Getting to Know Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic Herbs – What are They and What are They Good For?

During this new paradigm, especially in the last few years, I’ve watched the popularity of adaptogenic herbs rise exponentially. 

The use of adaptogens now extends far beyond functional nutrition and herbal medicine into more mainstream markets and kitchens worldwide – and for good reason!

While you might have heard the term “adaptogens” used in the health food industry, you may still be wondering:

  • What exactly are “adaptogens”? 
  • What are their benefits?
  • How many adaptogens are there?
  • Where can I find adaptogens?
  • How do I make adaptogen tea?
  • Which adaptogens are best for me? 
  • …and more.

Read on to learn more about adaptogens and the best ways to choose your own adaptogenic herbal allies!

Table of Contents

Disclosures & disclaimers

Affiliate disclosure Please note I’m an affiliate for several online apothecaries which I love and utilize often as a first-hand customer.  If you make a purchase using any of the affiliate links I include in this article, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you! 

Disclaimer: this information is educational and not meant to replace medical advice!  While most adaptogens are relatively safe, all adaptogenic herbs still have the potential for medical contraindications and/or herb-drug interactions.  Many of these adaptogenic herbs are not considered safe to take during pregnancy or during childhood years. 

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that work synergistically with the body to support a healthier stress response, reduced inflammation, stronger immunity, and much more. 

Adaptogenic herbs have been grown, cultivated and made into medicine for many hundreds (if not thousands) of years by practitioners of Ayurveda (a holistic medicine practice originating in India), Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and many other types of holistic health practitioners worldwide.

What makes adaptogens unique is that instead of working as “uppers” or “downers” like most pharmaceuticals, adaptogenic herbs work directly with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (“HPA”) axis – a key component of the central nervous system which regulates the stress response and hormonal dynamics. 

  • Through the HPA axis, adaptogens are able to “adapt” to each person’s body individually (1).  As a result, adaptogens are able to help people’s organ systems to function more optimally.
  • Clinically speaking, the balancing effect of adaptogens in the body is called “modulating”.  Adaptogens are most well known to modulate the stress response and the immune system in humans.

Who can benefit from adaptogenic herbs?

Anyone can benefit from adaptogenic herbs!  

I’m personally an advocate of prevention and wellness, first and foremost. Prevention is truly the best medicine. 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” –Thomas Edison

…Why wait until you feel sick to start exploring the powers and wonders of adaptogens?!

A root-cause approach is the runner-up, second to prevention.  

  • When something is off, it’s best to address the issue at the root level (where it originates from) so that it doesn’t keep coming back or getting worse!

All of that said, adaptogens are especially wonderful allies for people struggling with stress, burnout, exhaustion/chronic fatigue, and/or an overactive/underactive (imbalanced) immune response because they can help to naturally realign and regulate a troubled HPA axis and/or confused immune system.

  • In my clinical practice, where I work primarily with people who are navigating digestive issues, allergies, food sensitivities, and/or autoimmune disorders (which often all go hand-in-hand with one another), adaptogenic herbs – whether taken as a tea, tincture, double-extraction, or in capsule form (depending on the herb and the client) have made a profound difference in health outcomes for the better!
  • I’ve personally also found that since incorporating certain adaptogenic teas and tinctures into my holistic lifestyle, I no longer deal with seasonal allergies in the springtime, and I have had no common colds at all in almost 3 ½ years and counting (knock on wood!). For me this is HUGE since I used to get sick multiple times a year. 
    • Speaking first-hand, taking adaptogens (in combination with living holistically) also often leads to more days where I’ve got more energy than I know what to do with! 😉 

Adaptogen types: list of adaptogens and their health benefits

There are dozens of different adaptogens available worldwide, each with their own personality and energetics!  

Within the large umbrella of adaptogenic herbs, there are sub-categories of herbs which can be classified based on their region of origin or field of clinical herbalism practice.

Many of these adaptogens are used in more than one region/field of clinical herbalism practice. The regions I’ll be focusing on in the scope of this article are India, China, Tibet, and western regions (Europe, the Americas, and Canada).

