Stress Busters

Adaptogens are becoming a staple in wellness foods and drinks

By Merry Lycett Harrison

Feeling tired, anxious and worn down by stress? Having trouble sleeping? Is your digestion off? Well, step out of the supplement aisle and into the food aisles, because food “adaptogens” may be just what the (herb) doctor ordered.

Adaptogens are plants that help you adapt to stress without needing to rely on caffeine, sugar, processed snacks and energy bars. Herbs such as ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, licorice and mushrooms like reishi, miatake and shiitaki increase resistance to stressors and improve energy levels. In addition, they’re thought to boost the immune system, relieve anxiety and mild depression, strengthen the nervous system, improve cognitive function and increase libido.

Whole Foods sells a variety of new wellness beverages from Rebbl Sparkling Prebiotic Tonic with ginger, turmeric, lemon and cayenne to Suja Blood Orange Bitters Kombucha, Good Culture Probiotic Gut Shot (technically kefir) and Rebbl Gold Label Elixir chocolatey mushroom drink.

The Vive Organic brand uses adaptogens and prints a novel, neoteric stamp on each bottle that reads “Doctor Crafted,” referring to a team of doctors with whom they work to craft the formulas. They sell 2-ounce shots in Immunity Boost (original, cayenne and elderberry), Wellness Rescue and Antioxidant Detox blends.

In London, Starbucks offers a new Turmeric Latte, and even Coke and Pepsi have their R&D departments analyzing future potential of adaptogens.

Food and snacks with adaptogens are certainly on display at natural products trade shows such as Expo West, where retailers go to see what’s coming in the industry. As drinks are more marketable, it makes sense that the ingredients are showing up there.

A number of Salt Lake local businesses have joined the adaptogen bandwagon: Vive Juicery (1597 S. 1100 East, SLC, 801-875-8923, infuses its line of healthy drinks, shots and elixirs with spices and herbs, Brass Smoothies ( in the 9th and 9th neighborhood offers both signature additives as well as adaptogen blends and Chocolate Conspiracy ( has already blended the beneficial herbs rooibos and maca into their high-quality bars.

There are, however, a few concerns with this trend. Some herbs are meant to be used short term while other tonic herbs may be consumed long term to gain their benefit. And if there is only a dusting or drop of the adaptogenic herb(s) combined with the food or beverage, the therapeutic effects cannot be assured. It is doubtful that occasional snacking on these products will produce desired results.

Reading the over-the-top benefits of these herbs online make them seem like the answer to everything from weight loss to erectile dysfunction. If only… They do however offer subtle, welcome shifts to overall well-being, stamina, outlook and even memory.

The point is, when you feel better, you do better. A good night’s sleep, improved digestion, less reactivity to stress and more energy all serve to support you in being at your best. More than a trend, the recent inclusion of adaptogens in foods and beverages is an evolution toward increasing sensible, helpful and healthful food options for consumers.

Are you a frequent flyer? Are people in your household, at your office or in your classes frequently ill?
To fortify your immune system, consume astragalus, echinacea and elderberry

Have you recently experienced excessive physical demands?
Restore your depleted body and blood with high-mineral plants such as wheat grass, dandelion, oat straw and nettle.

Are you worried and anxious to the point where it affects your sleep?
Dial down the mental chatter with ashwagandha and kava.

Has a long-term difficult situation worn you down?
Stay on a more even keel ingesting ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola and maca. 

“Adaptogen” A plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning. (Merriam-Webster)

Adaptogens in history

Egyptians revered the blue lotus for its mild narcotic and aphrodisiac affect.

In 2700 BC in China, reishi was called the “mushroom of immortality” and reserved exclusively for the royal family. Asian ginseng was valued as the “longevity herb.”

In the ancient Ayurvedic medicine system, rasayana, meaning the “path of essence,” was the term used to describe rejuvenating and restorative plants.
Vikings used rhodiola to enhance their physical strength.

The root vegetable maca grows in the high elevation of the Peruvian Andes where it has been consumed for thousands of years to nourish and improve energy and stamina.

In 1948, the Soviet scientist, Nikolai Lazarev, coined the term “adaptogen” while seeking a performance tonic for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

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