As the name suggests, adaptogenic herbs, or adaptogens for short, are nature’s gentle yet impressive way of adapting your body to life’s many stressors over time. The way they work is pretty wild. They actually act as stress mimetics, activating your stress response a touch every time you take them so that eventually your body is able to cope with more severe stress when it hits you out of the blue. Adaptogens not only encourage healthy physical stamina and mental alertness, they deeply support nervous system recovery. They have a modulating, normalizing, or regulating effect on your HPA axis, the nexus of your nervous system, endocrine system and immune system. 

To break it down a bit, “HPA” stands for Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal, but is sometimes extended to encompass the Ovaries and Thyroid as well. This HPAOT axis is quite literally our built-in “stress response system” and functions on a negative feedback loop, meaning that all glands and organs involved are constantly speaking to each other in order to control and adjust their hormonal output. When dealing with occasional stress, your body aims to protect you from the effects of exposure to stress hormones. Thus, your brain (the HP part), can downregulate the entire HPA axis which can make you feel tired during the day, but sometimes wired in the evening. Adaptogens, which help normalize and regulate the healthy function of this feedback loop, can assist not only healthy energy levels, but support our circadian rhythm which is crucial for aligning our waking and sleeping rhythms so that energy is smooth and stable when it needs to be. So let’s dive into a few of our favorite adaptogenic herbs.


Perhaps the most commonly known adaptogen, ashwagandha is a grounding Ayurvedic adaptogen and nervine that assists healthy thyroid and adrenal function, supports mental and physical stamina, and promotes a healthy response to occasional stress. It specifically works by modulating your HPA axis, which we now know is heavily involved in your stress response. 

Most commonly, we harvest and ingest Aswagandha’s adaptogenic roots to ease tension, stress, and help with mood regulation. Other notable uses include balancing temporary, activity-related inflammation, supporting immune function, and regulating energy levels. More recently, Ashwagandha has been studied in Western medicine primarily for its effect on stress and its ability to ease anxiousness. A clinical trial aimed at investigating the use of ashwagandha for anxiety found that ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced participants’ self-reported anxiety scores as well as their morning cortisol and DHEA-S levels – important markers of increased HPA activity (1). Another famous study proved ashwagandha to be comparable to common pharmaceutical drugs without the unwanted side effects, reducing participants’ anxiety scores by 55% at the end of the 3 month period (2). 

With energetics that are slightly warming, ashwagandha can also support cognitive health and mental clarity by promoting healthy peripheral blood flow to your brain where it’s needed most.


Cordyceps is an adaptogenic fungi, considered a “fu zheng” herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which refers to nourishing tonics that aid in supporting balanced immune and adrenal health. This adaptogen is a bizarre form of fungi that quite literally grows out of a host organism (like an insect or mushroom) and is native to the Himalayas. Interestingly, Cordyceps produces a fruiting body that contains beta-glucans—a type of polysaccharide known to support immune health and overall wellness (3). This chemical compound also supports healthy stamina and energy levels, promotes overall endocrine health, aids in liver and kidney function, and nourishes the adrenals to promote a healthy stress response. One double blind controlled trial found that cordyceps improved participants’ metabolic threshold by 11% and anaerobic threshold by 9% over the 3 month study (4). Similarly, according to a study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, taking cordyceps has been shown to improve physical performance in people who participate in high intensity workouts (5). These two studies together suggest that the adaptogenic nature of cordyceps helps people who are struggling with fatigue to gradually improve their energy levels and endurance capacity. However, it’s important to note that taking cordyceps, or any adaptogen for that matter, for a short period of time likely won’t produce these kinds of results.


A heavily studied adaptogen, Eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng, is a root that helps restore balance when we’re feeling depleted. In other words, it’s sweet, sweet plant-based relief for those of us who feel overworked or rundown. Native to Northern and Eastern Asia (Siberia, Russia, Northern China), Eleuthero is a mildly warming herb harvested for its roots and root bark for thousands of years. Eleuthero root bark is where most of the goods are, but some remedies use the whole root in order to capture the full spectrum of phytochemicals. More than 3,000 published studies support Eleuthero’s classification as an herb that supports a healthy stress response, which is more than any other adaptogen! Its numerous powerful plant compounds, including phenylpropanoid glycosides and polysaccharides, are thought to be responsible for its adaptogenic activity. 

