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Adaptogens are a hot topic. Before we get to that, let’s first establish that it is entirely possible - and also highly likely - that you can rest and rejuvenate in the pursuit of restoration without the support of adaptogens. Your body has many natural defenses and you have practices or rituals that help you respond to stress. As much as the wellness industry would like us to believe that we all need adaptogens and we all need them now, the truth is we don’t.

Many of us will need Adaptogens at times throughout our lives to help us deal with exceptional stress. We will need help getting through emotionally and physically demanding circumstances. If there was a “desperate times call for desperate measures” classification of herbs, Adaptogens would fall under that category.

To help you better understand what Adaptogens are and how to use them, we put together a little guide:

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a group of plants that help us, as organisms, adapt to stress. Adaptogens do not eliminate stress, they don’t reduce stress, they help us to resist stress. Adaptogens work through two major control systems in the body: the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympatho-adrenal system (SAS). The HPA axis and the SAS include the endocrine system, the immune system, the nervous system, and our fight or flight response - this is where “non-specific” comes from. Adaptogens not only normalize these systems - help these systems function better - they also ensure effective communication between these systems.

Why use Adaptogens?

As herbalists, we think about adaptogens as a tool of support. By definition adaptogens are non-toxic in therapeutic doses, non-specific, and normalizing. This criteria comes from research performed in Russia, the word “adaptogen” didn’t even exist until the 1960s when a Russian pharmacologist, Dr. Israel Brekhman, coined the term.

The requirement that they’re “normalizing” is a clue that these are not plants that we rely on statically for the rest of our lives. They are plants that help us get “back to normal” after our bodies have been altered by stress. Because normal can look a little different for every person, certain adaptogens are best suited to certain people experiencing certain situations.

Which Herbs are Adaptogens?

“Adaptogen” is not a traditional concept in the herb world, as such many herbalists classify adaptogens according to the research available. This means that a small group of herbs - exactly 9 - are accepted as definite adaptogens, others are “probable” and still others are “likely.” For more information see David Winston’s and Steven Maimes’ Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.

Which Wooden Spoon Herbs Formulas include Adaptogens?

Adaptogen Balance

Holy basil, Organic Reishi, Ashwagandha, Goji berry

Anxiety Ally

Holy basil, Ashwagandha


Schisandra, Shatavari

Immunity Now


Mushroom Magic

Reishi, Cordyceps

Elderberry Elixir

Astragalus Root

Rose-Colored Glasses

Holy Basil

Quick Wits

Holy Basil

The Light Ray

Goji Berry, Schisandra

The goal of choosing and then working with adaptogens is to help our bodies manage the problem of stress enough so that we can prioritize and get back to the foundation of good health: water, rest, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, love and joy, gentle movement practices, and sunshine. And plenty of it.

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