By Winston and Steven Maimes
As the classification implies, adaptogens are herbs which help the body to adapt to stress…..stress of all kinds. Stress can come to us in many different disguises….from excess physical activity, negative emotions, pollutants, death, marriage, poor diet, becoming a parent and just from trying to adapt to ongoing change, which is an unavoidable part of living.
Traditional whole foods, which are organically grown and properly prepared, should always be our first line of defense when it comes to fortifying our bodies against stress and disease. However, because conditions in life are not always optimal, we often need extra help from our herbal allies.
Adaptogenic herbs have the unique ability to produce a balancing effect on the body. On page 19 the authors clearly describe this action. “It is said by some researchers that adaptogens enhance the body’s natural homeostatic balancing capacity and help return stressed physiological systems to normal regardless of the direction of abnormal deviation. This normalizing influence implies the capability of adaptogens for a bidirectional effect on physiological function. This is very unique and has led some observers to declare that adaptogens have “intelligence.” “ Adaptogens produce changes in the body because of their stimulation and balancing of several systems, including the neuroendocrine and immune systems. They are capable of either toning down the activity of hyperfunctioning systems or strengthening the activity of hypofunctioning systems, thus having a normalizing effect.”
Many modern disease conditions…such as Lyme disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and certain autoimmune illnesses, are often characterized by either hypoimmune function, hyperimmune function, or a combination of both in a single patient. It would seem that adaptogenic herbs could play a very important role in managing these physical disorders. The authors speak of the basic safety of adaptogens and describe their tonic effects on the body. These herbs are usually gentle in their action and can be taken every day without side effects.
Different adaptogens have specific actions on the body. For example, Amla has antioxidant properties, antihistamine effects, and is an ant inflammatory. Cordyceps positively affects the lungs, kidneys and the immune system, while eleuthero is a tonic herb for the adrenal glands, improves fatigue, and enhances performance. All of the adaptogenic herbs have their own special functions and yet at the same time they all stabilize the neuroendocrine system and enhance the immune system.
The authors, Winston and Maimes thoroughly discuss the different adaptogenic herbs and describe their protective stabilizing properties. They devote a whole chapter to the various systems of the body and zero in on the herbs which help to regulate and enhance the functions of these systems. Some of the body systems included are the brain, respiratory system, cardiovascular, digestive system, the visual system, immune and musculoskeletal, and even the psycho spiritual connection.
Winston and Maimes classify the herbs into 3 different categories; 1. Food herbs which are low in toxicity and gentle in their action. 2. Medicine herbs, which are stronger in their action, are used for specific conditions and are not used as daily tonics. 3. Poison herbs which have the potential for toxicity and their use needs to be monitored by an experienced clinician.
Chapter 7 lists the adaptogenic herbs alphabetically and tells you everything you need to know about each one. The authors include safety ratings, history of the herb, its modern medicinal uses, dosages, and methods of preparation. The authors also share appropriate research studies. As if all of this was not enough information, chapter 9 covers additional complimentary herbs which can be used with the adaptogens to enhance their positive actions. Another chapter covers the combining of the different adaptogenic herbs. Patient case histories are given, which are always helpful to the reader when trying to apply herbal wisdom to their personal health challenges.
Certain adaptogens are traditionally used in food preparation and the book includes a few recipes for nourishing teas, tonic broths, stews and rice dishes. Animal lovers will find the last chapter helpful in determining what herbs can be used for their pets and farm animals. I find it very interesting that indigenous people have passed down stories which tell of how their ancestors learned what herbs could be used medicinally by carefully observing the animals. Today, there is a whole field of study called zoo-pharmacology which observes and studies how the animals use plants to promote health and wellbeing.
I found this book “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, to be very well organized and the information to be extremely useful. I take many books out of the library, get the information I want out of them and then return the books without a second thought. However, “Adaptogens” is one book I would have a hard time bringing back. There is so much valuable information packed into this volume that I am grateful to have my own copy and will keep it close by as a very handy reference.