Herbal Adaptogens Fitting into the Modern Age

James Ryan never thought he would be drinking herbal tea straight from
an apple-juice bottle. But a lot of things had changed over the last year.
He never thought he would be alive now, either, and here he was talking
to me about his incredible journey back to health.

James had grown up in California’s Central Valley as a farmer’s son. In
those days, chemical farming was not questioned–it was just how things
were done. He recounted to me how he used to watch with great interest as
the bi-winged planes flew over the fields, trailing white clouds of pesticide
that filled the spaces between the rows of corn and engulfed the plants
in thick fog. The smell was strong, and times the wet spray would land on
his skin and hair. He always associated fond memories with that smell.

However after 25 years of chemical farming, James Ryan was not well. Over
a year before I met him, he began to have dizzy spells, nearly collapsing
on two occasions. That’s when he began to wonder about that familiar smell
he had loved so much as a child. He began to wonder if the constant exposure
to many toxic chemicals, plus the stress of running a big commercial farm
for so many years, had devastated his immune system.

At the advice of a Chinese herbalist, James began to take a tea of seven
herbs, including eleuthero, astragalus and reishi. Now, as we stood talking,
he attributed a large measure of his current health to these herbs, which
are often called “adaptogens” by herbalists. These herbs and other
adaptogens have been proven in clinical and laboratory studies to help us
adapt to the rapidly changing conditions in our modern, often synthetic

The following story is the practical side of adaptogens–why they are needed
today, what they are and how to use them, based on 22 years of experience
as an herbalist, quotes from other practicing herbalists and summaries of
scientific research performed on adaptogenic herbs from around the world.

Adapting to our Own Devices

Today, thanks to modern technology, we can change the natural environment
virtually at will. Air-conditioning, indoor lighting, central heating, pesticides,
food preservatives, cars, airplanes, polyester, and plastics are just a
few of the countless amenities we use to adapt the environment to our needs.
Yet however convenient or life-supporting these things may seem in the short-term,
they are a two-edged sword, bringing undesirable side effects in the long-term.
Some of the most obvious of these are already quickly becoming apparent:
smog, the thinning ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, and the many heavy
metals, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that are finding their
way into our bloodstreams for the first time in the history of our bodies’
delicate biochemistry. These by-products of “the good life” are
now creating a major problem for the adaptation and survival of most species
and biosystems here on planet Earth.

And to compound the problem, at the very moment when we need more than ever
to adapt to a quickly changing environment, as a society we seem
set on debilitating our bodies’ natural ability to adapt by constantly forcing
the environment to meet our needs (and whims) instead of vice versa. In
Darwinian terms, this does not bode well for our species.

It is ironic that the more we insulate ourselves from environmental change,
the more we isolate ourselve from that which gives us life.

Rene Dubos, the humanistic scientist and a special guiding light for me,
said: “This state of adaptedness gives a false sense of security
because it does not have a lasting value and does not prepare for the future.”

Therefore, it seems that the best course for survival is to increase
our adaptability to our environment, not the other way around. In other
words, instead of leaning on air conditioning to adapt to hot weather, it
may be best to strengthen ourselves and cultivate flexibility–both of mind
and body, and this is where the adaptogens can be of great importance.

The Russian scientist, G.M. Barenboim said it well:

“For the first time in the history of human civilization the biological
potentialities of the human body have failed to meet the requirements imposed
on it by the epoch. One witnesses an unusual ‘epidemic’ of fatigue aggravated
by the powerful action of man-made, external chemical and physical environmental
factors. Like the drugs that saved the world from numerous bacterial and
viral epidemics that cost millions of lives in the past, the adaptogens
are needed to help man withstand the diverse stresses of today.”

Herbal Adaptogens–Medicines of the Future

Fortunately for us, though, there is a class of herbs and other natural
remedies available that can help the body adapt better to its environment,
whether that environment be one of many harmful chemicals or simply one
of rapid change. These herbs are called adaptogens.

