Adaptogens to ease stress, anxiety and tension

I always find it interesting how relevant many ancient remedies have become today – some even more so than when they were first discovered. It’s especially fascinating that given the advancements of modern medicine, we are still returning to the traditional treatments trusted by Ayurvedic practitioners thousands of years ago. More often than not, ‘alternative’ or eastern medicines are filling gaps in the knowledge or treatment pathways of allopathic medicine, providing relief from chronic or lifelong conditions.

One of the ways in which Ayurvedic remedies in particular have come into their own and found space in the spotlight of holistic health is as a complimentary treatment for stress and anxiety. In Ayurveda we have many treatments that have been used over the course of history to support brain health and better mood, but these have now have come into their own as a primary defense against the stresses and strains of modern life.

Stressed-out, overwhelmed, under-nourished

Stress tends to creep up on us. As more and more things are piled on top of us and responsibilities build, we feel able to handle more and more, even as it gets harder to cope. Over time we become ensconced in a state of chronic stress and anxiety. Cortisol levels are running high, adrenal fatigue is impacting on mood, hormone levels, energy and cognitive function. The body simply cannot function properly, and it begins to show. Brain fog, exhaustion, irritability, aches and pains, digestive discomfort and poor skin and hair health – the list goes on. When we reach this breaking point, or begin to experience physical symptoms as a result of emotional distress, our body is signalling to us loud and clear that it’s time to make a change.

Healing herbs for stress and anxiety

Whilst the primary defense against stress and anxiety is lifestyle change and supportive strategies such as breathwork, meditation, yoga and time management, herbs can help our bodies deal with the physiological impact of mental unrest. From minimising oxidative stress to lowering cortisol to help with adrenal fatigue and regulation, herbal supplements can be game-changing for anyone living with chronic stress or anxiety disorder.

These herbs have been employed by Ayurvedic practitioners for over three thousand years – but now studies corroborate what they have known for millennia. Many are adaptogens – herbal pharmaceuticals that aid the body in coping with short and long term stress. They shorten recovery time from periods of intense stress and mitigate the impact on the body through a number of incredibly sophisticated ways, making it less likely we’ll get physically sick as a result of stress.

This selection of herbs includes my essentials for combatting stress. Many can be incorporated as easily as a scoop of powder in your morning smoothie or coffee, and all are easily accessible and have few side-effects.


Ashwagandha is perhaps one of the most popular and well-known adaptogens in the West – and with good reason. This ancient medicinal herb has been primarily used to improve concentration, relieve stress and boost energy levels – but today it has come into its own as a holistic support for anxiety.

One of Ashwagandha’s star qualities is its ability to lower cortisol in chronically stressed individuals. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Over time chronic stress can lead to consistently elevated levels of cortisol. In the body, resulting in high blood sugar and excess fat storage around the abdomen. According to several studies adults who took

Ashwagandha displayed significantly lower levels of cortisol (a reduction of around 30%) compared with the control group.

But the stress-reducing properties of Ashwagandha don’t end there. It is best-known for its ability to actually reduce stress – with early research suggesting that it blocks the stress pathway in the brain by regulating chemical signalling within the nervous system. Several controlled studies focused on adults with anxiety disorder and chronic stress found significant improvements when supplementing with Ashwagandha – whilst 88% of participants in a separate study reported a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Holy Basil is a renowned, revered adaptogenic in the Ayurvedic practitioner’s toolkit. It is considered sacred in the Hindu faith, and got its name, translated roughly to ‘the incomparable one’, partly from its ability to soothe and treat a great variety of ailments. In Ayurveda Tulsi is known as a rasayana, a prestigious herb that nourishes personal and spiritual growth.

Tulsi is remarkable because it regulates stress response in a number of ways. Firstly, it elevates mood and enhances vitality, relieving mild forms of depression and stress. Biochemically it lowers stress-induced release of adrenal hormones whilst also assisting in the normalization of cortisol, the stress hormone that when elevated for long periods of time can cause chronic health problems.

On top of this Tulsi is a potent anti-inflammatory, reducing oxidative stress to support the body during times of emotional difficulty.


Ginger is well known as a flavorful ingredient and stomach-soother, but its benefits are far reaching. It contains fourteen unique, bioactive compounds and anti-oxidant properties each with their own benefits for body and mind. Some of these antioxidants help to fight oxidative stress on the body, but they can also sharpen focus and improve cognitive function. Some studies have indicated that compounds found in ginger can positively influence serotonin levels.


Used in Chinese medicine for centuries, Ginseng is perhaps best known for its energizing and immune-boosting properties. One side-effect of mental and emotional stress is physical stress – which is where Ginseng comes into its own. As a powerful anti-inflammatory it mitigates the effect of oxidative stress on the body. Ginseng also gently improves energy levels to fight fatigue without adding to anxiety.

White Peony

White Peony (also known as Chinese Peony) is staple ingredient used in treatments for anxiety and depression across various traditional medicine systems. The dried root of the White Peony has various properties, including scientifically-proven benefits such as pain relief and abundant phytoestrogens.

A study in 2020 showed that White Peony reduces the expression of SERT (Serotonin Transporter), increasing serotonin in the brain and producing an anti-anxiety, anti-depressant effect.


Adaptogen Rhodiola hails from the frosty mountains of Northern Europe and Asia. Its healing properties come from its root, which contains over 140 powerful active ingredients.

Rhodiola has been used for hundreds of years in Scandinavia and Russia as a treatment for fatigue, anxiety and depression. Recent studies corroborated this, but also showed Rhodiola is incredibly powerful treatment for burnout and chronic stress. It has been found to offer adrenal support, balance neurotransmitters in the brain and reduce mental fatigue. As an adaptogen it also increases your body’s resistance to stress, helping you to cope mentally and minimise potential drama to your body.

How to incorporate healing herbs into your daily routine

First and foremost, it’s important to consult with your medical practitioner before introducing any new supplements to your diet. They can tell you whether they are safe for you to consume and if there’s a risk of interaction with any other medication you may currently be taking.

Once you have the green light from your MD, head to an Ayurvedic practitioner for a full assessment of your needs. If you want to go it alone, try incorporating just one or two herbs to begin with to see if they make a difference to you. There are some blends available specifically designed to incorporate several of the above ingredients to combat elevated stress levels and anxiety, but always be sure to check the quality and purity of any supplements before purchasing.