What are adaptogens?

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a brilliantly useful and massively diverse spectrum of plants and fungi that help our minds and bodies react to whatever comes our way

The perfect rebalancer, adaptogens are great at reducing stress, making you more productive, boosting your immunity, and even enhancing your sex life! 

By Geyan Surendran, Developmental Scientist at Three Spirit


Fighting with wild animals or fleeing dangers at a split second's notice was all in a day’s work for ancient humans. Back then there was an evolutionary advantage to what is known as ‘fight or flight’ - a physiological reaction to stress where the body pumps itself full of cortisol and adrenaline - improving reaction time to any dangers. Which, for cavemen and women, would’ve been a (regular) life-saver. 

Luckily for most of us reading this, today’s dangers rarely come in such tangible forms. They are more likely to appear in the shape of crazy to-do lists, unrealistic expectations, bad food choices or lack of sleep. But our physiology remains the same. The result? You might find yourself past your bedtime staring heroically into the glare of your laptop up against a deadline and on your fourth latte of the day. This natural stress response can really frazzle the body and mind and result in fatigue, headaches, insomnia and a bad tummy. Whereas chronic stress is linked to more serious issues heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. So it's clear that stress is something the human race needs a little help with… but don’t worry mother nature has something up her sleeve ;-) 

Enter the hero of this story, the adaptogen! Medicinal herbs and mushrooms that can help our bodies adapt and regulate its reactions to internal and external stressors. They help strengthen the communication between the body and the mind and therefore allows the herb to 'meet you where you are'. If you’re wired up, heart racing and palms sweating, the adaptogen will help your body regulate stress hormones leaving you feeling more grounded and calm. On the flip side, if you are battling fatigue and exhaustion, the adaptogen will help your body regulate energy levels and stabilise your mood. Sounds pretty awesome, right? 

You’ve probably consumed many adaptogens without realising it; the turmeric in your curry, the liquorice root in your tea... then there are some lesser-spotted adaptogens (ones we have put in our drinks!) such as ginseng, tulsi (also known as Holy Basil), schisandra berries and lion’s mane mushroom. 

Here are some of our favourite adaptogens and the best ways to enjoy them: 


Withania somnifera

Why we love it

Calm, focus or a good night’s sleep? This adaptogen truly does have it all, adapting to whatever the body and mind needs, whenever it needs it.

What is it? 

Ashwagandha is a small, yellow-flowered shrub, native to India and North Africa that has been used in ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for its restorative and balancing effects. Acting on both the body and brain, ashwagandha has become more and more popular globally, helping people deal with the stresses of the modern world. The roots of ashwagandha are the most potent and are carefully processed to maximise function.  

How to use it 

Ashwagandha comes in many forms; in capsules, teas, drops and many more - but it is often diluted or poorly extracted. Make sure you buy from a trusted source and make sure you get ashwagandha root, rather than the stems, leaves or flowers - for best results.

How to enjoy it 
Pukka Wholistic capsules 

Straight up in caps from reputable herbalists like Pukka. 

Three Spirit Nightcap 

Welcome to your new night-time ritual - Nightcap over ice or in a delicious Old Fashioned cocktail. Rest up and recover with the soothing botanicals including ashwagandha, lemon balm and valerian root that put you into a peaceful and relaxed state before bed.

Pukka Ashwagandha, Cacao & Maca latte

Upgrade your hot chocolate with this magical fusion of ashwagandha, cacao and maca. Tastes amazing!

Four Sigmatic Adaptogenic coffee

Switch up your morning routine for some rocket fuel with extra adaptogenic function. 

Grown Balancing Neural Tonic 

Add to juices, smoothies or a herbal tea for adaptogenic rejuvenation throughout the day. Boom.

Glow Bar’s moon mylks and elixirs 

Adaptogen pros head here for yummy ways to get all those game-changing herbs in colourful shakes and bakes. Whilst you're there you can check out the fab infra-red saunas too. 

What is it good for? 
It protects your body.

Ashwagandha is packed with a type of compound known as ‘withanolides’, which have both anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. Ashwagandha has been shown to help the immune system fight off infection more effectively, too.

It's a great workout buddy.

Ashwagandha has been seen to help the body repair and rebuild itself after strenuous exercise. It helps to increase muscle strength as well as general endurance. Ashwagandha also helps to increase muscle mass and has been shown to lower body fat.

It's great for your brain.

It's brain-boosting, being seen to improve memory and also protects the brain from oxidative stress. In some studies, it has also been seen to repair the brain from damage and injury.

It's good for your heart.

Ashwagandha can reduce blood sugar levels and has been seen to reduce stress levels - lowering cortisol levels in the body. Ashwagandha has been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol, and compounds called triglycerides that could lead to cardiovascular issues.

It helps in the bedroom.

Ashwagandha is also a great aphrodisiac and has also been seen to increase fertility and libido in men and women. Ashwagandha is also an incredible sleep aid, helping you get a brilliant night's sleep after it's helped you through the day.

Asian Ginseng

Panax ginseng

Why we love it 

Boosts brain, body and mood! Ginseng makes you feel good and is easy to access through high street products. Remember to look out for Panax ginseng, as other ginsengs have different active compounds which are equally as great, but work in other ways.

What is it? 

