly working on lessening the mental and physical effects of stress. It is indigenous to India and is thought to be sacred, referred to as the “plant of enlightenment. This herb has antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties and has been found to inhibit proteins (called COX-2 inflammatory enzymes) that are responsible for supporting inflammation and subsequent cortisol production in the body.
Tulsi helps support a new way of looking at stress and the situations that are causing it, allowing your body to react in a new, more positive way. This helps to initiate more useful responses that make subsequent challenges easier to manage.
This herb is enjoyed best as a tea. I love to combine it with a cooling peppermint or hibiscus.
Eleuthero, Eletherococcus senticosus
From the Araliaceae family and native to northeast Asia, the roots of this woody shrub are used for its tonic effects.
This mighty plant is still referred to by many as “Siberian ginseng”. The herb is accurately called Eleuthero and while it is from the same family as ‘true ginsengs’ their actions come from different chemical constituents.
Although it has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, Eleuthero was largely studied in Russia during the 1950’s and 60’s as a source for increasing physical endurance for those working long hours. Today, it is still used to enhance physical strength but also to help people adapt to stressful environments and reduce hormonal concerns.
Eleuthero has been shown to help regulate the activation of the adrenal cortex (which is responsible for producing the hormones cortisol and aldosterone that regulate metabolism, how you respond to stress and also control your blood pressure), helping to protect against fatigue and anxiety, and used regularly this herb will not only nourish your adrenals but revitalize your system, helping you to thrive in challenging situations. Many people feel this herb’s effects quickly, but its real benefits are cumulative and long term. It is also an immune-modulating plant that helps to enhance immune function and resistance to infections.
I use this herb mostly in tincture form blended with other adaptogenic herbs, but sometimes use it as a tea combined with ginger root, lemon peel and a little raw honey.
Note: Eleuthero is not recommended in those with high blood pressure.
Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea
If ashwagandha is known for soothing and strengthening, rhodiola is its energizing and enhancing counterpart!
Rhodiola belongs to the Crassulaceae family and grows in cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. The fragrant roots of the herb are used to support the adrenals. They encourage a healthy response to physical, emotional, and mental stress through supporting cortisol levels and stress-related hormone production.
Rhodiola has a long history in herbal medicine. Vikings described its use for heightening their physical strength and endurance, while emperors in China were known to send expeditions to Siberia to bring back what they called the “golden root” for their medicinal formulations.
When used regularly, Rhodiola works to support natural resistance and the ability to adapt to everyday stressors. Aside from being an adaptogen, rhodiola also has cardioprotective, stimulant and antioxidant properties.
Rhodiola, also known as rose root or arctic root, can be both stimulating and sedating to the nervous system, depending on the dose. It has been studied for its use in enhancing physical endurance, protecting the heart, and supporting the liver and nervous system through its antioxidant effects. It also has a protective effect on the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (important for mood and mental functioning) managing some of the symptoms of depression. Finally, rhodiola is also a good choice for improving concentration, learning, and memory. This potent adaptogen is literally one that supercharges your brain and nervous system!
I love to blend it with ashwagandha for balancing both their effects, and take it in tincture form.
Note: Be sure to verify the quality of the rhodiola product before you purchase.
Avoid in those who are wound up/excited stated, and use caution in those with bipolar conditions and tendency towards manic states. Consult your medical or herbal practitioner.
* The herbs discussed do not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or on any medications please consult with a qualified medical or herbal health professional before beginning any new herbal products. All of the herbs mentioned above may be associated with mild side effects depending on your constitution, so as with any herbs use caution and make responsible choices.