If the start to 2021 has left you looking for new ways to cope with stress, you’re not alone. 

A growing number of wellness experts are recommending adaptogens, ancient superfoods that have a special ability to help counter the effects of having all that cortisol and adrenaline racing around your body. The amazing thing about these mood-boosting ingredients is their flexibility: it allows them to give your body what you need. “What an antidote for the times we’re living in,” says Rachael Gorjestani, a nutritionist and holistic chef based in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

“The definition of adaptogen is an herb, root, or mushroom that has a normalizing effect on the body,” says Gorjestani. They are always non-toxic, help balance the adrenal system, and work on a cellular level (sadly, turmeric and kale don’t make the cut). She discovered the healing power of adaptogenic mushrooms, in particular, after she found herself feeling burnt out even though she was getting enough rest and eating healthfully. 

Gorjestani’s journey led her to start  Goldmine, a wellness company whose hero product is a daily powder filled with healing mushrooms and herbs. While it’s wise to check with your health care provider before starting any herbal regimen, here are the best adaptogens that may just help you breeze through 2021.

Ashwagandha Adaptogen

Photography: Bankim Desai

Ashwagandha (withania somnifera)

You’ve probably seen ashwagandha, an herb that’s native to India, Africa, and the Mediterranean, added to everything from nutritional green powders to sleep gummies and alcohol-free cocktail elixirs. A 2019 study confirmed that ashwagandha reduced both cortisol levels and anxiety. “I like it because it feels very balanced,” says Aaron Bluestein of the Twisted Thistle Apothecary in Oakland. “It gives a calm sense of energy.” 

The only caveat is that the herb is part of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, so Bluestein says people with sensitivities may want to be cautious.

 

Reishi (ganoderma lucidum)  

Reishis were considered the kings of mushrooms in ancient China. Two thousand years ago, when they were associated with success and longevity, they were reserved only for royalty. Today, reishi mushrooms are prized for the way they can support immune function, fight inflammation, and help lift moods. “The good thing about these is that they’re gentle and most people respond well to them,” Gorjestani says.

Holy Basil Adaptogen

Photography: Jaikishan Patel

Holy Basil (ocimum sanctum

In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil (or tulsi as it’s called in its native India), is considered the queen of herbs because of its diverse health benefits. Numerous studies show it can reduce anxiety, lift moods, and even help regulate blood sugar and pressure. “I find it to be a very emotionally supportive herb,” says Bluestein. It can be dried and used to make a minty flavored tea, and it’s also available in tincture format. 

 

Cordyceps (cordyceps sinensis and militaris)

Cordyceps, parasitic fungi originally from the region of Tibet and Nepal, have been used medicinally for centuries. The mushrooms, which cost more per pound than gold, have a wide range of benefits, from supporting the regulation of testosterone and cortisol to aiding with detoxification and immune response support. “They also help the mitochondria use more oxygen, so they’re great for athletes, muscles, and the brain,” Gorjestani says. 

While these can be grown in a lab (their active ingredients can even be produced synthetically), Gorjestani sources vegan cordyceps mushrooms grown outdoors on logs, where they benefit from the sun. Just like with food, it’s always a good idea to make sure adaptogens are grown in a clean, organic setting. 

Best adaptogens

Courtesy of Rachael Gorjestani

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