A Look at Adaptogens, Their Uses and Potential for Growing.

in hive-120078 •  last year  (edited)

Recently I've been coming across videos and articles talking about adaptogens. I don't know if it's that phenomenon where once you know about something you suddenly start to see it everywhere, or if a little birdie is trying to tell me that I really should be looking into these more.

What is an adaptogen?

Adaptogens are herbs, and some mushrooms, which adapt to your body's needs, fortifying it to be able to deal better with health issues that you have or which might come your way. They can be relaxing or stimulating, depending on your body's physical, chemical or biological needs at the time. Each adaptogen is a little different in the areas it works best, but overall they manage stress, probably the biggest cause and aggravator of chronic illnesses.

Adaptogens aren't immediate acting, they are something which builds up over time, so are best incorporated as a daily part of your life, whether it's adding them to foods or drinking them as teas.

”Adaptogens do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for the muscles. They do this by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, tweaking hormone production and physiological responses to ensure the body functions optimally.” Dr Brenda Powell

“When the body is subjected to stress, adaptogens help the adrenal glands mount an immediate hormonal response by manufacturing and releasing more stress hormones. When the stress stops, however, the adaptogens help the adrenal glands shut down more quickly. In cases where stress is prolonged and/severe, the adrenals reserve their resources by reducing the amount of hormones they release due to adaptogenic restoration by hypothalamic receptor sensitivity. This conserved energy becomes available to continue the body’s response to stressors, thereby delaying adrenal exhaustion.” Dr Ben Tabachnik

Which Herbs and Mushrooms are Adaptogens?

Some time last year I was watching a video series on herbs for healing and health and the herb that kept cropping up the most as useful for all types of conditions was ashwagandha. It became a bit of a running joke between myself and my friend who was watching the series too. Some others that came up in the series were reishi mushroom (mentioned almost as often as ashwagandha), astragalus, holy basil (tulsi) and ginseng.

Being a gardener, my first questions are whether I can grow them and how easy they are to harvest and use, especially as many of these adaptogens are becoming well known and can be bought from natural health stores or the health food aisles in supermarkets, but they are often quite expensive.

From watching that series, astragalus seemed to be the easiest to harvest and use; it's pretty much a case of grabbing a handful or two and throwing it in your cooking. Ashwagandha, like ginseng, is generally harvested for its roots and as the plant can get quite big, it becomes a big job to harvest them. So at the time I tried to find out if I could get hold of tulsi and astragalus plants for my garden, but they weren't something you could get easily in the local garden centre and I'm a procrastinator when it comes to ordering things online.

Then the other day I came across an article which made me realise there are way more adaptogens than were mentioned in that series and I already have some in my garden! I decided it was time I looked into these intriguing plants some more.


I'm going to start with rosemary, because I actually have this flourishing in my front garden and I think that most of us are familiar with it, even if only in passing. It's most commonly associated with a lamb roast, but there is good reason to start adding it into many more dishes, because it tastes good too.


As an adaptogen it is specific to methylation, an important reaction which happens in your body's cells and its important for the optimum function of most of our body. Whether you over or under methylate, the regular ingestion of rosemary can help to regulate it.

In addition, it is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, often cited as being good for helping memory and concentration, which could well be connected to the methylation process as Neurotransmitter production is one of the many things it impacts.

The great thing about rosemary is that you can just harvest the leaves as needed, no preparation required, however it can also easily be dried for long term storage, just by leaving it spread out on something like a tray. It's a Mediterranean shrub which adapts to growing in most climates; I've grown it in ever rainy, cold England and here in the extreme heat and dry of South Australia.

Aloe Vera

Aloe is another plant I have growing. We use this succulent a lot topically, but it's very bitter in taste, so we rarely ingest it. I used to add a small amount to juices, when I juiced my own fruit, but we haven't had enough fruit to juice for a while. It can have a laxative effect if over consumed or if the sap in the rind is eaten, so generally it's safest to stick with just the gel when using it internally.