Ayurvedic adaptogens (India)

  • Amla, aka  “Indian gooseberry” (Emblica officinalis)

    • Helpful for building up lost vitality and vigor (2, 3)
    • Naturally rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, amino acids and minerals (3)
    • May help remedy diarrhea, jaundice, and inflammation (3)
    • May help support healthy blood sugar levels (3)
  • Ashwagandha, aka “Indian ginseng” (Withania somnifera)

    • Helpful in cases of allergies and autoimmunity (2)
    • Supports better sleep and reduced anxiety (2, 4)
  • Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia)

    • Shown to help support healthier blood detoxification, cholesterol and blood sugar levels (2, 5)
    • High in antioxidants and minerals (5)
    • Can help reduce anxiety (5)
    • Shown to have anti-cancer activity in cells (5)
    • Gastrointestinal-protective and immuno-modulating (5)
  • Holy basil / “Tulsi” (Ocimum sanctum)

    • Helps support healthier mood and immune function (2, 6)
    • Helps reduce blood sugar levels and blood pressure (2, 6)
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

    • Shown to help reduce stress/anxiety, increase energy/vitality, support mood, and enhance cognition (2, 7, 8)
  • Shatavari (Asparagus recemousus)

    • Helps increase libido and vitality in both men and women (2)
    • Enhances and modulates immunity (2)
    • May help reduce the risk of breast cancer (9)
    • Can help support digestive health by reducing inflammation and modulating gastric emptying (2, 10)

TCM adaptogens (China)

  • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)

    • This ancient eastern herb is well known to help enhance immunity and modulate the stress response (2). However, I don’t recommend Asian ginseng as your adaptogen of choice since it is now at risk of becoming endangered due to overharvesting.  (You’ll soon learn there are plenty of wonderful alternatives to choose from!)
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

    • Shown in studies to have potent anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anticancer, hypolipidemic, antihyperglycemic, hepatoprotective, expectorant, and diuretic effects (2, 11)
  • Dang shen, aka “Codonopsis” or “poor man’s ginseng” (Codonopsis pilosula)

    • Helps modulate the stress response in cases of adrenal fatigue (2)
    • Clinically proven to help reduce/reverse cardiovascular disease linked to inflammation and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) (12)
  • Jiaogulan, aka “Southern ginseng” (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)

    • Shown in clinical studies to safely and effectively reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety while supporting a healthy stress response (2, 13
    • Has been found to possess anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating properties and contains prebiotics to support a healthy gut (14)
  • Licorice (Glycerrhiza glabra)

    • Anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulating, trophorestorative (supporting healthy adrenal stress response), and cell-protective (2, 15)
  • Lycium, aka “Goji berries” (Lycium barbarum / Lycium chinense)

    • Fruit native to Asia, now gaining popularity and traction in the U.S. due to its high antioxidant content.  These berries have been proven in clinical studies to help support better vision, reduce anemia, combat inflammation, remedy coughs, help prevent cancer, and modulate the immune system (16, 17).
  • Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum)

    • A medicinal mushroom shown to help modulate stress and immunity, support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, protect the liver, and have anti-aging, anti-cancer properties due to its high and specialized antioxidant activity (2, 18).
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

  • Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

    • Astringent, tonifying herb (helps tighten loose tissue in the body) which has been shown to modulate immunity and uplift mood, supporting people with depression and/or autoimmune disorders (2)
    • Shown to help significantly strengthen muscles and reduce fatigue among women in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (19)

Tibetan adaptogens

  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)

    • This medicinal mushroom has been found to be stress-reducing, immune-modulating, aphrodisiac, anti-oxidant, anti-aging, neuroprotective, nootropic, anti-cancer and supporting/protecting the liver (20)
  • Lycium, aka “Gogi berries” (Lycium barbarum / Lycium chinense)

  • Rhodiola, aka “Tibetan ginseng” (Rhodiola rosea)

Western adaptogens (Europe, Americas, Canada)

  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

    • Proven to enhance memory and cognition (21
    • Helpful in remedying fatigue among people with chronic illness (22)
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

    • Astragalus has been proven in studies to help extend lifespan, fight inflammation, improve heart health, modulate the immune system, prevent cancer, support healthy blood sugar and detoxification, and more! (23)
  • Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus)

    • Chaga has demonstrated anti-bacterial, anti-allergy, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body; helps protect human DNA from inflammation/oxidative damage in certain types of white blood cells. (24)
  • Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus)

    • This Pacific northwest root thas been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years to help treat conditions including but not limited to diabetes, arthritis, and fever (25).
    • Devil’s club has been said (according to my teachers) to support stronger digestion and healthy energy flow in the solar plexus chakra!
  • Eleuthero, aka “Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

    • Although it’s not a true member of the ginseng family, eleuthero has lots of overlap!  This adaptogen originally got its nickname (Siberian ginseng) because it was used in the olympics in Russia for athletes to maximize their athletic performance.  
      • Eleuthero is now widely used to help increase athletic endurance, reduce symptoms of burnout/adrenal fatigue, strengthen resilience, modulate immunity, protect the body from harmful side effects of chemotherapy in cancer treatment, and much more (26).
  • Licorice (Glycerrhiza glabra)

