What are adaptogens and how do I incorporate them into my diet? 

General Health

written by:

Kayla Martin, MS, CNS

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a class of herbs and mushrooms that have gained significant attention in the nutrition and holistic wellness worlds as of late. Adaptogens are unique in that they possess the remarkable ability to help the body adapt to stressors, whether they’re physical or emotional in nature. 

Essentially, adaptogens work like a thermostat for the body’s stress response, helping to modulate and respond to whatever’s going on internally or externally. 

What makes adaptogens so intriguing is their ability to promote a state of homeostasis within the body, helping to restore balance and enhance resilience to stress. Unlike stimulants that can lead to heightened cortisol levels and increased adrenaline, adaptogens exert a more subtle influence, supporting the adrenal glands and the body’s overall stress response system. 

Incorporating adaptogens into your daily life may contribute to improved energy levels, better mental clarity, and a strengthened immune system. While individual responses vary, our clients often find adaptogens useful in navigating the demands of busy lives, offering a natural approach to stress management.

Why and how do adaptogens help your mood and mental health? 

Adaptogens can be a powerful tool for supporting mood and mental health. These unique herbs and mushrooms work their magic by interacting with the body’s stress response system, helping it adapt to various challenges. 

Now, you might wonder, how does stress relate to mood and mental well-being?

Well, when we encounter stress, our body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, triggering the “fight or flight” response. While this response is essential for survival, chronic stress can take a toll on mental health, leading to fatigue, anxiety, and even depression. 

That’s where adaptogens come in. 

Adaptogens help buffer stress by modulating the levels of stress hormones. Instead of letting cortisol skyrocket to unhealthy levels, adaptogens help regulate its release, preventing it from wreaking havoc on your mental and emotional balance.

One of the key reasons adaptogens support mood and mental health is their ability to enhance the body’s resilience to stress. By promoting a more balanced stress response, adaptogens may contribute to improved energy levels, better concentration, and a greater sense of well-being. 

Think of them as nature’s way of helping us stay calm and focused in the face of life’s challenges.  

Are adaptogens safe for everyone?

While adaptogens are generally considered safe for most people, it’s important to keep in mind that individual responses vary. Before incorporating adaptogens into your routine, consult with a qualified practitioner, particularly one well-versed in herbs and supplements. 

Here are some key points to consider:

1. Individual Variability: People react differently to supplements, including adaptogens. Some may experience positive effects, while others may notice little to no change. It’s essential to pay attention to your body’s response and adjust your usage accordingly. 

2. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals should always consult their healthcare provider before starting a new supplement. Limited research is available on the effects of adaptogens in these populations, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

3. Medical Conditions and Medications: Individuals with specific medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders or hormonal imbalances should work with a healthcare provider. Additionally, adaptogens may interact with certain medications, potentially affecting their efficacy or leading to unintended side effects.

4. Dosage and Duration: Moderation is key. While adaptogens are generally considered safe, excessive intake can lead to adverse effects. Stick to the recommended dosages, and avoid long-term use without breaks.  

5. Quality Matters: Choose reputable sources for adaptogen supplements to ensure product quality and safety. Poorly regulated supplements may contain impurities or inaccurate ingredient concentrations. At Birchwell, we only use third party tested supplements to ensure you’re getting the highest quality and safest supplements on the market. 

While adaptogens can be a valuable addition to a balanced lifestyle for many people, it’s still important to approach their use with mindfulness and seek personalized advice based on your unique health status.  

What foods are high in adaptogens?  

This is a bit of a trick question since adaptogens are primarily found in herbs and mushrooms, rather than traditional foods. In traditional medicine, adaptogens are sometimes consumed in their whole, natural state. For example, dried slices of astragalus root or whole reishi mushrooms may be added to soups and stews. However, it’s more common to consume adaptogens in supplemental forms via capsules, tablets, tinctures, powders and teas. 

As adaptogens gain traction in the wellness world, we’re noticing them more in elixirs, tonics, chocolates, snacks and other packaged foods. For therapeutic benefits, it’s almost always best to pursue a supplemental form under the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. 