The word adaptogen was coined by the Russian scientist N.V. Lazarev,
in 1947. In Lazarev’s view, a medicinal substance must fulfill three criteria
in order to be classed as an adaptogen:

1. It must cause only minimal disorders in the body’s physiological functions;

2. It must increase the body’s resistance to adverse influences not by
a specific action but by a wide range of physical, chemical, and biochemical

3. It must have an overall normalizing effect, improving all kinds of conditions
and aggravating none.

Lazarev conducted his original studies of adaptogens on a chemical substance,
dibazole. However, his now renowned student, I.I. Brekhman, changed the
focus of adaptogenic research from synthetic substances to natural substances.
Brekhman first studied Panax ginseng, the classic Chinese herb for
longevity. But in 1959 Brekhman discovered that Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus
), which is more common and less expensive than Chinese ginseng,
has even stronger adaptogenic qualities than Panax.

“I.I. Brekhman–A Russian Holistic Medical Doctor

In 1988, I had the good fortune to meet with Dr. Brekhman (a medical
doctor) during his first trip to the United States to attend an international
conference on ginseng. The meeting was held in a place where adaptation
might be somewhat of a challenge, especially for a person coming from Vladivostok
(in the romote far east of Russia)–Las Vegas.

I came directly from the airport and found the meeting was being held in
a noisy, glittering casino. As I entered, rows of flashing and whirring
slot machines were being hopefully, and somewhat vacantly caressed. I was
directed to the conference rooms and walked down the hall, stopping for
a moment in a small variety shop along the way. The man in line ahead of
me was wearing a suit, and had a camera suspended casually around his neck–I
looked at him curiously, for although he said nothing, he seemed somehow
out of place and looked a bit bewildered. He also looked very kind and had
a presense about him that provoked the thought that perhaps he was the person
I was looking for. Ten minutes later, as I found my way to the room we were
to meet in, I learned that my suspicions were correct–the man at the shop
was indeed I.I. Brekhman. I knew him previously only by his international
reputation and his many articles on eleuthero and adaptogens. I had also
read his unusual and interesting work, “Man and Biologically Active
in which he details how pollution and modern stresses
can affect our immune system and general health, and how natural substances,
such as ginseng and eleuthero can help us survive and maintain health. The
work, published in 1980, was well ahead of its time. His emphasis in the
book is resoundingly, study the science and art of health, not disease!
Brekhman’s work for the last 40 years has been to clearly show that because
most of us are in a state somewhere between health and disease, we need
a group of nature’s gifts called adaptogens,which work by helping us to
move towards true health and to stay there.

Although his English was not very fleunt, I could not help but notice how
warm and open he was in the interview, and that he had a good sense of humor.
He also seemed very energetic and vigorous.

Brekhman talked about medicine and herbs in Russia, and about adaptogens.
He told me that many medicial doctors prescribe herbs in their practice–especially
in the outlying districts. He began to study eleuthero because the Russian
people have strongly accepted the concept that a natural remedy can help
bolster our innate resistance to disease and help prevent stress from taking
such a devestating toll on our nervous, hormonal and immune systems. Panax
is very popular, but is scarce and mostly too expensive for
people to take on a daily basis. So he began to test other members of the
ginseng family in his research center, The Far-East Scientific Center, soon
discovering that eleuthero had even stronger adaptogenic qualities than
did Panax.

Since then, Dr. Brekhman and many other researchers have conducted thousands
of scientific tests on eleuthero, as Siberian ginseng is called, as well
as on other herbal adaptogens. Literally hundreds of thousands of people
have taken these natural strengtheners, and the results have been resoundingly
positive: they have proven to be remarkably effective for preventing a variety
of ailments, increasing stamina and sports performance, and helping the
body to adapt to extreme or changing environmental conditions.

The research has shown that adaptogens act in a number of ways to strengthen
the body and protect it from the stress of a variety of life situations.
(Stress, as almost all types of doctors now warn, is a major factor in chronic
disease. It is no coincidence that three of the most-prescribed and best-selling
drugs in America are for stress-related ailments: Tagamet for ulcers, Inderal
for hypertension, and Xanex for anxiety.)

