Whether you have a case of the sniffles, are suffering through a tough day, or simply want to recover from a killer workout, consider adding adaptogens to your diet. This class of plants, named for helping the human body adapt to various environmental factors, has been used in folk medicine for centuries to ward off illness and improve minor aches and pains. But lately, scientists have turned to the active plant compounds to help counter more modern complaints.
Research has shown that adaptogens, which contain special phytonutrients that you won’t find in most other whole foods, can help the body stay strong by balancing key hormones such as cortisol, fighting bacteria and viruses, and supporting the overall health of organs. While some adaptogens are already familiar (think: turmeric, ginger, ginseng), others may be entirely new to you.
Also called wolf berries, these sweet-tart berries are part of the tomato family but are similar in taste to cranberries. The high antioxidant levels they produce aid in their protection from the harsh mountain terrain in which they grow. You’ll find them in health food and major grocery stores. Goji berries can aid the entire body but especially your gut, where they can help boost the immune system. Their active compounds can block bacteria and viruses from attaching to cell membranes. The berries are also loaded with protein, vitamin C, and other key nutrients.
Also called tulsi, this potent herb has a variety of o erings for preventive care. Like other types of basil, it’s in the mint family, so it has a basil flavor with a hint of mint. It’s usually found in tea form in specialty groceries. Crowned the “Queen of Herb” in ancient Indian medicine, holy basil is known for its use in improving liver and kidney health as well as a detox herb for the brain and heart. Its wide range of active compounds, such as eugenol and ursolic acid, makes this a power plant that’s also easy to enjoy.
3. Cordyceps Mushrooms
Used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine as a cure-all, cordyceps are still touted as a way to slow the aging process, improve brain health, detox the liver, and even supercharge the libido, all thanks to their active polysaccharide compounds. The mushrooms actually taste like ground coffee, so try pairing them with real co ee for a pre-workout boost. Search for cordyceps coffee blends online or in specialty grocery stores
Called the “rejuvenator” in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is used as a tonic to calm nerves, but it can also help fight fatigue, thanks to its active alkaloid-based compounds. Pair it with protein-rich ingredients, which have a grounding effect, such as protein powder, nut butter, and cacao nibs. (They can also help mask the woody flavor.) Look for the herb in ground powder form at health-food stores.
Licorice root (not the candy) is a naturally sweet root traditionally used to help improve digestion. Licorice gets its stomach-calming bene ts from chemical compounds like glycyrrhizin, which can help calm GI issues such as ulcerative colitis. Licorice root may also help reduce symptoms of eczema, calm stress, and even aid in the treatment of breast and prostate cancers. You’ll find it in powder, tea, and liquid extract form, but beware of taking too much, since high dosages can lead to an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.