What Are Adaptogens? Get the 101: Here’s the Best Adaptogens for Restoration, Defense and Performance, According to an Expert

Author, Registered Herbalist and Holistic Nutritionist Danille Ryan Broida, RH, answers the question, ‘what are adaptogens?’ She defines adaptogens, and shares their benefits, giving you a guide to using these super herbs and mushrooms to achieve less stress, better sleep, immunity, cognitive function, longevity, and more. Read on to uncover the best adaptogens for you.

Woman drinking mushroom cacao with reishi. Adaptogens defined, we answer the question, 'what are adaptogens' share the benefits and more.

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Adaptogens are a group of super herbs and functional mushrooms that help our bodies adapt to stressors. They are among the most nutrient-dense ingredients in the world, used for thousands of years in cultures like Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and traditional folk medicine practices for their wide range of benefits. 

If the likes of lion’s mane, reishi, or ashwagandha have been on your radar, you’re in the right place. Be sure to check out our guide to ashwagandha, where we share five of the proven stress-busting benefits of this powerful adaptogen for anxiety. And don’t miss this memory-supporting lion’s mane mushroom recipe. It’s insanely delicious and can be whipped up with just a few ingredients!

Do you have experience with adaptogens and their powerful benefits? We’d love for you to share in the comments!

What are Adaptogens?

Defining the Super Herbs and Mushrooms: Adaptogens 101

Chaga mushroom powder have adaptogens benefits via Organic Authority
There are only about 30 adaptogens, and they’re each considered non-toxic, non-specific, and normalizing. Keep reading to learn exactly what those criteria mean.

There are only about 30 true adaptogens and all meet the following criteria:

  1. Non-toxic: This means they are safe to take long-term and do not have a toxic load or point where side effects may occur.
  2. Non-specific: Adaptogens do not affect a singular area of the body but instead target many systems of the body simultaneously. Think of them like building and nourishing multiple body systems rather than being directed at a specific function.
  3. Normalizing: These special species help our bodies find balance and equilibrium via a gas-break effect. For example, they may contain compounds that are stimulating or relaxing, and based on your body’s state, the action of energizing or relaxing will be “louder” to work with your needs and bring you into a state of normalization or balance.

Adaptogens have arguably never been more needed than they are today. In our modern world, stressors are constant and unavoidable. Collectively and individually, we are dealing with more stress—internal and external—than ever before. Understanding the physiology of stress helps us recognize that when we are stressed, the other critical systems in our body stop working optimally, as much of our body’s energy is focused on acute reactions. 

High stress suppresses the immune system, affects our mood, skin health, sleep and so much more! Adaptogens have a profound ability to help us cope and deal with stressors in a way that doesn’t lead to a state of depletion (read 13 Adaptogens to Help You Conquer Stress to learn more). They are safe, have thousands of years of history of use to back them up, have been clinically studied over the last 50 years, and the allies need to support our current state of being and help bring us to a place of less stress, more energy, stronger immunity, and overall greater vitality.

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Adaptogens Defined

a man inspects a fresh crop of lion's mane functional mushrooms are one of the best adaptogens via Organic Authority. We answer the question what are adaptogens, define adaptogens and share the benefits of adaptogens.
Credit: Lion’s mane (pictured) supports focus, memory, concentration, and mental wellness.

While adaptogens by definition are non-specific, there are a few practical ways to start incorporating adaptogenic ingredients into your daily routine to support restoration (think anti-aging and longevity), defense (think immune support or beauty) and performance (brain or body energy).

Here’s the Best Adaptogens for Restoration, Defense and Performance

Restoration: Ashwagandha is a gently adaptogenic root traditional to Ayurvedic medicine of India. It’s calming, stress-supportive, and nourishing. Try adding it into an evening routine to help ease your system into a night of deep rest.

Defense: Turmeric is perhaps the most well-known of all adaptogens. Its powerful phytocompounds, namely curcumin, have benefits to defend the body as an immune protectant as well as for beauty benefits. Use morning, noon or night for its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits for skin and immunity.

Performance: Lion’s mane is a functional mushroom known as a nootropic. The extract of the real mushroom grown on wood supports focus, memory, concentration, and mental wellness. Add into a morning cup of coffee to reap these benefits. 

