Meet Adaptogens, the Powerful Herbs That Changed My Body

Victoria Hoff
PHOTO:

Isabella Behravan

Thanks to a healthy obsession with all things alternative wellness, I've always had a passing fascination with herbal and plant-based remedies. But it wasn't until three years ago that I first experienced the power of this ancient healing method firsthand: After seeking out the help of a handful of different Western doctors for a reproductive health problem, all to no avail, I turned to a local acupuncture practitioner, who prescribed me with some mysterious Chinese herbs. Within a month, my problem had corrected itself. I was hooked.

Fast-forward two years: I had recently moved to Los Angeles, and the stress of transplanting my life across the country—coupled with the annual holiday season rush at the office—was a little more than I could bear. While struggling to focus on one particularly late evening at work, I reached for a jar of Sun Potion's Mucuna Pruriens ($37) that had been sitting, unopened, on my desk. Struck by its nickname of "Dopamine Bean," I figured that it couldn't hurt to try—if nothing else, it was an excuse to take a breather and brew a cup of tea. I added a pinch of the brown powder to my mug. 20 minutes later, I felt an unrecognizable sense of ease wash over my body, and my brain clicked into gear. I cranked out that work in record time, and Team Byrdie's obsession with Mucuna Pruriens was born—and my reliance on a special breed of herbs was solidified.

Mucuna Pruriens is what is known as an adaptogen: an herb that helps the body adapt to stress. They've also been shown to boost immunity, increase focus, and aid with fatigue. Once reserved for hard-core herbalists and those with substantial knowledge of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, adaptogens are starting to hit the mainstream as the wellness scene continues to balloon on our side of the world—especially as more and more research emerges to support their efficacy. Those of us in Los Angeles can credit Moon Juice, the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved juice bar known for its herbal "dusts," for inserting popular adaptogens like reishi mushroom and ginseng into our daily lexicon. And more and more dedicated spaces and brands are working to bring this powerful herbal medicine to the masses from coast to coast. 

Consider Lifehouse Tonics, a buzzy "anti-juice" bar that opened its doors in Hollywood last year. The power of adaptogens is central to founders Jack Latner and Fraser Thompson's M.O.; they wanted to create a space that specialized in tonics, elixirs, and guilt-free snacks steeped with plant medicine. With their extensive knowledge on the subject and atypical (and it must be said, delicious) formulas, they effectively flip our tired definition of "superfood" upside-down. Truly, education is the emphasis here—the pair often hosts hands-on workshops that spotlight the efficacy and origins of specific herbs and ingredients.

But you also don't need an LA zip code to reap the benefits of adaptogens—an Amazon account and a little crash course ought to do the trick. For the latter, keep reading: Below, we address all your burning questions about how adaptogens work and how you might include them in your routine.

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