The reason you might want to use it internally is for its healing effect on the digestive system. Like rosemary it's an anti-inflammatory and it's also antimicrobial. Then being an adaptogen, it works to help de-stress the body. It's been found to support the immune system, which would make sense as stress is one of the biggest impactors of our immune system and it's known that the immune system begins in the gut.

Aloe takes a little bit of preparation to use. Harvest the leaf by cutting it off at the base, then leave it standing upright, base down, for around 10 minutes for the brown sap to drain. If ingesting, take off the rind. A leaf can be prepared at once if you are likely to use it in the next three days, just store it in the fridge in an airtight container. It will, however, last longer as a whole leaf if you just want to prepare what you need as you go.

The plant is frost intolerant, so while it will shrug off a brief, light frost, if you're growing it in a colder climate you will need to bring it inside in winter. If you're in a hot, dry climate, then it's the perfect plant to grow as it needs very little water to survive. In droughts it will lose some of the plumpness from its leaves and take on a reddish hue, but will bounce back again at the first rains.

St. John's Wort

I don't have St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in the garden, but I recently started taking it for depression, when I hit a particularly low point. This herb helps with mild depression, anxiety, sleep and menopause. However, it isn't immediate acting, but rather needs to build in your system with daily use. Now doesn't that sound familiar? While I hadn't come across it mentioned as an adaptogen in regular lists, I had a suspicion that it might be one and that suspicion was proven right.


I'd like to point out that while on its own St. John's Wort is unlikely to have any side effects at normal doses, it is highly interactive with other medications and should not be taken with prescribed antidepressants. It’s a bit of a conundrum if you were wanting to move over to it from antidepressant medication, because they'd have to completely clear your system before you could start taking it and in the meantime you'd likely be not only going back into depression, but dealing with the withdrawal from the prescribed medication. Then it will need time to start working. It's probably a better approach to try St. John's Wort first, before looking at other medication.

It seems to be mainly the flowers targeted for use, but the leaves and stems can be used too. Often the top 4-6 inches of the plant is harvested. There is an optimum time for harvesting and that is when the flower produces a maroon colour when crushed. It can be used fresh at this point or dried, but some say fresh is best and has the most potency. Unfortunately, fresh has only a small window of use, so for long term use it would have to be dried.

The plant is perennial and often seen as a weed in areas it isn't native, growing in a range of soils and climates, with a preference towards sandy soils. Some preparations might be needed for the clay soil in my garden.


As I go through the adaptogens, I'm starting to find that most of them act in a similar way; which is pretty much helping with stress. However, Tulsi, often called holy basil, in addition to the usual adaptogenic properties of reducing stress, studies have found regular consumption could have immunomodulatory, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, radioprotective, antimicrobial and antidiabetic effects.


The leaves are the part of the plant harvested for use and usually taken as a tea; however the leaves can also be used when cooking.

Tulsi is a perennial plant which originates from India, so it prefers a tropical to sub-tropical climate, which restricts where it can be grown, somewhat; meaning the likelihood of it ending up in my garden is little to none, after all. Maybe procrastinating wasn't such a bad thing after all.


As usual the theme continues with the traditional adaptogen properties with astragalus. Other potential benefits are immune-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. It is believed to prolong life and in Chinese medicine is used to treat ailments, such as fatigue, allergies, colds, heart disease and diabetes among other conditions.

There are over 2000 species of astragalus, but the two used medicinally are Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus. For supplements it's generally the root that is harvested, rather than the leaves which were talked about in the video series. Possibly the root has more potency which would explain why there are some potential side effects and interactions. Because a few of my family members have autoimmune disorders, the one that stood out for me was the possible concern for those with autoimmune disorders, due to potentially increasing the activity of the immune system,

Astragalus is a perennial legume which likes partial shade to full sun and has a preference for Sandy soil. The roots are general harvested around the 3 year mark. Growing from seed requires a bit of preparation. They need to have experienced a cold period for around 21 days and then be scarified with sandpaper. They can also be propagated from cuttings and splitting the plant, which sounds a bit less complex.


