Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, an internationally recognized expert in natural and herbal medicine, defines adaptogens as members of “a certain class of herbs that basically help the body adapt to stressful situations and environments, predominantly by working through the adrenal glands.”
(Like what you're reading? Sign up for our newsletter to get health insights, clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more—delivered straight to your inbox.)
That said, while this is the basic role of an adaptogen, not every member of this class works in the same way. Some adaptogens, like rhodiola and ginseng, help energize the body and are great for people who often feel lethargic and fatigued. (Here are 7 foods that wake you up better than a cup of coffee.) Others, like astragalus, help fortify the immune system against viruses. Still others, like maca, have been proven in clinical studies to help boost the libido.
Dr. Low Dog recommends ashwagandha for those worn out, frazzled feelings that perturb so many of us. “Ashwagandha is so nice, I think, for Americans, because it’s the only really, truly sedating kind of adaptogen that we have, meaning that it’s very, very calming.”
Related: Ashgawada, The Ancient Herb That Counters Stress