Grow Your Own Adaptogens

Provide support to your life and garden with these healthful herbs and roots.

| March/April 2019

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Photo by Getty Images/GiorgioMagini

Plants that are used for human health can be grouped into many logical classifications, and the truth of the matter is that one herb can fall into multiple categories. Take chamomile for instance: It’s definitely a nervine, as it contains chemicals that are beneficial to the nervous system. Then again, we can easily classify chamomile as a carminative, because when steeped for more than a couple minutes, it releases bitter compounds that can mildly irritate the mucous membrane of the stomach, soothing digestion as it relieves cramping.

So, which is it? Herbalists are constantly devising ways to classify herbs, and this is a testament to the plant world’s continuous defiance of our ability to fully understand it. With that in mind, it’s not too surprising that we’re still inventing new words for the benefits we receive. And the plants defined by one of those words are rapidly gaining popularity amongst modern herbalists and home gardeners: adaptogens.

Identify Your Adaptogens

In 1947, Soviet scientist N.V. Lazarev introduced
the term adaptogen to describe herbs that create nonspecific reactions in the body in response to negative stimulation. At the time, he was describing the very first representative of Eleutherococcus senticosus.



In 2007, herbalist David Winston and researcher Steven Maimes defined “adaptogens” as a group of herbs that help the body to adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes, and restore balance. In the majority of the population, they cause few to no side effects.

Today, we’ve progressed in our understanding of adaptogens, and I think we’ll continue adding herbs to the adaptogen group. These herbs are preferred by traditional healing modalities around the world because their medicinal use includes few, if any, side effects, while their efficacy increases — often with greater, broader benefits — the longer they’re used. And while adaptogens don’t target any one issue, they support an individual’s collective body systems in adapting to disease symptoms and disruptions to health, whether physiological, emotional, or environmental.



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