If you're tuned in to health and wellness trends, you've likely heard the word "adaptogen" in recent months. These stress-busting wonder herbs are definitely having a moment. And the popularity of adaptogens is completely understandable, given the pace of everyday life. After all, who wouldn't want to say goodbye to some of that day-to-day stress?
But what exactly are adaptogens? And what are the best adaptogenic herbs to try? Let's break down what you need to know about these herbal helpers.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbs, roots and mushrooms that help our minds and bodies deal with daily stressors. Regardless of their botanical form, they are collectively referred to as adaptogen herbs, adaptogenic herbs, or simply adaptogens. You'll see these terms used interchangeably.
Adaptogens are best known for supporting normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol to help balance physiological responses to stress—like that tense feeling you get when you're stressed at work or running late.1 Adaptogens help smooth out your body's stress response, supporting a healthier response to daily stressors.
Researchers say adaptogens work by helping regulate the adrenal system, which plays a role in the body's stress response.2 But minimizing stress isn't the only area where adaptogens shine. Most adaptogenic herbs have other beneficial properties too—from boosting energy and overall vitality to supporting immune health and sleep quality, promoting stamina, and encouraging a general sense of wellbeing.
And while the recent buzz may make adaptogens seem like a new discovery, they've been used by herbalists for ages and clinically-studied for many areas of health for decades. Keep reading to explore some of the best adaptogens and their many benefits.
What are the Best Adaptogens?
Options are great to have, but with so many choices, how do you know which adaptogen is right for you? That depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a list of the most popular adaptogens and their benefits.
Ashwagandha is a staple in Ayurvedic traditions with many uses, including as an adaptogen. Research shows that ashwagandha may help minimize stress and anxiousness, significantly reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.3 One study noted reduced cortisol levels by as much as 30% compared to the control group.4
Supplementing with ashwagandha promotes a sense of calmness and relaxation while enhancing mental and physical vitality. Some people also use it to support sexual health, and there have been a few studies that show promise in this area for both men and women.5,6
Ashwagandha Benefits & Uses
- Helps reduce stress and anxiousness
- Promotes a sense of calm and relaxation
- Supports mental and physical vitality
- May support sexual health
2. Bacopa Monnieri
Traditionally used for cognitive support (and an ingredient in our Pure Brainpower formula for that reason) Bacopa monnieri is also effective as an adaptogen. In fact, this herb’s adaptogenic effects may contribute to its cognitive-boosting abilities.
Studies show that Bacopa monnieri interacts with the dopamine and serotonergic systems and may help reduce the effects of physiological stress.7,8 It also supports memory acquisition and retention, promotes neuron communication and provides antioxidant support.7,9,10
Bacopa Monnieri Benefits & Uses
- Helps reduce physiological stress
- Supports memory acquisition and retention
- Promotes neuron communication
- Provides antioxidant support
3. Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng, also known as Korean Ginseng, is one of the most commonly used and researched forms of ginseng, and it has many potential benefits. Among those benefits, clinical-research says this adaptogenic herb may improve psychologic and immune function, in addition to increasing resistance to stress.11
But the benefits don't stop there. Panax ginseng may also provide support for sexual health and enhance mental performance—improving abstract thinking, math skills, and reaction times in healthy middle-aged adults.12
Panax Ginseng Benefits & Uses
- Supports increased resistance to stress
- Promotes psychologic function & enhanced mental performance
- Supports sexual health
- Supports immune function
4. Cordyceps Fungi
Cordyceps, also known as the “caterpillar fungus,” is a mushroom-like fungus with a history in traditional Tibetan and Chinese health practices. It’s found at high altitudes in the Himalayas, and traditional uses have varied widely—from supporting longevity and general vitality to sexual health, liver health and beyond.14
As an adaptogenic herb, Cordyceps supplements support a healthy stress response and promote immune function. And science backs up the use of Cordyceps fungi as a wellness promoter in many other areas of health—with studies on Cordyceps for energy, stamina, antioxidant support, anti-aging and heart health.14,15 Research also shows that Cordyceps may enhance aerobic capacity, helping optimize oxygen use and bolstering cellular energy.15
Cordyceps Benefits & Uses
- Supports a healthy stress response
- Promotes energy and stamina
- Provides antioxidants, contributing to potential anti-aging and heart health benefits
- May help optimize oxygen use and boost cellular energy
5. Eleuthero Root
Like many of the herbs on this adaptogens list, eleuthero root has been used for thousands of years. Its use as an adaptogen to fight the effects of daily stress is just one of many. Traditional eleuthero root uses include promoting endurance and supporting longevity and overall vitality. 16
What does science say about eleuthero root? Beyond stress support, early research shows it has potent antioxidant effects that may be beneficial for supporting the immune system, particularly in relation to athletic performance, while boosting exercise endurance and fighting fatigue.17,18
Eleuthero Benefits & Uses
- Promotes a healthy response to day-to-day stress
- Traditionally used for endurance, fighting fatigue and supporting longevity
- Provides antioxidants that may be beneficial for immune health
- Supports exercise endurance
6. Holy Basil
This revered herb is considered sacred by the Hindus. Holy Basil is also known as Tulsi, which translates as “the incomparable one.”19 And it’s often consumed as a tea, such as in our Certified Organic Holy Basil tea.
