Despite the fact that ordering your smoothie with a strategic boost of adaptogenic mushrooms has become somewhat commonplace over the last couple years, according to certified health coach, herbalism practitioner, and plant-based nutrition expert Stepfanie Romine, adaptogens have actually been used for centuries in countries like China and Russia, representing the ultimate way to "bridge the gap between medicine cabinet and kitchen," within the holistic wellness world.
"Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that observe the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm," explains Romine. "These herbs help the body adapt to both environmental and psychological stresses. They have a nonspecific response in the body, ultimately supporting all major systems including the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. They can also regulate bodily functions like blood sugar."
Additionally, increasing scientific research has correlated adaptogens with improved adrenal function—the category's main claim to fame and perhaps most beloved benefit.
"I think of adaptogens like SPF—a non-negotiable daily practice," explains Amanda Chantal Bacon, chef, sustainable lifestyle teacher, food educator, and founder of Moon Juice. "They promote the body's ability to cope and recover from stress by boosting the adaptive store in every one of our biological systems. Ultimately, they're non-stimulating, non-addictive super-herbs and super-mushrooms that will naturally help guide your body to its own natural homeostasis."
Of course, while mega brands like Moon Juice make the process of choosing and incorporating adaptogens into your diet relatively seamless (as Bacon tells me, the brand's Moon Dusts and SuperYou supplements are expertly designed, balanced blends which minimize guesswork), the world of adaptogens can still feel overwhelming. First of all, there are a lot of them, each with their own unique rhythm and strength when it comes to helping your body out. And second, it can be confusing as to the best time and way to take them.
Morning? Noon? Night?
Since we've been curious, we thought you might be too. Thus, we tapped Romine and Bacon for their expert intel regarding how to take adaptogens to reap all their buzzy benefits. Keep scrolling!
Their Favorite Adaptogens
"I'm partial to Reishi and Cordyceps, two medicinal mushrooms, as well as tulsi (holy basil) and ashwagandha," Romine shares. She tells me Reishi mushroom is a restorative adaptogen which is soothing and calming to the body and has traditionally been used to promote quality sleep, improved immunity, and protection and nourishment to the lungs.
"I have a wonderful nightcap drink with Reishi mushroom extract, oat milk, and nutmeg in my cookbook," Romine says. "It's so soothing at the end of the day (and sometimes I add CBD extract, too!). When you're burning the candle at both ends but can't catch a break, you might reach for Reishi."
Cordyceps, on the other hand, is more energizing sans the infamous jitters and anxiety from popular sources of caffeine like coffee. "It has long been used to boost stamina and restore energy, especially after being sick or exhausted. It's popular with athletes, and it can also support a healthy sex drive and aging," iterates Romine. "If you're training for a marathon, cordyceps might be one to consider. Add it to smoothies!"
"Ashwagandha is another restorative adaptogen, one that you might lean on when you're exhausted but find you can't relax," she continues. You know those nights when you find yourself physically exhausted but then feel restless once you go to lie down? Yep, this adaptogen might be the perfect antidote for you. "It's another one used to support the immune system," says Romine. "Ashwagandha is widely used in Ayurveda, the traditional medical system in India."
"Tulsi (otherwise known as holy basil) is another Ayurvedic herb that's an adaptogen and is delicious in teas or sparkling water." According to Romine, it's a great all-purpose adaptogen that's gentle, while still yielding noticeable results. In other words, if you're new to the world of adaptogens and want to dip your toe in, tulsi might be a good gateway. "When your world is out of control and you need to find your inner calm, you might reach for tulsi."
Bacon tells me she also loves Ashwagandha in addition to Amla, Rhodiola, and Shatavari. (You can find all four expertly compiled in Moon Juice's game-changing supplement SuperYou!)
"I love Shatavari because women can take it in every phase of their life for hormonal balance," she says. "It wakes up your energy stores and is one of the most powerful adaptogens for reproductive health.
Amla, on the other hand, can help address the way stress affects our appearance, as Bacon tells me it can improve the appearance and health of our hair, skin, and nails. "It helps preserve our natural collagen production by fighting the physical effects of oxidative stress," she explains.
And last but not least, Bacon loves Rhodiola, as it can help boost your brain and body, increasing your ability to focus while simultaneously decreasing brain fog.
How and When to Take Them
"Some adaptogens are energizing and some are nourishing and calming," Bacon reminds me.
"Powdered adaptogens like our Moon Dusts can be added to anything—from your coffee, tea, and smoothies to your cereal, granola, or pancakes. The options are endless," she says. "The easiest way to introduce adaptogens in a meaningful way is to tune in how you're feeling and then incorporate them into a daily habit you already have. For example, if you're a coffee drinker, add Brain Dust to your morning latte for focus and clarity."
Bacon tells me she recommends listening to your body and evolving your adaptogenic game plan from there. After all, what works well for your sister or best friend might not work for you. Therefore, finding the right routine of adaptogens will likely involve some experimentation. Thus, always make sure to read any stipulations on the herbs' packaging, and pay heed to dosage guidelines. And as Romine says, make sure to consult a healthcare professional as well.
"Adaptogens aren't stimulants or sedatives, so while some might have a slight effect right away, they generally are taken for longer periods of time," Romine says. "Gentler, calming ones can be taken at night, while the more stimulating ones should be taken during the day. See what works best for you."
"A general rule is to allow at least one season (three months or so) and up to nine months for a mushroom or herb to take its full effect. You'll want to talk to your doctor and work with a certified herbalist, acupuncturist, or naturopath before taking any new herb combinations, but personally, I love mixing adaptogens into coffee, smoothies, and even oatmeal or energy bites," shares Romine.
Is There Anyone Who Shouldn't Take Adaptogens?
"This is really up to you and your doctor, especially if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking any kind of prescription medications, Romine warns. "Herbs and mushrooms are powerful. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's harmless."
That being said, Romine tells me that in order to be considered and classified as an adaptogen, an herb or mushroom must be nontoxic and must have a normalizing effect on the body. "They bring you back to a state of balance, or homeostasis," she says.
Also, Romine says being vigilant about brand quality and sourcing when shopping for adaptogens is paramount. "Less reputable companies may use toxic solvents to extract their herbs, so buy organic when you can and, if you're buying from an individual, ask questions about where the herbs and mushrooms were grown and how they were processed," she suggests. "You can't simply grind up dried mushrooms into a powder and toss them into your smoothie—the powders you see on store shelves and juice bar menus are actually powdered mushroom extracts, which are optimized for digestion and absorption.
Some are extracted using only water, while others are dual-extracted using alcohol and water in a two-step process."