What are Functional Mushrooms?

reishi sample, partially dried which is a functional mushroom and defined as an adaptogen via Organic Authority

Let’s zoom out. Fungi are an entire kingdom, meaning they’re considered separate from plants and animals. The fungi kingdom outnumbers plants at least six to one! There are many, many more types of fungi than we normally think of when we hear the word “mushroom.”

chaga mushrooms and mushroom powder which are functional mushrooms and the best adaptogens via Organic Authority

An incredible subset of the fungi kingdom is functional mushrooms, also commonly known as medicinal mushrooms. These are mushrooms with known benefits to humans. Reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, and cordyceps are the best known, and while these mushrooms may seem new to Western mainstream culture, they’ve been used medicinally for thousands of years by cultures around the world. 

What Are the Benefits of Adaptogens — Do They Actually Work?

Man running in the woods where functional mushrooms and the best adaptogens are sourced via Organic Authority

If you’re new to the world of mushrooms beyond the culinary scene, here’s what you really need to know when buying functional mushroom products. It’s time to look beyond the produce section and begin to bring more ‘shroom into your life.

Why? Functional mushrooms can support focus, energy, stress, immune function, and more! But not all mushroom products are created equal. It’s different from just selecting the best-looking shiitake in the barrel. So let’s break it down.

  1. Fruiting Body: Fungi have three distinct parts: root system (mycelium), mushroom (fruiting body), and “seeds” (spores). It’s important to buy products with the mushroom itself. This may sound obvious, but various companies use different parts of the fungi in their products, and it doesn’t always include the actual mushroom. For example, some companies just use mycelium in their products instead of the whole mushroom fruiting body—even though the fruiting body is higher in the beneficial constituents, and thus more potent.
  2. Log-Grown or Wild-Harvest: Mushrooms can grow on many substrates. Always buy wild harvested or log-grown because mushrooms “are what they eat,” and many of the beneficial compounds in the mushroom come from the wood it’s grown on! Avoid purchasing mushrooms grown on rice, oats, or wheat.
  3. Extraction: Sorry raw foodies, but mushrooms are not to be eaten raw—ever! There is a compound in mushroom cell walls called chitin, the same compound found in crustacean shells. Think of chitin like a big door with a hidden room full of goodies that’s inaccessible unless unlocked. There are two primary ways to unlock the door (or break open the chitin): hot water or alcohol. Functional mushrooms that haven’t gone through one of these two processes offer little to no nutritional benefit.

Which Foods Are High in Adaptogens?

woman holds functional mushroom cacao which is a defined adaptogen via Organic Authority
The benefits of adaptogens are more convenient than ever to enjoy  foods and beverages are popping up in stores everywhere.

One way to start using adaptogens like functional mushrooms is by adding them to your diet. For example, many health food stores and farmer’s markets carry fresh lion’s mane and turmeric. These days, it’s also easy to find supplements that include dehydrated functional mushrooms—but remember, not all adaptogenic formulas are created equal. Our favorite supplements are actually foods and beverages that have been “boosted” with adaptogenic ingredients—like Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Coffee with Lion’s Mane & Chaga, or one of their protein powders. These kinds of products make it easy to consume functional fungi throughout your day without even noticing—until you feel the benefits, of course!

Four Sigmatic Ground Coffee with Lion’s Mane & Chaga Mushrooms

You can brew and enjoy Four Sigmatic’s Ground Coffee with Lion’s Mane & Chaga Mushrooms just as you would traditional coffee. 

Super Powder Starter Pack

Four Sigmatic's Super Powder Starter Pack with functional mushrooms and adaptogen benefits via Organic Authority

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*Affiliate disclosure: Our team researched far and wide to find safe and clean bakeware options you’ll love using for all kinds of sweets and treats. If you make a purchase after clicking our links, Organic Authority may earn a commission, which goes a long way to support the good work our team does and reduces the number of ads we serve (as well as our Valrhona Chocolate habit). 

DANIELLE RYAN BROIDA, RH (AHG) is a key player in the worldwide mushroom movement. As a Registered Herbalist (RH)... More about Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)

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