In addition to its adaptogenic properties to help counter the effects of stress, Holy Basil also has potent antioxidant components. It’s also one of nature’s best sources of niacin (vitamin B-3) which is why we used Holy Basil extract to make Swanson Ultra Real Food Niacin.20
Holy Basil Benefits
- Helps counter the effects of stress
- Boosts antioxidant activity in the body
- Rich source of niacin
7. Adaptogenic Maca Root
Maca is a root herb that grows in the wild in Peru and was used as a food source by the Incans. It's similar in appearance to radishes or turnips and can have various colors. Just as much a superfood as an herb, this amazing adaptogen has many healthful benefits.
Beyond helping the body adapt to stressors, maca root is used to boost energy, support a healthy libido, promote balance for women during menopause, and boost immune health (maca root is packed with vitamin C). 21,22 Studies show it has benefits for men too in the area of reproductive health.22 23
Maca Root Benefits & Uses
- Helps the body adapt to stressors
- Promotes energy
- Supports a healthy libido
- Provides balancing support during menopause
- Promotes sexual health
8. Rhodiola Rosea
With more than 140 active components, rhodiola rosea is a beloved and widely-used adaptogen for stress support, anxiousness and many other health benefits.24
Rhodiola rosea has been clinically studied for reducing work stress, fighting fatigue and boosting mood.24 Research also shows it may also benefit brain function, reducing mental fatigue and boosting work-related performance by as much as 20%, support exercise performance and more.24
Rhodiola Rosea Benefits & Uses
- May help reduce work-related stress
- Promotes brain function
- Helps reduce mental fatigue
- Boosts work and exercise performance
9. Amla Berry
An Ayurvedic staple, amla berry, also known as Indian gooseberry, is another adaptogen with a lengthy history of use in wellness. We're also hearing a lot about amla berry’s potential benefits for hair and scalp lately, with some saying it may be the next big beauty trend.25
Stress can take a real toll on your skin and lead to signs of aging, so its stress-fighting prowess and antioxidant properties alone may make this berry useful for beauty purposes. Others use amla berry to support joint health and comfort.26
Amla Berry Benefits & Uses
- Fights effects of stress
- Provides antioxidant phytonutrients
- May support joint health
- May have hair & skin benefits
10. Astragalus Root
A fixture in Chinese medicine, astragalus root is traditionally combined with additional herbs to stimulate immune and respiratory health. Classified as an adaptogen, astragalus helps restore balance when faced with physical and mental stressors, boosting strength and vitality. 27
Studies show that astragalus may also support a healthy heart and kidneys, relieve fatigue, and provide seasonal health support.27
Astragalus Benefits & Uses
- Helps restore balance in the face of stress
- Promotes strength and vitality
- May support heart and kidney health
- May relieve fatigue
- Provides seasonal support
11. Licorice Root
Licorice root has been compared to ashwagandha because of its ability to help balance cortisol levels.28 Licorice also has soothing properties that can benefit gut health, and it may support respiratory function, healthy skin, detox and more.28, 29
Often used as a sweetener for candy, many licorice candies are now flavored with anise extract instead, which mimics the flavor of licorice. If you have blood pressure concerns, check with your doctor before supplementing with licorice root.
Licorice Root Benefits & Uses
- Supports a healthy response to daily stress
- May help soothe the stomach
- Promotes skin health
- Supports liver and colon cleansing
12. Moringa Oleifera
Moringa is a nutritive tree native to North India, and it’s considered one of the most useful trees in the world. Almost every part of the tree is either eaten or used for its health benefits, from its leaves and pods right down to its roots. Moringa supplements are made out of moringa oleifera leaf, seeds and fruit extracts.
This superfood adaptogen is packed with antioxidant compounds like vitamin C, beta-carotene, quercetin and chlorogenic acid that fight free radicals and support the body’s defenses. Moringa is used for a wide range of health purposes, including blood sugar and heart health support and promoting detoxification. 30
- Fights free radicals and oxidative stress
- Supports heart health and healthy blood sugar
- Promotes detoxification
13. Gotu Kola
Also known as the “herb of longevity,” herbalists use gotu kola to boost cognitive function, promote skin health, and support the health of liver and kidneys.