  • Lion’s mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus)

    • This medicinal mushroom is used worldwide for supporting healthier digestion as well as enhancing cognition, strengthening/modulating immunity, and supporting a healthy nervous system! (27)
    • While lion’s mane is mild-tasting and pleasant in an adaptogen tea decoction, the freshly cooked mushrooms also go wonderfully in a stir-fry, and the medicine is most effective when taken as a double extraction in my experience.
  • Reishi mushrooms  (Ganoderma lucidum)

  • Turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor)

    • Turkey tail is another type of medicianl mushrooms known to balance and modulate the immune system and stress response as well as provide high antioxidant levels! (28)

Food for thought: not all adaptogens are suitable for tea

While each and every one of the above adaptogens is uniquely powerful and potent in its own way, not all of the adaptogens from the above list are going to be the best candidates for tea! 

  • Some adaptogens (like Reishi mushrooms, Devil’s club, and Guduchi) are extremely bitter-tasting and not very palatable.  
    • Reishi mushrooms are best when taken as double-extractions, and Guduchi and Devil’s club are better off as tinctures/spagyrics/capsules.
  • Asian ginseng is now considered an endangered species due to overharvesting, so I also recommend choosing an alternative variation of ginseng or other type of adaptogens to incorporate in your adaptogen tea recipes.

Buying and storing loose herbs for adaptogen tea: tips and resources

Growing and harvesting herbs

Herbs should be ethically grown, cultivated, and harvested with reverence and respect, in ways that are sustainable for the environment.

  • Spraying herbs with pesticides increases the likelihood of consuming harmful pesticide residues via your herbal tea, and it’s also not ideal from an environmental standpoint.
  • Over-harvesting herbs that are at risk of becoming endangered is considered unethical and also not sustainable.
  • Herbs should be stored in a cool, dark place.  Herbal products that are too old and/or have been sitting in the light will turn brown and lose their potency over time.  This is why I don’t usually purchase herbs from a store locally (with the exception of the Herb Bar in Austin, which uses best practices!).

Online organic apothecaries

My favorite go-to online apothecaries for purchasing organic herbs include:

What about Amazon?

While many of the above herbal brands are also retailed via Amazon, I’ve found that Amazon’s storage practices specifically for herbal tea are not always consistent with the above best practices.

  • In my own experience, while Amazon is more quick and convenient, and I use Amazon all the time for many other types of purchases, I’ve found the loose herbal adaptogen tea received from Amazon warehouses has been more brown and less potent.  Use your own discretion. 😉

Adaptogen tea preparations and extractions: best practice

While adaptogens may be taken as tea, capsules, and/or tinctures, the more nutrient-rich and pleasant-tasting adaptogens make for the best adaptogen teas!

Tea is the best and most “bioavailable” (easily absorbed) way to get the most out of the vital minerals contained within many of these power-house herbs, since vitamin C, B vitamins and most minerals are water-soluble (better extracted in water versus alcohol).

A few of the biggest and most common mistakes I see people make when it comes to preparing their own adaptogen tea are:

  1. Making their adaptogen tea with commercial tea bags
  2. Not steeping (extracting) the tea for long enough to get a medicinal benefit, and/or 
  3. Not extracting the herbs in the tea properly 

Depending on the type of adaptogen you’re working with, and the plant parts being extracted (flower, seed, stem, or leaves vs. roots, bark, or mushroom), the method of extraction recommended for health benefits will vary.

Certain types of adaptogens (specifically those in which the medicinal component is leaves, fruit, or flowers) may be extracted via a passive infusion method, while other types of adaptogens (specifically those with roots/bark/mushroom) will need to be decocted.

It’s most often recommended that the herbs are dried versus fresh, so that the cell walls are broken down.  This allows the nutritional (vitamin/mineral/antioxidant) and medicinal constituents of the plants to extract best in water.  

Generally speaking, most adaptogenic herbal teas are also best extracted in very hot (not boiling) water versus cold water or boiling.  

  • Cold water is not able to efficiently draw nutrients and constituents out of the plant, and boiling water is generally too hot and can denature some of the vitamins/medicinal components of these herbs.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between a tea infusion and tea decoction, keep reading!

Adaptogen tea infusions

A tea infusion is a type of herbal tea preparation which works well for dried leaves, fruit, and flower parts of medicinal herbs. These plant parts are more delicate compared to roots and barks, so hot water is all it takes to extract nutrients and medicinal constituents!  

