Sometimes a health term becomes so intertwined with the way we talk about nutrition – let alone our core food philosophies – that we can lose sight of the actual meaning. Such is often the case with adaptogens. Adaptogen is very much a buzzword in the superfood world, with “adaptogenic benefits” increasingly listed alongside other (much more quantifiable) assets like “high in calcium.” We know adaptogens are good, but what exactly are they, anyway?
While it's easy to get into the weeds on the science of adaptogens, the simple meaning rolls off the tongue a bit more easily. At their essence, adaptogens are what they sound like: special foods that can help us biologically adapt or adjust to our environment by aiding the way we physically respond to and manage stress. It's important to note that this is not a trait many foods have: only one in about 4,000 types of plants are considered an adaptogen, so it's a rather special quality. Some of the most popular adaptogenic edible plants include Maca, Goji Berries, ginseng, holy basil, licorice, and some medicinal mushrooms. These foods are touted to help increase energy and endurance, as well as balance hormones (particularly cortisol). Simply put: when you think adaptogens, think “balancing” and “normalizing.”