Adaptogens - Great Herbs For Better Wellness

One of the more interesting topics in the area of natural health is the subject of adaptogens. What are adaptogens? What benefits might adaptogens provide? What are some of the more common adaptogens?

The term adaptogen has been around since the late 1940's and is generally credited to Russian Dr. Nicholai Lazarev Selye. Lazarev was one of the first people to do research traditional herbs that had been used in ancient medical traditions. He generally defined adaptogens as a natural herb that allows the body to counter adverse physical, chemical or biological stressors by raising non-specific resistance towards the stressors, thus allowing the body to "adapt" to the stressful situation.

One of Lazarev's protégés from his early studies on adaptogens, Dr. Israel Brekhman, created what is the generally accepted definition of Adaptogen in the late 1960's. Brekhman defined adaptogens as:
  1. Non-toxic to the recipient
  2. Producing a non-specific response in the body which increases the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical or biological agents.
  3. Having a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.
Make sense? In more general terms, Brekhman is saying that adaptogens are, in normal doses, non-toxic, able to produce a general defense against stress and that they help the body return to a more normal state.

These herbs are unique from other substances in their ability to balance endocrine hormones and the immune system. They are the only natural substances able to help the body maintain optimal homeostasis.

Adaptogens have been used for centuries in Chinese and Russian cultures. Chinese warriors would consume adaptogens before going off to battle to provide them with energy and mental clarity. Hunters in Siberia would take them before their long and arduous hunting trips.

More recently, adaptogens were used extensively as part of the training regime of the former Soviet Union's athletes. By studying the effects of training on the athlete's body and providing them with adaptogens to supplement their normal diet the athletes performed better and their bodies recovered more rapidly. Take a look at the medal counts from the Olympics during the 1970's and 1980's. The results speak for themselves!!! Today many top athletes continue to use adaptogens to help them obtain peak performance.

From my perspective, the thing I like most about adaptogens is that they help create optimal physiological functioning. Thus, we can create wellness versus treating disease. That to me is a better way to live.

So what are some of the more common adaptogens and what benefits might they provide to you? Read on.

Eleutherococcus Senticosus (aka Siberian Ginseng)

Eleutherococcus senticosus is a small, woody shrub that is native to East Asia, China, Japan and Russia. Scientific studies have shown this to be the strongest and most potent of the adaptogens.

This plant helps your body adapt to stress, enhances mental acuity and physical endurance, and improves the muscles' use of oxygen. It has also been shown to enhance and support immune system response. Some other suggested uses are anti-inflammatory, radiological protection and normalization of body function.

Schizandra Chinensis (aka Chinese Magnolia Vine)

Schizandra Chinensis is a hardy deciduous climber that is generally grown in gardens. The Chinese call schizandra, wu wei zi, which means "five flavor fruits", because the berries contain all of the 5 traditional Chinese flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent (spicy) and salty.

The seed of this herb promotes antioxidant activities against free radicals. Some of its other traditional uses are to resist infection, increase skin health and combat insomnia.

Recent research indicates that schizandra is hepato (of or relating to the liver) protective and may help people with chronic viral hepatitis.

Aralia Mandchurica (aka Manchurian Thorn Tree)

Aralia Mandchurica is a short handsome tree that is found in the Far East.

Aralia is well known in Russia and used to increase stamina and cognitive abilities. It also helps stimulate the central nervous system, which helps improve immune system function. The extract of aralia was officially approved for therapeutic use is the USSR in 1957.

Viburnum Sargenti (aka Sargent Virburnum)

Viburnum Sargenti is a large shrub that grows 12-15 feet tall and bears white flowers in the spring that turn to bright red, berry-like fruit in late summer.

Recent studies show that Viburnum fruit possess high antioxidant, antiradical and antitoxic action. It also has an anti-aging effect and enhances immunity.

