In today’s modern society we are faced with the large task of tackling a wide variety of health challenges and ills. Health factors such as poor immunity, hormonal imbalances and exposure to environmental toxicity all contribute to one common complaint, stress.
What are your techniques for stress management? Possibly yoga, meditation, exercise, creative or artistic expression? A specific class of medicinal herbs known as Adaptogens will provide an additional tool in your kit to help manage and support the body through some of life’s stress-inducing moments.
The term Adaptogen is given to herbal substances that have the ability to improve an individual's adaptation to stress.
The defining characteristic of an adaptogenic herb is to increase the body’s resistance stressors of any nature (environmental, physical, emotional or biological) to promote normal physical function. Unlike many other herbal medicines that have affinities for specific body organs (eg the therapeutic actions of Milk thistle - Silybum marianum are primarily liver and gallbladder centered), adaptogens broadly encourage inner homeostasis through the nervous-endocrine-immune systems. Simply put, adaptogens influence a smooth and balanced running of the system as a whole, making these herbs truly harmonising remedies.
The applications of adaptogenic herbs are numerous and are considered useful at times which call for enhanced energy and vitality as well as reducing negative effects inflicted by unproductive stress. They are also excellent deep restoratives in chronic cases of illness, weakness, and depletion through the ability to boost long term immune performance.
Adaptogenic herbs originate from a variety of countries around the world and are regularly featured in traditional healing modalities such as Western, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. A number of the herbs have gained popularity for their life-invigorating effects and include the Ginseng family (Korean, American, and Tienchi), Siberian ginseng (not a true ginseng despite its common name), Withania/Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Schisandra, and Shatavari.
Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Tienchi ginseng (Panax not ginseng) can attribute their multitude of health-promoting actions to the class of active constituents known as ginsenosides found within the root structures of these plants. However, each ginseng possesses different qualities. Where Korean ginseng is strongly stimulating used to generate strength, relieve fatigue and is a ‘warming’ herb useful for instances of chronic fatigue, physical exhaustion, cold extremities and sexual impotence, American ginseng touts' qualities that are nourishing, restoring, relaxing and are cooler in nature. American ginseng is useful for those with poor stamina, weak digestion, and states of mental unrest such as low mood, nervous exhaustion, and insomnia.
Eleutherococcus senticosus or Siberian ginseng has similar applications to the Panax species, however, it is largely regulating, restorative and normalising energetically compared to its stimulating cousins. This makes it an ideal remedy for those who are hypersensitive to prone to overstimulation. Siberian ginseng has the potential to relieve fatigue, improve mental and physical performance, restore immune functions, in particular, those who experience frequent or chronic infections and assist with mood disorders such as anxiety or depression as the nerves are restored and mind harmonised.
Withania somnifera commonly known as Withania or Ashwagandha has a long history of using traditional Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine. Withania lives up to its adaptogenic and tonic actions and is shown to be just as potent as Korean ginseng. However, is less stimulating and is a remedy better suited to those who are overactive (yet depleted) and prone to overstimulation. Traditional and current uses of this herb include encouraging growth in children, as a nutrient and tonic during pregnancy or older age, improving male impotence, promoting memory and learning, inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and as an ideal immune enhancer during or post-illness.
These stress-busting herbs are available in a variety of forms such as powders, tablets, capsules, and liquid extract. When considering supplementing your life with herbal medicine, it is important to evaluate which herb is best suited to your current state of health and ensure if you are taking any medication there is no risk of interaction. Our qualified and experienced Huckleberry naturopaths are available to guide you on this process and will endeavor to answer any questions you may have.
Article by naturopath - Kate Dalliessi
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