In general, adaptogens work by

1. Supporting the adrenal function, thus counteracting the adverse effects
of stress;

2. Enabling the body’s cells to have access to more energy;

3. Helping cells to eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic process;

4. Providing an anabolic (building-up) effect, hence the use of adaptogens
by body-builders;

5. Helping the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently;

6. Enhancing and speeding the proper regulation of bio-rhythms.

Although medical practitioners who believe only in the mainstream, allopathic
model of medicine often doubt that a single remedy can exhibit all the different
benefits of an herbal adaptogen, the concept of adaptogens is not unknown
to Western medicine. Until about 50 years ago, doctors commonly prescribed
medicines known as roborants (strengthening substances), tonics
(which restore normal tone to tissue), and alteratives (which cause
favorable changes in the processes of nutrition and repair). For example,
bitters such as gentian and quassia were widely used to improve digestion,
and strengthening foods such as oatmeal and yams were prescribed for the
convalescent. What we now call adaptogens combine at least some of the major
functions of roborants, tonics, and alteratives, and they particularly resemble

Below I will discuss the most important herbal adaptogens, giving pertinent
information and recommendations for use with each. Some herbalists classify
many herbs as adaptogens, including well-known immune-tonics (such as echinacea)
and bitters (such as golden seal). However, Russian researchers–who have
conducted most of the studies on adaptogens–have identified several herbs
that I will call primary adaptogens. These herbs were the first to be studied
as adaptogens, and they include: eleuthero, schizandra (Schizandra chinensis),
and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum).

There are also what I will call secondary adaptogens. These have shown some
normalizing activity, especially on the immune, nervous, and hormonal systems,
but they may not have been studied extensively for their adaptogenic qualities
or may not support the adrenal system. Secondary adaptogens include: ashwaganda
(Withania somniferum), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), wild
oats (Avena sativa), astragalus or huang chi (Astragalus membranaceous),
fo-ti or ho shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum), burdock (arctium
), and suma (Pfaffia paniculata). There are probably other
herbs that fall into this second category of adaptogens, but these are the
best-understood and most readily available ones in this country.

Primary Herbal Adaptogens

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

There are three ways to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of an
herbal remedy: first, by its history of use, i.e., how it has been used
in the past and in other cultures, and with what results; second, by what
modern scientific research can show about an herb’s effect on the body,
its active constituents, and whether or not it has any subtle toxicity;
and third, by the results of the herb’s use in modern clinical practice.

In the case of eleuthero, all three of these criteria have been eminently
fulfilled. Regarding its history of use, eleuthero has been known in China
for thousands of years, where it has traditionally been used to counteract
general debility and weakness by promoting vital energy. More recently,
in Russia millions of people take eleuthero daily, among them mountain climbers,
sailors, and factory workers who all use eleuthero to increase adaptability
and endurance and to reduce the frequency of illness. The Russian olympic
team uses eleuthero, especially weight-lifters and runners, and an eleuthero
extract was used to help cosmonauts adapt to the radically different living
conditions of outer space. Personally, in the last decade I have taken eleuthero
extract once for a 9-month period and several times for shorter periods,
and I have always noticed a decided increase in endurance and performance.

Regarding modern scientific research and clinical results, eleuthero is
one of the rare herbal medicines that has been extensively tested on humans
in clinical trials. Eleuthero’s adaptogenic and other protective and strengthening
properties have been studied and confirmed with thousands of human volunteers.
We can still learn much more about eleuthero, but already researchers have
defined some of the ways in which eleuthero affects the body biochemically,
and have also identified certain active constituents, which are natural
plant steroids called eleutherosides.

The American researcher, Norman Farnsworth, collected and translated many
of the original Russian studies on eleuthero (much of it done in the ’60s
and ’70s), and published these in Economic and Medicinal Plant Research,
vol. 1 (by Academic Press, Orlando, FL). While many of these studies were
not performed with the strictest methods of scientific control (that is,
they were not double-blind studies), their results do offer interesting
insights into how adaptogens work on large populations of everyday working
people, and what benefits they might offer. Representative results of these
studies are cited in Table 1. Eleuthero’s major physiological effects can
be summarized as follows:

1. Protects against environmental pollutants and radiation

2. Normalizes body temperature, thus treating hypothermia

3. Regulates blood-sugar levels

4. Protects the liver and enhances its ability to break down and get rid
of drugs in the body

5. Increases the body’s ability to resist infection

6. Supports optimum adrenal function

Also, and perhaps most importantly, is eleuthero’s anti-fatigue effect.
It has a highly beneficial influence on endurance and the capacity to work,
increasing the ability of the body’s cells to utilize phosphorus-containing
energy molecules and dispose of lactic acid and other byproducts of metabolism
(the sore muscles from a heavy workout result from a buildup of lactic acid).
This anti-fatigue effect is especially important for athletes, both professionals
and “weekend warriors.”

