Adaptogens - What Exactly Are They?

Adaptogens - What Exactly Are They?


Here at The Herbtender, we have a particular interest in ‘Adaptogens’. But what exactly are they? Let us explain...


What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a class of herbs (including roots and mushrooms) that help the human body adapt to stress, whether physical, biological, emotional, or environmental. We all know the harmful effects stress can have on the body. Adaptogens counteract those effects by supporting normal metabolic processes and helping the body to maintain, or restore, balance (homeostasis). 


Not only do these natural wonders help our bodies build resilience to stress - but they can also increase vitality, enhance focus, stabilise mood and reduce fatigue. What’s not to love!


The history of adaptogens

You may be reading this convinced you've seen/heard the term 'adaptogen' used around more frequently - and you'd be correct! 


Their awareness has undoubtedly increased since the Covid-19 pandemic; however, we can first relate the term 'adaptogen' back to 1947, when Dr Nikolia Lazarev used it to describe these incredible plants.


By 1968 Israel I. Brekhman, PhD, and Dr. I.V. Dardymov defined what they understood to be the three key attributes of adaptogens:


 1. They are non-toxic to the recipient in normal therapeutic doses.

 2. They counter stress by producing a non-specific response in the body. 

(In other terms, they increase resistance to multiple stressors - they don’t just work on one pathway.)

 3. They have a normalising influence on physiology. 


(In other terms, they can bring you back into balance, irrespective of the directions you have been pulled. If something is too high, they can help lower it. If something is too low, they will increase it.)


Many adaptogenic herbs we use today have been a part of Ayurvedic or Chinese healing traditions for centuries, and have been known by various names throughout history - including rejuvenating herbs, qi tonics, rasayanas or restoratives. 


Featured within many ancient texts, adaptogens have been used to help maintain and, in some cases, restore health and improve stamina and vigour. In the case of some of the Chinese herbs, they were considered so precious that they were reserved for use by the Emperor and his family alone!


Adaptogen plants are survivors. 

Many have adapted to grow in harsh environments, such as high altitudes, desert-like conditions or extreme cold. It's the chemical compounds they carry to support them in those harsh conditions that work in our bodies to help build resistance to stress and many other ailments.


And although we know a lot about which compounds are involved in adaptogenic activity, some question marks remain. The missing puzzle pieces include whether we have identified all of the compounds involved, exactly how they work in the body and how the myriad of compounds involved in the plant interact in the body to produce the end result. The studies go on!


According to David Winston RH(AHG)**, only 15 plants can be truly classified as adaptogens today. He lists a further six as 'possible adaptogens' because there isn't yet the research to confirm their adaptogenic use. Personally, we think there are many more! 


We know of at least one that is not on the list, that is a common weed and used by Western herbalists as an adaptogen - it's even included in one of our formulae. Can you figure out which one?



Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years to treat a number of ailments. Combine the millennia of their historical use with the positive results of modern-day studies, and the ever-growing list of benefits behind these powerful plants shows no sign of slowing down. 


You can see the full list of adaptogens we use in our formulations here. 

1 comment

  • Lee Christopher Skilton

    Amazing I will be investing in some ov these

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