How to add adaptogens to your diet  

If you’re interested in adding an adaptogen to your routine, consider these tips to help you seamlessly integrate them into your daily routine: 

Make an Individualized Choice

Start by selecting an adaptogen that meets your individual needs, not just a popular one. 

Start Gradually

If you’re new to adaptogens, start with one at a time and introduce them gradually into your routine. This will allow you to observe how your body responds to each and identify any potential sensitivities. 

Choose Quality Products

Opt for high-quality supplements, powders, or teas from reputable sources that are free from unnecessary additives or fillers. Working with us means you’ll always get the highest quality products available.

Keep a Consistent Routine

For optimal benefits, incorporate adaptogens into your routine consistently. Whether it’s a morning ritual or an evening relaxation routine, find a time that works for you and be patient. It can take weeks and in some cases, months, to notice benefits.

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to how your body responds. If you experience any adverse effects or if you’re unsure about the impact of adaptogens on your health, we should chat!

Remember, the key to successfully incorporating adaptogens is finding a method that you can (and want) to actually stick to.  

My Top Ten Favorite Types of Adaptogens  

Here’s a breakdown of my top ten favorite adaptogens and their benefits. 


Ashwagandha has deep roots in Ayurvedic medicine where it has traditionally been used to combat stress and promote vitality. Research supports its potential for reducing cortisol levels, alleviating anxiety, supporting sleep, and enhancing overall resilience to stress. Ashwagandha also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, contributing to its role as a comprehensive adaptogen. 

There are three common types of ashwagandha to choose from; Sensoril, KSM-66, and Shoden. Sensoril has the most proven efficacy for improving sleep quality and reducing stress, while KSM-66 is the best choice for athletes and people hoping to boost their testosterone levels. Shoden is the third and most potent type of ashwagandha that is best at supporting brain health. 

All three types of ashwagandha have something to offer, so consider your unique circumstances and select accordingly. As always, working with our team will ensure you get the right type and dose of supplements for your needs. 

Asian Ginseng 

Asian Ginseng has a rich history in traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s been used for centuries as an adaptogen to enhance vitality and longevity. It can help the body cope with stress and improve cognitive function, especially in those with chronic fatigue. Studies also point to its potential benefits in boosting energy levels, supporting focus and memory, reducing fatigue, and improving immune function. Some studies have found Asian Ginseng to be neuroprotective and improve cognition later in life. 


Astragalus holds a significant place in traditional Chinese medicine where it’s valued for its immune-modulating and adaptogenic properties. It’s traditionally used to support the body’s resistance to stress and illness. Astragalus may enhance immune function, reduce inflammation, and potentially improve cardiovascular health.


Cordyceps is a unique adaptogenic mushroom traditionally used in Tibetan and Chinese medicine. It’s known for its ability to improve energy, endurance, respiratory function and libido. It helps regulate blood sugar and has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and fatigue fighting effects. Cordyceps has gained attention in sports nutrition due to its ability to improve tolerance to high intensity exercise, enhance exercise performance, and support respiratory health.

Holy Basil 

Holy Basil, also known as tulsi, has a revered place in Ayurveda. Traditionally it has been used for its adaptogenic benefits to manage stress. Research suggests its potential to modulate stress hormones and reduce anxiety. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, supports liver detoxification, helps reduce fatigue, improve energy and normalize blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid profiles.


Maca is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family and is native to the Andes. It’s prized for its adaptogenic and energizing properties in traditional South American medicine. Maca can improve energy, enhance libido and sexual function, and alleviate symptoms of menopause. It can also help ease anxiety, balance hormone levels, and improve memory. 

Maca comes in several varieties and the three most common types are yellow, black and red maca. Yellow is the most commonly consumed and often least expensive. It has the widest range of benefits, including boosting energy, supporting mental focus, female fertility and hormone balance. Black maca has been shown to improve muscle and bone strength, stamina, concentration, male fertility, libido and blood sugar levels. Red maca has benefits for bone density, acne, infertility, low energy, mood and libido. You may find maca powders that contain a blend of all three. 