Finally, for infertile men, eleuthero has shown the ability to increase
semen output and reproductive capability. For those interested in taking
eleuthero, the original research used a liquid extract (also called a tincture),
which contains about 35% ethanol. Based on this research, I recommend three
basic dose levels:

1. For long-term maintenance where not under much stress or are not in a
training program, take one dropperful of the liquid extract upon rising
(if you put the drops in a cup of warm water or tea, most of the alcohol
will evaporate).

2. To increase performance in sports activities, on the job, or at school,
take one dropperful in the same manner upon rising and take a second dropperful
again in the evening about an hour after dinner.

3. For times of extra stress or dramatic changes (such as changes in jobs
or living situations), take three droppersful of the extract, either two
in the morning and one in the evening, or one in the morning, at noon, and
at night. Every ten days, take a two-day break with no eleuthero, then repeat
the cycle. You can do this for up to nine months, or longer if needed.

Table 1: Studies with Normal Volunteers

  • The number and speed of radiogram receptions for radiotelegraphic operators
    was increased with daily doses of 1 1/2 droppersful (60 drops) of a liquid
    extract of eleuthero over a one-month period.
  • Skiers taking a single dose of eleuthero extract (3 droppersful) before
    a race experienced increased resistance to the harmful effects of the cold
    and increased physical endurance, especially if the skier was not fully
  • Workers in a publishing house who had jobs involving physical labor
    showed enhanced cardiovascular output, ability to work, and improved appetite–without
    hypertension. However, the extract was not recommended for people with blood
    pressure over 180/90 mm Hg.
  • Proofreaders were more effective in their work after taking 1 1/2 droppersful
    of eleuthero extract daily for 30 days.
  • Sailors who took eleuthero extract while on long sea voyages showed
    improved work capability and normalization of body functions in high-temperature
  • One thousand factory workers in a city of the polar region who took
    3 droppersful of eleuthero extract daily showed 50% reduction in general
    sickness and 40% reduction in the number of lost work days.
  • Among truck drivers who took eleuthero extract in tea for six years,
    the total number of people contracting influenza dropped from 41.8% to 2.7%
    during that period, and the number of work days lost to influenza per year
    dropped from 286 per 100 workers to 11.
  • Other studies showing that eleuthero dramatically reduced the number
    of sick days due to influenza among thousands of different kinds of workers
    are reported.
  • Further studies show that eleuthero extract, when taken on a regular
    basis, can improve visual acuity, color perception, and hearing acuity,
    can increase the efficiency of people whose jobs require attention and cause
    nervous tension, and can improve physical and mental working capacity under
    unfavorable climatic conditions (i.e., too hot, too cold, high altitude,

Sick Volunteers

  • Forty-five volunteers with heart disease showed enhanced feelings of
    well-being, fewer chest pains, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
    and improved ECG readings after six to eight courses (25 days each) of eleuthero
    extract (1 to 1 1/2 droppersful at a time, 3 times daily before meals).In
    a second study on 65 patients with cardiovascular disease, with the same
    dose as above, improvements were noted by some after the first course (25-35
  • Several studies involving patients with diabetes showed that in some
    cases eleuthero extract is effective in lowering serum glucose levels.
  • People with both hypotension and hypertension showed normalization of
    blood pressure after courses of eleuthero extract. Several other studies
    support these findings.
  • Fifty-eight people with psychological imbalances and symptoms such as
    extreme exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, decreased work capacity, and
    a general state of anxiety, showed improvement after taking 2 droppersful
    of eleuthero extract, once in the morning and once in the evening, for four
    weeks. The patients felt that sound sleep and an increase in their sense
    of well-being were the most important benefits of the treatment.
  • Five more studies with nearly 160 neurotic patients showed that eleuthero
    extract (as little as 1 dropperful a day) can be of benefit as indicated
    above. Some of the studies lasted for ten years.

Can Women Take Ginseng?