Perhaps ashwagandha could be worth more consideration for the garden after all. It comes up near the top in just about every adaptogen list I've come across and while the root is the main target for supplemental use, the leaves and berries can be used too. There seem to be no obvious side effects or interactions, although there is mention that the berries could be mildly toxic, meaning you shouldn't overdo them. They are also bitter, so that should deter overuse anyway.


The plant is a perennial shrub that can grow in poor soil, but will do better in improved soil, which makes it sound promising for my garden.


Sources used and further useful reading:


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Great post @minismallholding, as well written as it is informative!

I know a little about some of these herbs, although some were completely new to me. I can vouch for Tulsi as it is a type of herb tea I have enjoyed drinking for some time with it scalming, anti-stress benefits. Personally, I enjoy drinking a number of herb teas, typically sweetened a bit with raw honey.

When we go into Season 2 of our gardening adventure, our first focus on is going to be on edible things, with only one herb - basil. Specifically due to watching @gardenchannel talk about how it can be added around tomato plants in a beneficial, synergistic way.

We'll see how that goes and then probably see how close we get to literally square foot gardening, to maximize the use of our limited yard space. In which we may find it helpful to plant various types of herbs.

I will bookmark this post (in SteemPeak), for future reference!

Thank you.

I recently got a tulsi with rose tea and enjoyed that. I may still keep it on the radar as one to grow, I'm just a bit cautious because our humidity is generally so low here, anything even subtropical struggles without a lot of attention.

I must remember to keep checking back in on your blog. Perhaps we can learn some things together. @ligayagardener has a lot growing in a much smaller garden than mine. He's often a wealth of information for small space gardening.

Yes, makes sense. We are still "newbies," so just starting to learn more about growing zones and what to try and what to skip. We'll get there eventually, but there is so much to learn. We figure we'll be at it from here on out ...

Thanks for the link to another gardener. As time permits, I'll have to check that account out.

As far as this ...

"I must remember to keep checking back in on your blog."

... I appreciate that. It is a slow work-in-progress, but I have begun to build my latest post. The first in a series of our "Season 1 adventures." Whether you'll learn anything, I dunno ... 😊

At least, it might provide a little entertainment! 😉

I always feel there's something to be gleaned from everyone, even if its a subject you know. Different people bring different perspectives to a topic.

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  ·  last year Reveal Comment

This is a great list of adaptogens! I definitely need to grow some of these! I already have rosemary and aloe indoors as well. Can rosemary survive harsh winters and come back in the spring? I want to plant mine outdoors.

When it's established, rosemary could survive a nuclear winter. We have 4 bushes and harvest from them all year round

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I know rosemary can survive English winters. It grows very well there, just going dormant, but staying green.

I'll have to test it out.

the more I looked into adaptogens this year, the more I realised that MANY herbs have adaptogenic qualities, which absolutely blew me away, not least because human beings NEED nature to destress and can do so not only by spending time in it, but ingesting plants!

I am a HUGE fan of ashwanghwa as you know and bought a big bag of it for smoothies and hot drinks. I successfully grew tulsi this year and must get around to trying it as a tea!!! It actually came via @sagescrub believe it or not and would grow fine in your neck of the woods. Rosemary of course is everywhere --- I love it! I also planted a St John's Wort, which is going fine and actually fits in well with a native garden. I tried putting ashwanghwa seeds in - no success - but will try again next year.

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Tulsi does grow very well in @minismallholding's neck of the woods

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That's easy for you to say with your lovely soil!

Well tulsi might have to go back on the list for the garden then. Maybe when I get the fertility up a bit more, because I struggle with anything that likes a bit of humidity. I have enjoyed it as a tea. I make it a point to try plants, these days, before I buy it after getting ones that I've ended up not liking.

Thank you for the vote of confidence. 😊

Can you grow basil or peppermint? Because if so, I defnitely think Tulsi can go on the list.