Studies suggest this herb may indeed help boost brainpower, and research shows supplementing with gotu kola may also help promote a positive mood, reduce stress and anxiousness, support circulatory health, help you sleep better, and provide antioxidant support that may help joints and the immune system.31
Gotu Kola Benefits & Uses
- Supports a healthy response to daily stress
- Promotes circulatory health
- May help you sleep better
- Provides antioxidant support for joints & immune health
- Traditionally used for skin, liver and kidney health
14. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna pruriens is a bean with a velvety pod that grows in tropical environments, where it’s cooked and consumed as a high-protein food source by native populations.32 The bean also has a place in Ayurvedic traditions, and many of its benefits are thought to stem from the bean’s high levels of L-dopa, a precursor to dopamine.32
Studies show that mucuna pruriens may promote a sense of wellbeing and reduce cortisol levels, and numerous studies show it may have sexual health benefits for men.33
Mucuna Pruriens Benefits & Uses
- Reduces stress
- Promotes a sense of wellbeing
- Contains a precursor to dopamine
- May benefit men’s sexual health
Adaptogen Herbs for Stress & So Much More
Day-to-day stress is an inevitable part of modern life. As much as we’d love to, we can’t banish everything that causes stress over the course of a day, but we can improve how we respond to it. And we can find ways to take better care of our minds and bodies along the way. That includes plenty of self-care time, daily exercise, a healthy diet and the right supplements to reinforce your wellness routine.
For more tips on banishing stress, read Say Om: 6 Tips to Help You Relax and Reduce Stress and 5 Ways to Detox Your Mind and Body.
Share your favorite stress-busting tips below. And sign up for Swanson Health Emails to get expert wellness advice and our best promotions in your inbox.
1 7 Adaptogen Herbs To Lower Your Cortisol. Mind Body Green. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-23289/7-adaptogen-herbs-to-lower-your-cortisol.html
2 Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals — Open Access Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026
3A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798
4A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. https://blog.priceplow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/withania_review.pdf
5Ashwagandha root extract may improve sexual function & satisfaction in women. NutraIngredients USA. https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2016/02/11/Ashwagandha-root-extract-may-improve-sexual-function-satisfaction-in-women#
6Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19501822
7 Summary of Bacopa monnieri. Examine.com. https://examine.com/supplements/bacopa-monnieri/
8 Adaptogenic effect of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi). PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12957224
9 Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20590480
10 Screening of antioxidant potential of the medicinal plant Bacopa monnieri (L.) Pennell. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S230505001360158X
11 Panax Ginseng. American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1015/p1539.html
12 Panax Ginseng. WebMed. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1000/panax-ginseng
13 Traditional uses and medicinal potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3121254/
14 6 Benefits of Cordyceps, All Backed by Science. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cordyceps-benefits
15 Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. David Winston. https://books.google.com/books/about/Adaptogens.html?id=5NbXBhyQGUkC
16 Eleutherococcus senticosus. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/eleutherococcus-senticosus
17 Eleuthero. Michican Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2084007
18 Siberian Ginseng: A Review of the Literature. Natural Medicine Journal. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2012-03/siberian-ginseng-review-literature
19 Holy Basil. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1101/holy-basil
20 What is Orgen-N®? Orgen® Family. http://www.orgenfamily.com/orgen-n.html
21 Maca (Lepidium meyenii) for treatment of menopausal symptoms: A systematic review. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21840656
22 Benefits of Maca Root. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-maca-root#section5
23 Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11753476
24 7 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rhodiola-rosea
25 Can You Use Amla Powder for Hair Health? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/amla-powder-for-hair
26 Indian Gooseberry. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-784/indian-gooseberry
27 Astragalus: An Ancient Root With Health Benefits. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/astragalus#other-benefits
28 How To Know Which Adaptogen Is Best For Your Body (Because Dang, They're Expensive). Dr. William Cole. MindBodyGreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-best-adaptogen-for-anxiety-brain-fog-blood-sugar-balance-adrenal-fatigue-immu
29 Health Benefits of Licorice Root. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/licorice-the-sweet-root#assists-cancer-treatment
30 6 Science-Based Health Benefits of Moringa oleifera. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-benefits-of-moringa-oleifera
31 Everything You Need to Know About Gotu Kola. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/gotu-kola-benefits
32 The Magic Velvet Bean of Mucuna pruriens. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942911
33 Mucuna Pruriens. Examine.com. https://examine.com/supplements/mucuna-pruriens/
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.