The old adage that women should not take ginseng is mostly untrue. It is
true that processed red Korean or Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng)
is quite stimulating and is often used in energy and sports formulas, but
not more so for women than for men. Whether this kind of ginseng will have
an adverse effect on a person, when taken in large amounts, depends more
upon one’s constitutional type than sex. Although it must be noted that
Panax ginseng has proven to have a mild estrogen-promoting activity
in some women–and thus would be contraindicated where estrogen is already
excessive, as may be the case with PMS or breast cancer–eleuthero is not
estrogen-promoting. Eleuthero is considered to be neutral in energy, and
can therefore be taken safely by both sexes and by many constitutional types.

Schizandra berries (Schizandra chinensis)

In the American horticultural trade, schizandra is called magnolia vine,
and indeed, botanically it is closely related to the familiar magnolia tree.
In China, the small red fruits of schizandra are considered to balance all
bodily systems because they have all of the five different flavors Chinese
herbalists use to classify medicinal herbs: sour, salty, bitter, sweet,
and acrid. Thus schizandra has been an important ingredient in traditional
Chinese tonic formulas since antiquity.

In the West, schizandra is often combined with eleuthero in adaptogenic
formulas, and has been extensively studied in this form in both Sweden and
Russia. It is also often included in commercial anti-stress, weight-loss,
and sports formulas in this country. Scientific studies have supported these
uses of schizandra, and have clarified the herb’s liver-protecting and strengthening
capabilities. The liver is a vital “adaptogenic” organ, because
it helps regulate blood sugar and hormone levels, and because it is the
main detoxifying organ of the body.

Schizandra can be taken as a tea (added to eleuthero with a little licorice
and ginger), or it can be purchased in a wide variety of commercial preparations,
such as tinctures and powdered extracts in tablet form.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Reishi mushrooms are one of the most revered of the adaptogens. There
are stories of people in Japan traveling for hundreds of miles on foot to
pick them in the hopes of curing their cancer or other incurable disease.
The list of benefits observed in laboratory and clinic experiments reads
like a panacea wish-list. Reishi has shown a wide range of adaptogenic properties,
including blood sugar regulation, immune support, anti-cancer properties,
ability to oxygenate the blood efficiently, speeded regeneration of the
liver, a sedative and calming effect, free-radical protective effect, radiation
protective effect, reduction in sensitivity to allergens, anti-hypertensive
effect, and it lowers cholesterol.

Ken Jones and Terry Willard, in their book Reishi Mushroom, Herb of Spiritual
Potency and Medical Wonder
, quote clinical studies in China with 90
coronary heart disease patients in seven different hospitals who were given
oral preparations of reishi over a four-month period. Although these studies
were uncontrolled (most Chinese studies are), the results suggest that reishi
has adaptogenic properties. Reishi relieved feelings of weariness in about
78% of the patients, feelings of cold extremities in 74%, and insomnia in
78%. In China, reishi is often added to herbal medicine combinations that
lower serum cholesterol and normalize blood pressure.

In one well-designed Japanese study, 53 patients with hypertension were
given 1.44 gms of the concentrate for 6 months. Blood pressure dropped from
156/103 to 137/93 in the group with genetically-based (essential) hypertension.

My own experience with this medicinal mushroom is that it can be of immediate
value for strengthening people who are recovering from chronic illness,
especially where there is general weakness. Children seem to respond quickly
to reishi. The following soup, modeled after a traditional formula, has
shown excellent results if taken for a week or two, or up to six months.

Wei Chi (Protective Vitality) Soup


1 ounce of reishi (dried),

3 ounces of fresh shiitake (or 1 oz dried),

1 ounce astragalus (optional)

for 30 minutes in 6 quarts of water.


1/4 cup of organic barley and a variety of sliced or chopped organic vegetables
(celery, beets, carrots, etc.)

Simmer for another 30 minutes, adding a quarter cup of sea vegetables (nori, wakame), or to taste.

People who are very weak or cannot digest solid food well should drink 1 cup of the broth
morning, afternoon, and evening. If well-tolerated, they can also eat the
vegetables and barley. However, the herbs are generally too fibrous to be
palatable, so just push them aside, as their “essence” has already
infused into the broth.