In addition to regulating psychological stress, Eleuthero has also been extensively studied and valued for its ability to improve nonspecific resistance to physical stress due to its adaptogenic properties. One study examining the effects of Eleuthero on endurance capacity, cardiovascular function and metabolism found that Eleuthero supplementation significantly enhanced exercise performance and endurance. Specifically, Eleuthero raised the VO2 max (or maximal oxygen consumption) of participants by 12%, endurance by 23% and peak heart rate by 4%. Additionally, it lowered blood sugar levels significantly over the 2 month study period (6). 


Also known as the “king” remedy or “five-flavored fruit”, Schisandra is a fruit-bearing vine native to Eastern Asia. Its recorded uses as a longevity herb date back to the first century BC, and it’s been used in various TCM remedies ever since. With its cooling and nourishing actions on the liver meridian (nourishing liver yin and supporting the liver’s functions), Schisandra is perfect for a “liver type” of person who tends to be thrown out of balance and fatigued by excessive stress, overworking, anger and perfectionism. It’s also great for type A people who may feel burnt out and are feeling in their HPAOT axis with sluggishness, mental fog, and more.

Russian scientists officially classified Schisandra as an adaptogen after a series of studies carried out throughout the 1940s–1960s. Having been used to support stamina and strengthen the body’s resilience to stress for centuries prior, this classification was a longggg time coming.

Today, Schisandra is widely used as an adaptogen—often paired with other adaptogenic or calming herbs like reishi or chamomile in teas or supplements. Because it helps calm and nourish your mind and body, schisandra has benefits for stress, anxiety, insomnia, low mood, and memory/concentration issues. When taken over time, schisandra can help to stabilize nitric oxide and cortisol levels, despite increased amounts of stress (7). This ancient herb can also help minimize fatigue, improve mental clarity, and even help reduce altitude sickness for its oxygenation-enhancing effects. Unlike coffee or other caffeinated stimulants that can increase anxiety, schisandra gives you focused energy while promoting a sense of calm. Therefore practitioners of TCM have used schisandra to naturally improve mental capabilities and promote sharper concentration, increased motivation and better memory.


Rhodiola, also known as golden root, is a plant that grows in high altitudes in the arctic regions of Eastern Europe and Asia, pointing to its resilient nature. It’s considered to be one of the most effective adaptogenic herbs due to active compounds like rosoavin that can help help balance cortisol levels. One clinical trial aimed at understanding the impact of rhodiola extract on stress-related fatigue found that rhodiola significantly improved fatigue levels and cortisol responses to stress in participants struggling with burnout (8). Rhodiola has also been extensively studied for its ability to improve endurance and performance while combating insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and depression. A research study involving people with anxiety found that rhodiola supplementation significantly reduced self reported scores of anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression several weeks after initiating treatment (9). Another study found that taking rhodiola daily for 2 months led to significant improvements in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (10). Clearly rhodiola is incredible at reducing physical exhaustion but it also can decrease symptoms of mental fatigue, like brain fog and a lack of concentration or mental clarity. 

How Long to Take Adaptogens For

We took most of these clinically studied adaptogens and blended them into Adrenal Recovery, our formula designed to strengthen your HPA axis and get you feeling back in balance. This blend of powerhouse adaptogens is ideal for those of us who want to maintain peak performance and healthy energy levels, especially during times where you may feel rundown or overworked. The best part? You can tailor your adaptogen use to your specific lifestyle and current needs. 

  • 3 months for acute stress – If you’re going through a particularly stressful period but there is an end in sight, this protocol is for you. This could look like a: wedding, move, family emergency, work promotion, home renovation, etc. 
  • 6 months for chronic stress & fatigue – Most of us probably fall into this category. It’s intended for those of us whose ongoing stress has turned into a pattern of afternoon fatigue or waking up feeling less-than-rested. It’s important to nip this in the bud before it becomes burnout!
  • 8-12 months for deep exhaustion – Feeling completely burnt out? Once your adrenals have been depleted for an extended period, it can take some time to get them back to their baseline. 

Remember, adaptogens are best used over time! Strengthening your HPA axis and restoring balance to your adrenal glands takes some patience but tackling the root cause of any nervous system dysregulation is more than worth it. 

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