Basil struggles, lack of nutrients I think, though. I have peppermint too, in a shaded area which probably actually has some reasonable soil. My lemonbalm on the front struggles come summer. It's keeping the moisture in that I struggle with. Working in it, though.

This is a magnificent post!! So much valuable information, I had never even heard of adaptogens... I think I've seen Astralagus in abundance around here, just not sure if it's really the plant but I'll look into it. Thanks for sharing, will also be bookmarking for future reference!


I've only heard of them this last year. After that, they just keep cropping up. Maybe a hint that it was a good time to look into them.

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This is a magnificent post!! So much valuable information, I had never even heard of adaptogens... I think I've seen Astralagus in abundance around here, just not sure if it's really the plant but I'll look into it. Thanks for sharing, will also be bookmarking for future reference!


I love this post. It has a lot of useful information for natural remedies.

Thank you. It was very beneficial to research. I've learnt a lot more since, including that St John's Wort is not suitable for my skin, as good as it is for depression and anxiety. I've moved over to tulsi now.

Awesome article, @minismallholding. Did you manage to get any Astragalus? I believe a plant has to be 4 years old before harvesting.
It works to increase the number of white blood cells in your system. Dried root is the best way to go and you can get it for a couple of bucks from the Asian grocery store not far from you at Parafield.

The adaptagens I use here are lavender and tulsi. I do believe lemon balm world work better for you that St. John's Wort because of your complexion. It can lead to bad reactions from sunlight.

That's interesting regarding the St. John's Wort. I've recently been having more sensitive skin. I might leave off getting more and see what happens there. I'll have to lavish some more love on my lemon balm instead, see if I can getting it thriving a bit better.

Lavender could be another one to look into. I didn't realise that was any adaptogen too. I've been meaning to try and root some cuttings and get some more growing.

Incredible amount of information here, thankyou for the research you've put in.
@danclarke FYI.

My head hurts now...😆

I learnt an awful lot while I was at it, but it's raised even more areas to research.

I'm pretty sure the astralagus photo is a branch of black locust 😉

You could be right. The angle made the leaves look thinner.

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I usually enjoy reading and hearing information regarding herbs and their potential health benefits. It serves to remind me of what I may have forgotten, over time.

I've used all that you covered, except Tulsi for many years with great success; am 70 years old with no chronic ailments and do not need or take any prescription drugs :>)

Thanks for your interesting write-up @minismallholding. I'm happy to have stumbled upon it.

Oh...by the way... Here in the U.S. we have a congresswoman named Tulsi who is currently running as a candidate for Presidency and her heritage is rooted within India. (Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii)

Perhaps she's just the right natural remedy for us at this time?

Do you know what, when I was googling for my research on tulsi, this woman kept cropping up. Now I know why! I didn't look at the links for her, because she was the wrong sort of tulsi. 😆

That's good to hear you're prescription free at 70. My dad is also 70 and although doctors have tried, he doesn't take any prescription medication. He's very active still and comes over most weeks to prep firewood for us with my husband working away. Thank you for the feedback on your use of these adaptogens.

You are very welcome :>) Have a happy day.

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If people are determined that more must be better a simple little thing like bitter taste isnt a deterrant XD

We have rosemary and aloe vera in the yard. The aloe is mostly for injuries, never occurred to me it was edible.

"If people are determined that more must be better a simple little thing like bitter taste isnt a deterrant"

...and this is why we have to foolproof and idiot proof things. 😆

I looked into aloe when I realised it was just wasted potential sitting in our garden doing nothing, but growing. I would never really have thought of eating it then, either.

I love combining adaptogen herbs with nervine ones, great for soothing and regenerating the adrenal glands and nervous system!

Nervines. A new one for me to look up. 😊

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Do you maybe know how low can the temperature go for ashwaganda to survive? Probably they shouldn't drop below zero, right?

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I don't think it is. Some do grow it as an annual in colder climates, however, harvesting the root before the first frost.