Glycyrrhiza Uralensis (aka Licorice Root)

Glycyrrhiza Uralensis is one of the oldest-known medical plants which blooms from June through August in a wide area that covers Western Russia, Central Asia and the Mediterranean.

In traditional Chinese Medicine it has been a staple botanical for the treatment of asthma and allergic rhinitis. In present day, it is used to increase circulation, enhance skin tone, and protect against stress. It is also known for its soothing properties, which help digestive, urinary and intestinal systems.

Rhaponticum Carthamoides (aka Maral Root)

Rhaponticum Carthamoides is a herbaceous plant that occupies sub-alpine zones (4500-6000 ft above sea level). It is widely cultivated throughout Russia and eastern Europe.

This herb promotes improved muscular performance and the ability to convert fat proteins into muscle mass faster than working out alone. Rhaponticum, is high in 20-E, one of the most common molting hormones in insects and crabs. 20-E is a bioactive adaptogen in humans. Its adaptogenic properties have been traditionally used for fatigue, impotence and recovery from long illness.

Crataegus Oxyacantha (aka Hawthorn Berry)

Crataegus Oxyacantha is a member of the rose family. The shrub produces brilliantly colored red berries and primarily originates in Mediterranean areas, although bushes are found in other areas of the world.

The berry is high in antioxidants and has been employed as an herbal remedy since ancient times. In Europe it is widely used as a preventative "heart tonic". Its antioxidants help protect arteries from plaque buildup and help dilate the blood vessels, which results in more effective use of oxygen and nutrients as wells has regulate blood pressure. It aids in reducing water retention by expelling excess salt from the body.

Rhodiola Rosea. (aka Golden Root)

Rhodiola Rosea grows in the cold regions of the world such as the Arctic, the mountains of Central Asia, The Rocky Mountains and mountainous parts of Europe.

The flower of this plant has been used for centuries in traditional therapies. Such as in Russia, where it has been used to cope with the cold Siberian climate and stressful life. Rhodolia Rosea is very effective for improving mood and alleviating depression. Research shows that it improves both physical and mental performance, reduces fatigue, and prevents high altitude sickness. In one study, the Rhodolia Rosea group decreased proofreading errors by 88% while the control group increased proofreading errors by 84%!

Sorbus Aucuparia (aka Mountain Ash)

Sorbus Aucuparia is a small to medium sized deciduous tree that is native to most of Europe except for the far south. This tree produces a small fruits which ripen to a bright red color in the fall.

The berries of this tree have been found to have anti-scorbutic properties, which work to prevent Vitamin C deficiencies.

Inonotus Obliquus (aka Chaga Mushroom)

Inonotus Obliquus is a parasitic mushroom which grows on birch trees. It causes the trees death in 5-7 years and is known as "birch cancer" in Russia.

Since the 16th century, Chaga Mushroom has been used in the botanical medicine of the Eastern European countries as a remedy for cancer, gastritis, ulcers and TB of the bones. Scientific studies in Finland and Russia found this mushroom provided an epochal effect in breast cancer, liver cancer, uterine cancer and gastric cancer, as well as in hypertension and diabetes. Herbalist David Winston maintains that this is the strongest anti-cancer medicinal mushroom.

So as you can see, even though adaptogens have only been studied for the last 60 years or so, they have been used for centuries in various cultures to promote health and wellness. There are many supplements out there that use a number of these adaptogens. One I am particularly fond of, and in fact take myself, is a product called Tunguska Blast. As you've read above, each of these adaptogens alone can have a powerful effect on you and your health. Tunguska Blast is a liquid supplement that contains all 10 of them! If you are interested in learning more about this product visit For those of you who may have interest in reading more about adaptogens I would recommend a fabulous book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes, 2007, Healing Arts Press.

Bruce Wells is based in Albuquerque, NM and spends a great deal of time studying and researching the topic of natural health and wellness. He believes that nature provides us with many ways to create health and wellness. Creating health and wellness is the better alternative to treating disease.