Secondary AdaptogenS

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)

Ashwaganda is an herb from India, where it has been used since antiquity
as an important medicine. The plant is a member of the usually narcotic
nightshade family, whose other safe members include the potato, tomato and
eggplant (some people may be mildly allergic to these). The small shrub
is widely cultivated throughout India and is still immensely popular in
traditional ayurvedic and folk medicine. People in India use all parts of
the plant. For instance, the berries are used to coagulate milk while the
twigs are used to clean the teeth.

However, it is the roots of ashwaganda that are considered to be medicinally
tonic, adaptogenic, and strengthening. Traditionally, they are recommended
for indigestion, heart disease, arthritis, lumbar pain, to lower fevers,
and as a general strengthening medicine for children and for people recovering
from illness. Current work in the clinic and laboratory has shown that ashwaganda
roots have strong tumor-inhibiting activity in humans as well as a marked
anti-inflammatory effect which supports its traditional use for arthritis.
The extract proved to be without side-effects when compared to hydrocortisone,
a synthetic drug often prescribed for arthritis.

Ashwaganda can be used as a whole herb in tea or purchased in a variety
of commercial products. The tea is made by simmering one part of the root
(by weight) in ten parts water (by volume) for one-half hour. Take the tea
twice daily, about one-half to one ounce at a time.

Gotu-kola (Centella asiatica)

Although gotu-kola looks nothing like parsley or angelica, it is a member
of the parsley family. It is a common weedy plant throughout Asia, often
growing in drainage ditches. It likes a wet, rich soil, and is a common
orchard weed in Hawaii. I grow the plant in pots on my back porch, so I
always have a supply of the tasty, kidney-shaped leaves.

According to legend, if one eats a leaf of gotu kola a day, one’s lifespan
will be extended to 1,000 years! I don’t expect to be around in my present
form for quite that long, but if gotu kola adds a few healthy years to my
life, well, so much the better.

Ayurveda, the ancient East Indian system of medicine, recognizes gotu kola
as an important brain and nervous system restorative. Modern science has
shown it to have adaptogenic properties and strong wound-healing capabilities.
It is used in many cosmetic preparations as a kind of a skin adaptogen,
helping our sensitive hides to adapt to stresses such as sunburn and other

If you want to try gotu kola, make sure to purchase the fresh liquid
extract or grow the plant yourself and take it fresh. I have found that
gotu kola loses its properties rapidly when dried, and most of the commercial
dried gotu kola is worthless.

Wild Oats (Avena sativa)

This herb grows as a common grass throughout many parts of the world. Most
herbalists feel that a tincture or powdered extract of wild oats is effective
for helping to eliminate unwanted addictions. Several studies suggest that
it may reduce craving for nicotine in people who are trying to quit smoking.
Wild oats is also recommended as a nerve restorative where there is trauma
or nerve weakness. It should be taken for a long period of time to be effective,
at the dose of at least one dropperful of the liquid extract at a time,
or one tablet of the concentrated extract, two to three times daily.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous)

One of the gems of Traditional Chinese Medicine, this root from the pea
family is sometimes stir-fried in honey to make it sweeter and enhance its
tonic properties. Astragalus is considered a powerful deep immune strengthener.
Both a long history of use and many laboratory tests have proven that astragalus
has adaptogenic and normalizing effects on the nervous, hormonal, and immune

I learned of astragalus during my first visit to a Chinese acupuncturist
and herbalist. The doctor’s name was Dr. Yau–which made me worry a bit
about his needling technique–but he turned out to have a very gentle hand.
Dr. Yau prescribed astragalus for me, as I was feeling stressed and fatigued
after two years of pre-medical classes, and I experienced splendid results.

Since then, I have designed many highly effective formulas using this remarkable
herb, and I have developed an especially healing relationship with astragalus
by growing it from seed in my herb garden.

Fo-ti or Ho Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum)

Chinese herbalists consider this member of the buckwheat family to be one
of the best adaptogenic and longevity herbs. The root of fo-ti is said to
take on magical powers when it is old and has several interesting names
applied to it, depending upon its age. According to the ancient herbalist
Li Shih-chen, at 50 years fo-ti is fist-size and is called “mountain
slave”; taken at this time, the herb “will preserve the black
color of the hair and moustache.” A 100-year-old root is as large as
a bowl and is called “hill-brother”; taken at this time the herb
will preserve “a cheerful countenance.” A 150-year-old root is
the size of a basin and if taken at this time, “the teeth will fall
out and come afresh.” At 200 years fo-ti is called “hill father,”
and if taken at this time “the countenance will become like that of
a youth, and the gait will equal that of a running horse.” And so forth.

