• Kiki Athanas

The Modern History of Adaptogens

I’ve always thought of adaptogenic herbs as “ancient herbs for modern stress”, as they have been used for thousands of centuries in both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine. While it’s true that our ancestors seemed to be able to miraculously tap into this sort of plant medicine way before the scientific testing and “evidence” came about to prove their superherb powers, there is a “modern history” of adaptogens that I find most compelling when it comes to getting EVERYONE onboard the adaptogen bandwagon - even non-believers ;)

Since these herbs are truly magical in nature - literally “adapting” to your body’s needs at that very moment you consume them - it’s no wonder that newbies are a bit skeptical as to if it’s “real”, or just another trend us “woo-woo” well enthusiasts are going nuts (the organic, sprouted variety - of course) for these days…

Well, allow me to explain some “hard facts” that will certainly come in handy the next time you try to explain the magically REAL powers you feel from taking herbs such as rhodiola and ginseng. The “modern history” of adaptogens date back not too long ago - the late 20th century in the former Soviet Union. Essentially, it all came about from the need to find plant species that would encourage the body to adapt to physical and mental stress without major side effects. It was the Russians who started searching for energy-enhancing plants that would help their Olympians, as well as their soldiers and astronauts, perform better. A team of “secret” scientists took this work very seriously, and eventually a formula of Eleuthro (also known as Siberian Ginseng), Schisandra berries and Rose Root or Rhodiola rosea was tested on a team of cadets - the USSR wanted plants that would help soldiers endure nights of frostbite and high elevations in Afghanistan.

Each of these adaptogenic plants came through with crystal clear benefits:

  • The combined formula helped soldiers stay alert and energized during sleep-deprivation tests

  • The Russians tested Rhodiola on nearly every type of Olympian, claiming it increased endurance and reduced recovery time

  • Athletes showed lowered blood lactate levels (a sign of overtraining) and decreased skeletal muscle damage (study was using Rhodiola)

While there has since been a shift towards more over-the-top synthetic substances (i.e. “doping” athletes), there’s still something to be said for harnessing the more gentle yet often times just as effective (and without the negative side-effects) use of natural plants available to us in their purest form. Whether you are training to be the next great Olympian - or simply aim to hit up a spin class this week - there is practical evidence that adaptogens are always on your side.