If you’re like me, there are days—maybe more than I’d like to admit—when I could use a little more energy. And while I love a vanilla latte as much as the next person, I also know that a daily Starbucks habit isn’t the most sustainable source of fuel for the body.
Luckily, there are plenty of all-natural energy sources that provide long-lasting stamina instead of the peaks, crashes, and jitteriness associated with sugar and caffeine. Some of them you may be familiar with, like getting plenty of sleep and staying hydrated. But if you still find yourself looking for an added boost to get through the day—and your MD has ruled out any underlying health conditions—adaptogenic herbs may be the answer.
Adaptogens are nontoxic plants that can help the body combat the effects of stress and fatigue. Used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, some of the more popular and recognizable adaptogens include ginseng, maca, and holy basil or tulsi. You can add them to your diet in all sorts of ways, from smoothie-perfect powders to capsules and teas.
Adaptogens are known to help the body better cope with stress by balancing hormones, boosting the immune system, and increasing energy and stamina. When taken long term, adaptogens assist the body’s central response system to adapt to stressors and produce fewer stress hormones, such as cortisol. Unlike caffeine, these herbs are non-habit forming and don’t tend to overstimulate the body. (Great news for those who get the shakes after a few sips of cold brew.)
To identify some of the best herbs for increasing energy, I consulted with Jennifer Palmer, a holistic wellness coach with a doctorate in traditional naturopathy and owner of Nourishing Journey, a wellness center and organic café in Columbia, MD. She shared her edit of adaptogenic supplements to try next time you need a boost—with your doctor’s blessing, of course.
Keep reading to discover 3 adaptogenic herbal supplements that can help increase energy.
1. Panax ginseng
Also known as “true ginseng” or “wild ginseng,” this herb typically grows in northeastern China and Korea. Given that the word “panax” is derived from the Greek words for all-healing (‘pan’ for all and ‘axos’ for cure), it’s not surprising to learn that panax ginseng has been used to treat everything from cognitive ailments—including memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease—to depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a long list of other ailments.
So, what gives panax ginseng all these beneficial properties? While the root contains a variety of nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it’s active components called ginsenosides that are often credited for the root’s energy- and stamina-boosting traits. Ginsenosides affect the central nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems, improving immune function and stress responses.
One major caveat: Panax ginseng is known to interact with several medications—including those for diabetes and depression—and it’s not recommended that you mix it with alcohol or caffeine. So definitely check with your doctor before adding this one to your supplement routine.
Maca, or Peruvian ginseng, is an edible plant that grows high in the Andes Mountains. Maca has been used by Peruvians for thousands of years as a food source, energizer, and fertility enhancer. A true superfood, maca is a complete protein, loaded with more than 20 amino acids and vitamins and minerals like calcium (it contains more than a glass of milk), potassium, iron, iodine, copper, manganese, and B and C vitamins.
All these nutrients make maca a great source of sustainable energy. Add in the root’s potential as a hormone balancer, and it’s clear that maca has great potential to energize your life—both in and out of the bedroom.
But, again, be sure to ask your doctor if maca’s safe for you. “People with thyroid problems, hypertension, hormone-responsive cancer— such as breast or prostate cancer—and women who are taking birth control pills, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding may not be able to safely consume maca,” says nutritionist Amy Gorin.
An Ayurvedic herb that has been used in India for more than 3,000 years, ashwagandha translates to “the smell of the horse.” While the root of the plant may, indeed, have a not-so-pleasant aroma, it was actually given this nickname for its supposed ability to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion.
Because it has beneficial properties similar to other ginsengs, ashwagandha is often referred to as Indian ginseng—even though the plants are unrelated. The root of ashwagandha contains withanolides, a group of naturally occurring compounds that have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Numerous studies have also shown ashwagandha root to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
So who shouldn’t take ashwagandha? Well, it’s part of the nightshade family—along with tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant—so if you’re sensitive to these foods, you should also add ashwagandha to your do-not-consume list. It may also interact with some common medications, so give your doctor a call before trying it. (But you knew that already, right?)
If you’d rather sip on your adaptogens, try this Bulletproof-style chaga mushroom chai latte. Or slather them on stressed-out skin with these adaptogen-enhanced beauty products.
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