I’ve started growing fo-ti in my garden, but so far it is only two years
old. My hair is showing a few grey hairs, but I have hopes….

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock is a close relative to such well-known herbs as echinacea, dandelion,
and feverfew, though it does not currently share the spotlight those other
herbs are enjoying. Burdock root, greens, and seeds were known to the ancient
Greeks as healing remedies, and in Western herbalism they were important
foods and medicines throughout the middle ages. Their nutritional content
of vitamins and minerals is high, yet even more interesting is their rich
complement of active medicinal compounds. Modern research has isolated chemical
constituents from burdock that have proven to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal,
and, most importantly, tumor-protective and desmutagenic. Desmutagens
are substances that inactivate mutagens (cancer-causing agents) by reacting
with them and “taking them out of action.” Mutagens include pesticides,
natural chemicals from plants, and compounds that are created from foods
(such as meats) by cooking. Such potentially cancer-causing compounds are
now abundant in our food, water, and air, and many of them are already stored
in our fat tissues.

Aveline Kushi extols the adaptogenic properties of burdock in her book Complete
Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking
. Kushi mentions that gobo (burdock roots)
can be eaten all year round, but is especially warming for the winter months
because it has a “very strong energy.” Kushi gives recipes for
preparing burdock roots with other vegetables such as carrots and green
beans. Tofu can be added to provide further nutrients. The tender gobo roots
are commonly found in supermarkets and natural foods markets in many parts
of the country and can be prepared by boiling, sauteing, or deep-frying.
I enjoy thinly-sliced gobo roots stir-fried in olive oil or sesame oil with
garlic, greens (such as kale), red peppers, and tofu. The crisp, firm roots
can also be added to soups of all kinds.

Suma (Pfaffia paniculata)

This herb, native to the Amazon has been used in South America for generations
as a heal-all. In Spanish it has been called “para todo,” because
of its wide range of applications. Modern research suggests that suma may
be an effective adaptogen. It is prescribed in Brazilian hospitals for cancer
and diabetes, for which purpose it is taken in tea form, two or three cups
daily. The American herbalists Janet Zand and Michael Tierra recommend suma
for its strengthening properties, especially for women who suffer from fatigue
and hormonal imbalances. Tierra claims that.”to obtain the maximum
benefits, one has to take it as a ‘food tonic’, for instance 2 to 4 capsules
of the powder which is equivalent to 1 tablet of the powdered extract
or up to a teaspoon of the powder (as a tea or in food) every hour for an
extended period of time–up to a month or more.” After this period,
he has seen a smaller dose (one dose 3 or 4 times a week) have the same
effect. Tierra enthusiastically recounted people with chronic fatigue syndrome
that “were so tired they couldn’t answer the telephone,” that
after a week (of taking Suma) they could start functioning again. He cautions
that some people may experience nausea, in which case it is best to cut
the dose down (perhaps by a third) until the nausea disappears. He also
feels that it is contraindicated with inflammatory conditions manifesting
in acute sydromes like colds, and other infections.

Finally, note that adaptogens are promising herbal medicines for another
important reason. Not only do adaptogenic plants contain important nutrients
such as iron, magnesium, and germanium, which we already know are important
for maintaining optimum health, but their steroid-like compounds may also
prove to be essential dietary ingredients. Although scientists have yet
to set “daily minimum requirements” for these adaptogenic compounds,
we may yet find that the lack of them in our modern diets is a contributing
factor in the stress-related and immune-based chronic illness which are
increasingly common today.

It is certain tht nature herself is our most powerful ally in our quest
for health and longevity, and herbs are not the only of nature’s adaptogens
available. Saunas and cold water treatments (when properly applied) are
adaptogenic in their normalizing and general strengthening effects, as are
all forms of exercise, if practiced wisely. Also, as Norman Cousins has
so eloquently put forth, laughing is a deeply healing activity and is, in
rather serious terms, one of the greatest adaptogens.

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Written by Christopher Hobbs LAc AHG

Explore Wellness in 2021