Ginseng root

It is the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that one cares for and nourishes the Qi (vital energy) of the Kidneys in winter. Our adrenal glands are thought of as part of the Kidney in TCM. It is the adrenals glands that play a key role in stress hormones.

We can no longer wait until disease appears and then begin treatment. Everyone is under stress, and the treatment for well-being and optimal health starts with prevention before the symptoms arrive. Twenty years ago the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) rejected the need for a daily multi-vitamin and has recently reversed its position. Today JAMA recommends the use of daily vitamins to everyone for maintaining good health. There is no doubt that with the emergence of stress as the new cause of disease, a daily adaptogen is necessary today and its endorsement cannot wait twenty years.

A recent development in herbal medicine is the notion of adaptogenic herbs. The concept of adaptogenic herbs came from Russian research into ginseng in the 1940s and 1950s. Although herbs such as ginseng have been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years, their actions to enhance immunity to disease and strengthen the physical response to and recovery from stress have only recently been scientifically identified. An adaptogen is a substance that allows the body to adapt as whole to non-specific stress.

Various medicines and inoculations might protect against this season’s flu virus. An adaptogen will protect against a whole range of stressors such as sleep deprivation, overwork, trauma, heat, cold, infections, even radiation. An adaptogen does this not based on its own chemical constituents, but by strengthening the body’s innate response mechanisms to stress and disease. And while the class of herbs called adaptogens can strengthen the body’s responses to stress and disease, each has its own specific and unique actions as well and it is essential to match an adaptogenic herb to the individual’s needs and constitution. The following is a list of applications for some well-known and easy to find adaptogen herbs.

  • Asian Ginseng:   Stimulating herb for adrenal exhaustion.
  • American Ginseng:  Mild central nervous system stimulant and nourishing to the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 
  • Ashwaghanda: Calming adaptogen. Relieves muscle pain. 
  • Astragalus:  Immune tonic. Heart tonic.
  • Cordyceps: Lung and Kidney tonic. Immunity Modulator
  • Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng): Immune tonic. Adrenal tonic. Enhances performance.
  • Holy Basil (Tulsi): Supports normal cortisol and blood sugar
  • Reishi: Immunity modulator and calming to the spirit
  • Rhodiola: Immunity modulator. Cardio protective

As with any herbal medications, adaptogens have their own cautions and contraindications when taken with pharmaceutical medications. Consult a licensed professional such as a Naturopathic Doctor or your local Acupuncturist to match an adaptogenic herb or formula to your needs and constitution.

To learn more about these herbs, read:
“Adaptogens: Herbs For Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief”, Winston and Maimes. Healing Health Press, Rochester, Vermont 2007
“The Healing Power of Ginseng & The Tonic Herbs: The Enlightened Person’s Guide”, Bergner. Prima Publishing. 1996

Adaptogens: Herbs to Build Vitality and Immunity