  • It’s also important to note that herbal tea infusions are more effective and efficient at extracting nutrients and medicinal constituents of dried herbs versus their fresh counterparts, because the cell walls of the plant are broken down in dried plants. 

A portion of the dried herb is steeped in very hot (not boiling) filtered water or spring water, usually for a minimum of ~15 to 20 minutes or longer.  Herbal tea infusions can be steeped and strained using a tea steeper and mug, or a French press, or a teapot, or a tea kettle with a sieve/nut milk bag.

What are the best adaptogens for tea infusions?

The adaptogens from the above list which are best extracted as tea infusions (versus decoctions) include:

How to make an herbal adaptogen tea infusion

  1. Steep ~ 1 tablespoon of dried adaptogenic tea leaves, stems, flowers heads/buds, petals, and/or dried adaptogenic berries in ~24 to 32 oz. of very hot filtered (or spring) water for at least 15-20 minutes (or longer).
  2. Before drinking, strain the tea through a tea strainer/steeper, fine sieve, or nut milk bag.
  3. Add honey or an unsweetened milk substitute of choice (optional, as needed) for taste!

Triple berry adaptogen tea infusion recipe

Materials: Measuring spoons, French press or tea pot and tea strainer


  • 16 to 24 oz. filtered water/spring water
  • 1 teaspoon dried amla berries
  • 1 teaspoon dried lycium berries
  • 1 teaspoon dried schisandra berries
    • (Or 1 tablespoon any combination of dried adaptogen berries of choice)
  • Optional raw honey or sweetener of choice


  1. Heat water until it’s very hot but not boiling.
  2. Steep berries in hot water in a French press or pot for at least 15 to 20 minutes
  3. Add raw honey or sweetener of choice if desired
  4. Enjoy 1 to 3 cups daily!

Adaptogen tea decoctions

An herbal tea decoction is recommended when working with the tougher parts of herbs, such as dried roots or bark, which require a more intensive extraction method. 

The dried roots/bark are slow-simmered in filtered water/spring water, over low heat for about 20 minutes.  This is how the nutrients and medicinal constituents of these plant parts are best extracted.  

What are the best adaptogenic herbs for tea decoctions?

The best adaptogens for making a tea decoction (versus an infusion or double-extraction) include:

  • Ashwagandha root
  • Rhodiola root
  • Shatavari root
  • Astragalus bark
  • Dang shen root (Codonopsis)
  • Jiaogulan root
  • Licorice root
  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) root
  • American ginseng root
  • Dried lion’s mane powder
  • Dried turkey tail powder
  • Dried chaga mushroom powder

How to make an adaptogenic tea decoction:  

  • Measure ~1 to 2 tablespoons of roots/bark of adaptogens of choice, and add ~24 to 32 oz. filtered/spring water in a stovetop.  
  • Simmer (or “decoct”) on low heat for ~15 to 20 minutes to properly extract the medicinal constituents from the roots/bark of the adaptogenic herbs.  
  • Add sweeteners and/or milk/milk substitutes of choice if desired.

Adaptogen tea docoction recipe

To try out your own adaptogen tea decoction recipe, you may like to check out this adaptogen chai tea for immunity!  (It features ashwagandha and shatavari, but you can swap these out for any adaptogenic herbs of choice.)

Adaptogen tea: final thoughts

More is not always better

While there are dozens of powerful adaptogens to choose from, keep in mind that less is more!

  • It’s better to be taking just a few adaptogenic “herbal allies” that are most aligned with your unique constitution (the energetic and elemental patterns of your mind/body) than to be taking 20 different adaptogens when you think of it.

Adaptogen tea blends

The best types of herbal tea blends are those which support the whole person holistically.  Adaptogens go great when paired with other types of herbs such as:

  • Nutritive herbs (mineral-rich teas)
  • Carminative herbs (to help the medicine circulate throughout the blood faster)
  • Nervines (herbs which soothe and calm an overactive nervous system)

One size does not fit all!

Work with a clinical herbalist to get help and guidance in determining your own best plant allies/herbal allies for holistically supporting YOUR mind and body.

Nutrition is fundamental

Lastly, remember that herbal medicine only “works” when applied in conjunction with a strong, solid nutrition foundation. Making poor food choices will substantially reduce the effectiveness of adaptogens, no matter how high the dose and no matter how different types you choose to take each day!

Sharing is caring!

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read some (or all) of this article. 😉 I hope you found what you were looking for!  If you find it helpful, please share this post with a friend or family member who may benefit from the information. 

Talk soon!


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