Adaptogenic Herbs Explained — Reduce Stress and Fight Disease

Sage in hand
I don’t believe in panaceas. One single herb that you consume and BAM!, instantaneous health! But from what I’ve learned about adaptogenic herbs, they surely come close to cure-alls.

What are Adaptogenic Herbs?

These herbs, usually called Adaptogens (also known as Superior Herbs and Rasayanas), have a long history of health, dating back to 3000 BCE, the era that brought forth Ayurveda in India (a philosophy of complete health by uniting the mind, body, and spirit) and traditional Chinese medicine which dealt with maintaining the proper balance of energy (qi) in the body, allowing a harmonious physiological and psychology state.

The word “adapt” best explains what adaptogenic herbs do for the body. Select herbs growing in extreme climate conditions evolved to adapt to their environment, allowing them to survive and thrive in otherwise harsh conditions.

Like humans, plants want to survive. We all do. Through a combination of high levels of antioxidants (stable molecules that neutralize unstable ones that lead to disease) and compounds knowns as saponins, these warrior plants learned how to ward off disease, build resistance to insects, and stake their claim on the Earth despite all obstacles of extinction.

They successfully adapted.

Later scientists would confirm what Ancient Healers and Shamans have known for millennia, discovering that these powers of adaptability weren’t only good for the plants, but also the humans that consumed them. While in the body, the chemical makeup of these herbs help us to adapt to stress—physiological, chemical, psychological, and external (environment).

However, unlike modern prescriptions and pills, these plants don’t focus on one specific issue, but the entire body as a whole unit. So if you were to visit the doctor for high blood pressure, you’d be issued pills to target only the blood pressure. These pills work in a single and focused direction.

Conversely, adaptogens work in a bidirectional fashion, helping to restore the body by normalizing all functions, never one specifically. Therein lies the fundamental difference between an adaptogen and non-adaptogenic herb or medicine.

Adaptogenic herbs must fulfill the following criterion:

  1. Non-toxic (causes no harm).
  2. Have a non-specific response in the organism (doesn’t affect only the disease, but helps to restore the entire body).
  3. Have a normalizing influence in the body with a bidirectional effect on physiological function (irrespective of the disease, the herb will address all organism and system to restore health).

A List of Common Adaptogens

american ginseng

  • American ginseng
  • Amla
  • Ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Cordyceps
  • Dang shen
  • Eleuthero
  • Guduchi
  • He shou wu
  • Holy basil
  • Jiaogulan
  • Licorice
  • Lycium
  • Prince seng
  • Reishi
  • Rhaponticum
  • Rhodiola
  • Schisandra
  • Shatavari
  • Shilajit

The Health Benefits Adaptogens

Adaptogenic herbs, along with saponins, compounds found in most adaptogenic herbs, accounting for the bitter taste in some, have been shown to offer the following health benefits:

  • Tone and repair organs
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antifungal
  • Antimicrobial
  • Capillary-strengthening
  • Diuretic
  • Cholesterol-lowering
  • Expectorant (removes mucus from body; good for cold, flu, bronchitis, etc.)
  • Improve liver functioning
  • Antiulcerogenic (helps prevent and relieve ulcers)
  • Anthelmintic (expel parasites from body)
  • Hormone-modulating
  • Immunomodulating (improves immune system functioning; may help HIV patients.)

Is Yerba Mate an Adaptogenic Herb?

Based on criterion as to what classifies an herb to be adaptogenic, yes. Yerba mate (ilex paraguariensis) is an adaptogenic herb.

It produces no toxins in the body; there is a non-specific response in the body; and yerba mate works in a bidirectional manner. Furthermore, yerba mate also contains the necessary compounds, saponins, that are found in nearly all adaptogenic herbs.

There are Five Saponins Identified in Yerba Mate:

organic yerba mate adaptogen

  • Matesaponin 1
  • Matesaponin 2
  • Matesaponin 3
  • Matesaponin 4
  • Matesaponin 5

The Importance of Consuming Adaptogenic Herbs

It’s 2014 and never before have we been so encapsulated by the western medical modality of treating the symptoms instead of the patient. We no longer look for homeopathic solutions that treat the entire person. Instead, we target specific ailments and seek to, in most cases, temporarily mask the issue. The problem being that these issues resurface again and again.

We live in a time where it’s common for someone to have multiple heart surgeries for the same procedure because 1. The patient never took proactive steps to fundamentally change his or her lifestyle and 2. The doctors were almost just as ignorant, opting to rely on a rapid succession of highly profitable procedures without truly being interested in solving the root issue—which is, in many cases, taking the time, and having the knowledge, to provide proper education on diet, nutrition, exercise, and overall way of living.

Ironically, such a holistic response has become more difficult than surgery. It’s surely less profitable for the pharmaceutical companies, which, by the way, incentivize doctors to issue pills.

Dangerous times!

Listen to the doctors, because of course they are right. Don’t listen to yourself and don’t rely on your own research because you have no degree—you must be wrong! I’m not implying that either is right or wrong, only that a middle way must be found. To rely solely on the doctors is not only dangerous, but unintelligent.

No longer is it safe to put your life exclusively in the hands of the medical industry. Especially when it’s in their best interest, financially, that you never fully heal. I’ll skip the ethical and moral argument here, but I’m sure you can fill in the blank. Suffice it to say, it’s in your best interest to begin researching methodologies, supplements, and herbs that have the potential to not only maintain your health, but to heal as well as restore and maintain your system at its peak performance.

I believe adaptogenic herbs contain many answers we are seeking. And we’re only scratching the surface.
Yerba mate, along with the other adaptogenic herbs, allow us to safely begin eating and drinking herbs that, as far as ancient history and modern medical literature has uncovered, are safe to consume and do nothing but help restore the body to optimal functioning. This is why I’ve been drinking yerba mate daily for five years and will continue to do so for as long as I live.


  1. Adaptogens, David Winston and Steve Maimes, 2007.
  2. Yerba Mate Tea (ilex Paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations, E.G. Mejia, 2007.
  3. Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman, FNIMH, AHG, 2003.

The information has not been approved by the FDA and was provided as an educational resource, not medical advice. Please consult your medical care practitioner with any questions. The author, David Askaripour, is the founder of Circle of Drink, Inc., a provider of yerba mate tea.