Latin Name: Eleutherococcus senticosus
Herb Class/Action: Adaptogen, Immune Modulator, Kidney Tonic, Adrenal Tonic
Parts Used: Root, bark
Flavors: Slightly sweet, bitter, acrid
Energetics: Mildly warming
Traditional Benefits: Adrenal support, immune support, Shen support
A heavily studied adaptogen, Eleuthero is a root that helps restore balance when we’re feeling depleted. In other words—it’s sweet, sweet plant based relief for those feeling 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 powder or extract is usually consumed as a tea, but can often be found in capsule form as well. The 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 adaptogen (a natural substance that helps support a healthy stress response)—more so than any other adaptogen. Its numerous powerful plant compounds, includings phenylpropanoid glycosides and polysaccharides, are considered to be responsible for its adaptogenic activity.
Adaptogens are phenomenal multitaskers for human health. Not only known for their ability to encourage healthy physical stamina and mental alertness, they deeply support recovery amidst occasional times of stress. There are two parts to this word: ADAPT (which means to change something so that it functions better despite tough circumstances) and GEN (a substance that generates). Adaptogens help us generate a greater sense of resilience in order to adapt to the occasional stress in our lives in a healthy way.
In my teacher Richard’s words: “Adaptogens support non-specific resilience to stressors and reestablish our intrinsic physical, mental, and emotional adaptive capacity.” They have a modulating, normalizing, or regulating effect (in particular on the nervous, endocrine, and immune system or the “HPA axis” where all three interact).
Adaptogens are the main tools that herbalists use to reset someone’s circadian rhythm, support parasympathetic mode (the opposite of fight-or-flight), and regulate the HPA axis. And if you’ve ever felt overworked or burnt out, it’s important to understand exactly what your HPA axis is.
“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 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 us 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.
In traditional Chinese herbalism, Eleuthero root is used as a Spleen Qi, Kidney Yang, and Shen (mind/spirit/heart) tonic. It’s gently warming, revitalizing, and uplifting — rarely is it considered overstimulating.
Though it’s sometimes called “Siberian ginseng,” Eleuthero isn’t related to true Ginseng.