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Adaptogenic herbs

Adaptogen herbs are one of the most important groups of herbs to take into the 21st century. Adaptogens not only increase the resistance to the adverse effects of long-term stress yet the majority are also a tonic, immune-stimulating and increase general sense of well-being. A multitude of other actions also exist for individual adaptogenic herbs.

Other herbal medicines which combine very well with the adaptogenic herbs in treating stress include the adrenal tonics Rehmannia and Licorice and herbs which enhance cognition such as Bacopa, Rosemary, Gotu kola and Schisandra. All the nervine herbs, particularly the nervine tonics, also combine favorably.

Research into Adaptogenic Herbs

Research into adaptogenic herbs has been in progress for many years. It was initiated by the Russians and was taken so seriously that, in the 1960's, the study of adaptogens became a field of biomedical research in its own right. There were two streams of research that lead to this: firstly the routine screening of plants for biologically active substances and secondly research into the effects of stress.

By 1984 Russian scientists had published in excess of 1,500 pharmacological and clinical studies on adaptogenic herbs. Later research carried out in Germany and Japan demonstrated similar findings to that of Russians. This research into the adaptogenic properties of plant continues today and there remains little doubt that adaptogens increase an organism's adaptation to stress and have a normalizing influence on our physiology.

Defining Adaptogenic

The term adaptogen was first defined by Lazarev, a Russian pharmacologist, in 1947. He defined "adaptogens" as agents which help an organism to counteract any adverse effects of a physical, chemical or biological stressor by generating nonspecific resistance.

In many studies adaptogens have been shown to:
  • Increase physical and mental stamina and performance
  • Protect against the effects of radiation
  • Reduce the side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs
  • Reduce the incidence of infection
  • Increase resistance to chemical carcinogens
Herbs with well-established adaptogenic activity are:

  • Chinese/Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Withania (Withania somnifera)
  • Ashwagandha
  • Eleuthero
  • Licorice

When to use Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs may be used as the treatment or as part of the treatment for the following:

  • Stress
  • Exposure to stressors such as high altitude, intensive training etc
  • Chronic illness
  • Debility
  • Convalescence
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • To increase physical and mental performance

Because of their effects on the body's capacity to deal with stress, coupled with their tonic activity, these herbs can be used in a huge number of conditions and situations. The particular adaptogens we use in each formulation will depend largely on the other actions attributed to each of these herbs as well as their energetics.


As well as being adaptogenic, tonic and immune stimulating it is also cardiotonic and hypotensive with clinical trials reporting favorable outcomes in the treatment of cardiac problems. Further clinical studies have also demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of liver and kidney disease.

Ashwagandha-Withania somnifera:

Unlike most other adaptogens is slightly sedative rather than stimulating. It might be the most appropriate adaptogens to use in a person who is very hyped-up and finding it impossible to relax and slow down.


Panax ginseng in particular, is quite stimulating and warming. For long-term use it is probably best suited to older people, although it can certainly be used in the short-term for adults of any age as well as for adolescents. In some individuals it can increase anxiety and irritability so needs to be used cautiously in these situations. Similar effects from Siberian ginseng, although infrequently and with less severity. Panax also has the potential to increase blood pressure.

Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng and Astragalus are contraindicated in acute infection. However, can be used with adaptogen/tonic herbs in the wake of an acute infection to ensure a full recovery.

Recommended Herbs for Improving Immune Response

IMM Formula

Imm Formula contains both astragalus and echinacea, both adaptogens which stimulate your immune system to work better at defending it against foreign invaders and boosts your adrenal glands.

Ashwagandha  (Adaptogen)

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that increases the bodies vital energy and overall health and longevity.

ADR Formula

Adr Formula aids the adrenal glands, which control and regulate the bodies self-defense mechanism against stress, a reaction to any stimulus which upsets normal functioning and disturbs mental or physical health. The adrenal glands generate the energy needed to perform strenuous tasks, deal with emotional crises, and fight infections.

Milk Thistle (Liver Health)

Milk thistle is composed of silymarin which works directly on the liver to increase its effectiveness. When your liver is not functioning properly it can not remove the toxins from your body and they build up and it effects your immune system causing conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic illnesses.

For Specific Information on Building Your Immune Response

See-Immune System

The Pulse of Oriental Medicine Acupuncture & Herbs since 1999. The layperson's guide to acupuncture and herbs since 1999. More than 300 free articles.
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