Maca is available raw, gelatinized or cooked. Raw maca contains more enzymes and nutrients but gelatinized or cooked are better choices if you have a sensitive stomach. Make sure you select a brand that has more than 1% of glucosinolate (the active compound) to ensure you’re getting a concentrated dose.   

Maca is one adaptogen that’s fairly easy to consume in a powder form due to its caramel flavor. Since maca is an energizing adaptogen, we recommend you consume it in the morning. It can easily be mixed into smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal. 

Panax Ginseng 

Panax Ginseng, or Korean Ginseng, is deeply ingrained in traditional Chinese medicine and has been studied for its adaptogenic effects. It may enhance mental and physical performance, reduce fatigue, and improve overall well-being. Panax Ginseng is also known for its potential to support immune function and regulate blood sugar levels.


Reishi is a revered adaptogenic mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine, used for promoting calm and supporting sleep. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune modulating effects, as well as supports stable blood sugar and efficient detoxification. Reishi is considered a holistic adaptogen, influencing various aspects of health and promoting longevity. 

Due to its sleep promoting effects, it’s best to take in the evening before bed. 

Rhodiola Rosea 

Rhodiola Rosea, native to the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia, has a history in traditional medicine for combating fatigue and promoting resilience. It may enhance physical and mental performance, reduce symptoms of burnout, and modulate stress hormone levels, making it a promising adaptogen in a variety of circumstances. Rhodiola supports the immune system, relieves anxiety, and can boost mood and libido. Athletes often use rhodiola to support recovery, heal muscle damage, improve athletic performance and enhance the body’s natural resistance to physical stress.

Note that rhodiola can be very drying, so steer clear if you’re prone to dry eyes, skin, or vaginal dryness. 

Schisandra Berry 

Schisandra Berry is a key player in traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s valued for its adaptogenic and liver-protecting properties. It has stress-relieving effects, supports liver function, and possesses antioxidant properties. Traditionally, it’s used to enhance endurance and combat fatigue, contributing to its adaptogenic reputation.

Why is a holistic approach to stress reduction important?

Managing stress is a cornerstone of a healthy life and adaptogens can be powerful additions to your nutrition regimen, but they can only do so much. While adaptogens offer valuable support in managing the body’s response to stress, it’s still important for you to actively reduce stress when possible. 

Chronic stress can take a toll on both physical and mental health, contributing to a range of issues from cardiovascular problems and weakened immune function to anxiety and depression. Incorporating stress reduction practices into your daily life such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular physical activity, and fostering strong social connections is key to overall well-being. 

These practices not only complement the effects of adaptogens but also empower you to take an active role in your mental and emotional health. 

Remember, the strategic use of adaptogens can be beneficial for your physical, mental and emotional health. But their effects are most meaningful when you continue to care for yourself, nourishing your body with healthy food, water, sleep, and active stress relieving practices. It’s the synergy of these elements that allows you to navigate the complexities of modern life with greater resilience, vitality, and a sense of balance. 


Feeling better is possible. Meet with one of our practitioners to find out if 1:1 Functional Medicine Consulting is right for you.

Book a complimentary discovery call

Anya is a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medicine Practitioner and founder of Birchwell, a virtual integrative health clinic based in New York City.

She specializes in helping her clients identify the root cause of their health concerns through advanced lab testing and her comprehensive assessment. She uses functional diet, supplement, and lifestyle strategies to address any imbalances in the body. Through her integrative and functional nutrition practice, Anya has helped hundreds of adult women and men fix their gut health (e.g. SIBO, reflux, candida, etc.), balance their hormones (e.g. PCOS, peri-menopause, estrogen dominance, etc.), clear their acne or eczema, boost their energy and performance, combat anxiety and depression, improve their body composition, reduce their joint pain - and more.

Anya Rosen, MS, RD, LD, IFNCP, CPT

About the founder


on the



recently on the journal