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What Exactly Are Superherbs and Should You Eat Them?

You've heard of superfoods—now get ready for superherbs.

You've filled your fridge with a colorful array of superfoods: nutrient-dense picks that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals for total health. Now, get ready to stock up on superherbs.

One of the biggest trends this year is adaptogens: herbs, mushrooms, and root plants that have the power to help you adapt to stress.

Popular ones include moringa, ashwagandha tea, maca, ginseng, holy basil, cordyceps, and licorice root. Each herb inoculates you against the harmful stress hormone cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal glands.

What Adaptogens Are and How They Work

When we're exposed to a hair-pulling situation, our sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands are affected, resulting in a spike in blood pressure. Following the fight-or-flight response, the body naturally works to achieve homeostasis and equilibrates itself.

However, problems arise when a person suffers from chronic stress that can lead to an influx of cortisol on a daily basis and can potentially cause weight gain, heart disease, and adrenal fatigue. That's where the adaptogens come in.

In 1959, Russian pharmacologist N.V. Lazarev found that certain chemical compounds can help induce a "state of non-specifically increased resistance" (SNIR), referring to the body's ability to cope with systemic stress. Lazarev's devoted student, I.I. Brekhman, along with a fellow Russian researcher later published findings that revealed how certain natural plants used in global folk medicine also possess these non-toxic, stress-relieving adaptogenic effects.

Numerous animal studies have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, and central-nervous-system-stimulating activity as well as are shown to increase productivity, attention, and tolerance to mental exhaustion, according to a study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals.

What's more, adaptogens have been found to relieve the harsh effects of stress-related disorders as well as enrich the quality of life of patients suffering from ailments such as heart disease, age-related disorders, pathological conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases in addition to potentially increasing longevity.

In fact, a study in the journal Phytotherapy Research discovered that cordyceps have been specifically shown to improve brain function and antioxidative enzyme and promote sexual function, therefore providing anti-aging effects. Talk about a real-life fountain of youth!

How to Harness Their Powers

Since adaptogens essentially adapt to your body's needs, you have to find the one that suits your concerns. Some adaptogens have stimulating effects, which can aid you through that 2 p.m. slump, while others possess more calming abilities—helping you finally score eight hours of sleep.

Eat This! Tip

Luckily, you can find these medicinal plants in your local health food store. To add them to your daily routine, experiment by stirring them into a stir-fry dish, whipping up a cup of Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee, or snagging the stuff in powdered form and blending into a breakfast smoothie.

Thanks to these nearly-magical superherbs, stress relief is as easy as pressing a button! For more ways to boost your physical and emotional health, put these 20 Ways to Strip Away Stress to good use.

April Benshosan
April is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who has a passion for all things health, wellness, and tastebud-related. Read more about April