The 4 Adaptogens An Herbalist Keeps On Hand For The Holidays
The holiday season has its highs (presents! family time! cozy socks!) and lows (travel delays! family arguments! food comas!). To stay steady through them all, we can lean on tools like meditation, breathwork, exercise, and visualization and seek out more sleep and nutritious food. And if we're still feeling crazed after that, it might be time to give herbal remedies like adaptogens a go.
What are adaptogens again?
Adaptogens are a class of botanicals that interact with the body's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is responsible for releasing our stress hormones. Preliminary studies show that certain adaptogens can help enhance the body's resistance to various stressors, though more research still needs to be done on them.* "By supporting adrenal function, they can help counteract the adverse effects of stress and help maintain balance in the body,"* functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, M.D., writes of their utility.
Adaptogens often come in powdered form and can easily be mixed into food and drink (though you definitely want to pay attention to dose, especially when you're working with more than one at a time). In her new book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Longevity and Everyday Wellness, rain forest herbalist Adriana Ayales provides recipes for incorporating them into teas, cocktails, smoothie bowls, and the like.
Originally from Costa Rica, Ayales writes with a unique perspective on the power of the plants, how they have traditionally been used in Central America, and how they can be sourced in a way that supports indigenous peoples and their lands. Here, she shares her favorite adaptogens to call on this time of year and some new ways to use them.
Herbalist Adriana Ayales' favorite adaptogens for the holidays and wintertime:
Ashwagandha is one of the most widely used adaptogens these days, lauded for its potential to enhance the body's ability to manage stress.* One recent 60-day trial that took place in Australia found that those who took the herb every day experienced lower levels of cortisol—a potent stress hormone—than those who took a placebo. Ayales also says the herb helps her manage the winter blues that can come with darker days.*
How to consume it: The flavor of ashwagandha can be a bit overpowering. Ayales recommends mixing it into a brew of plant-based milk of your choosing, chai spice, and cacao to mask some of the taste. She says the antioxidants in cacao can also help heighten some of ashwagandha's benefits: "They taste fantastic together, and they're kind of a perfect combo chemically as well."*
"Cordyceps is also a great one for the holidays because it can energize you as you travel, attend parties, and go to family gatherings," Ayales says.* "It's also great for muscle recovery in general. When you run too much into overdrive, your muscles tend to tense up naturally." This medicinal mushroom, which can also be considered an adaptogen because of how it interacts with the body, has indeed been shown to support fatigue recovery in mice, but human trials on it are scant.*
How to consume it: In powdered form, cordyceps can pair nicely in your morning coffee.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Another popular herb these days, tulsi has roots in ayurvedic tradition. Initial studies show that the herb can help support healthy blood pressure and stress response, but again, more research still needs to be done.*
How to consume it:
Steeping holy basil tea makes for a powerful morning ritual, according to Ayales, who says the brew "uplifts the spirit and opens the heart."
Cellular beauty has arrived with this revolutionary formula, featuring the powerful adaptogen Rhodiola rosea.*
How to consume it:
This recipe, adapted from Ayales' book, mixes rhodiola into a simple syrup with some berries and rose for flavor.
Enjoy it in a mocktail with sparkling water and tea or kombucha. If you're feeling really festive, you can spike the final brew with your favorite alcohol.
A Mood-Boosting Adaptogenic Syrup
- 30% schisandra berries
- 15% rhodiola powder
- 25% rose petals
- 25% mucuna powder
- Vegetable Glycerin
- Filtered Water
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water to a boil and then add the berries, rhodiola, and mucuna. (Use this same proportion with whole berries or powder.) For every cup of shisandra, rhodiola, and mucuna, use about 2 cups of water.
- Allow to simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes. The end result should have very little water, as you want a strong and dense liquid.
- Turn the heat off and leave until room temperature, about 15 minutes.
- Once it's completely cooled, add the rose petals.
- Without straining the herbs, add 50% of the mixture's total volume of glycerin. Mix very well.
- It's best to allow the syrup to macerate for a good 7 to 14 days. Shake it daily to ensure you're motivating oxygenation and a deeper extraction. It keeps for about 1.5 to 2 years if stored in a cool, dry place, away from the sun and humidity. Or store it in the fridge.
It’s worth noting that you can use the simple syrup the same day you make it, if you’re in a pinch. You can also spoon out some of it as needed while keeping the rest of the jar extracting for longer.
To turn into a cocktail, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of syrup with 10 ounces of kombucha or your favorite tea infusion and 12 ounces of coconut water or sparkling water. Shake very well and serve chilled in your favorite cocktail glass.