Ginseng is a small plant with strange, humanoid looking root systems that resemble voodoo dolls. Grown slowly in the mountainous regions of East Asia, ginseng has been used since ancient times as to invigorate and rejuvenate, to increase stamina, as an immunity booster and as an aphrodisiac.

How to use it 

Ginseng roots are found in many energy drinks and health shots, but you can also consume ginseng in many other forms such as capsules or tinctures. Ginseng is best taken in short doses of 2-3 weeks at a time - with a week or two in between - as it becomes less effective if taken for too long.

What is it good for? 

It's a potent anti-inflammatory.

Ginseng contains active compounds known as ginsenosides that have a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Ginseng is seen as an immunity booster, and has also been thought to help prevent the recurrence of certain diseases as well as helping the body fight infection, and even enhancing the effectiveness of some vaccinations!.

It can boost your mood.

In studies over a short period of between 4 and 8 weeks, ginseng was seen to improve sociability and mood in test subjects. Ginseng was observed to enhance calmness and help to relax people in stressful situations while increasing their mental and physical endurance.

It can up your energy levels.

Ginseng has long been thought to be great at fighting fatigue. The science now suggests that ginseng does indeed help to fight both mental and physical fatigue - giving the mind and body a boost with compounds such as oligopeptides and oligosaccharides that help raise your endurance. 

It can slow the effects of ageing.

Ginseng is a powerful antioxidant, and ginsenosides have been shown to slow cognitive decline as well as the physical ageing of the body by mopping up free radicals. Ginseng also helps increase blood flow and has been seen in some studies to reduce or even repair cellular damage caused by ageing.

How to enjoy it 

Purdey’s Rejuvenate 

The ultimate hangover cure mixes apple, grapes, spring water and uplifting botanicals Panax ginseng, damiana and oak bark. 

Three Spirit Livener

Power-up with energising plants and not one but two types of ginseng in our vibey Livener! Mix it up with tonic or add to a spritz, garnish with some exotic fruits for a banging summer cocktail.

Space NK’s Erborian Ginseng Shot Mask

Bit of a curveball but if you’re mad on your ginseng then this mask is excellent for outer vitality! 

Fushi Red Ginseng Root Tincture 

Pimp up any smoothie or juice with some good morning vibes. 

Vite Brain Bar 

Nootropic snack bars packed with awesome adaptogens including Panax ginseng, rhodiola rosea and L-theanine.  

Ginseng tea

Pukka mix it up with matcha and tulsi

T2 blend it up fruits, florals and our old friend ashwagandha

Samsidae’s Korean Black Ginseng Extract isn’t one we’ve tried as it’s £2k per 100mg at Harrods! 

Schisandra berry

Schisandra chinensis

Why we love it

Schisandra tastes delicious in food and drinks! It has a totally unique flavour that transforms most dishes, and even cocktails, so it doesn't feel like you're taking a supplement. And unlike many adaptogens, it also gets to work almost straight away!

What is it?

Schisandra berries are red berries that grow on sprawling vines. Traditionally used in Chinese medicine and in ancient Siberia, Schisandra was one of the original 'adaptogens' as defined by the USSR, where it was designated as an 'Official State Medicine'. The Nanai hunters of East Asia would use schisandra to keep them alert, yet relaxed during hunting expeditions, and to help them see better at night. In modern times, schisandra has been used by soldiers, athletes and military personnel to keep their brains and bodies working at peak performance. Schisandra berries have a fascinating flavour between sweet, salty, bitter, spicy and sour (some liken this to sherbert) and so they make a delicious addition to food and drinks, as well as health supplements and tonics. The essential compounds in schisandra are schisandrins and other lignins that contribute to its adaptogenic potential. 

How to use it 

Schisandra is exceptionally diverse in how you can use it. Still, the most common way of consuming it is in powder, tinctures and teas.

What is it good for? 

It's a mood booster.

Schisandra has been shown to reduce irritability, improve mood, reduce symptoms of depression and to combat some effects of PMS. As it's a potent adaptogen, schisandra also combats anxiety and stress - helping you get on with your day!

It can have a positive effect from the first dose.

Most adaptogens take a little while to kick in, from days to weeks of taking them. However, schisandra has been shown to affect almost immediately after a dose - great for when you need a quick pick me up.

It can protect your liver.

Several studies into schisandrins have shown that they can help to combat liver damage and diseases such as hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. It's thought that schisandra stimulates liver enzymes and liver cells to allow healthy regrowth and repair of one of our most important organs.

It can help you see better.

Siberian hunters would use schisandra to help them stalk their prey. Schisandra was used extensively in world war II and was even used by snipers and fighter pilots to simultaneously enhance their vision and focus, whilst also keeping them perfectly calm. Recent studies have shown that schisandra can indeed help with night vision and short-sightedness!

Want to learn more about the science behind this amazing adaptogen? We love this paper published by the National Library of Medicine that dives into the range of schisandras health benefits.

How to enjoy it 

Dried schisandra berries

Keep it simple with the raw, dried berries. Whack them in the coffee or pepper grinder and add to spicy Chinese dishes, tagines and the sour soup, Borscht.

Three Spirit Livener 

Schisandra brings the spice and the zing to this perfect party primer and works with energising plants guayusa, guava leaf and ginseng to lift the spirits. Mix it up with tonic or add to a spritz. Go wild and garnish with some exotic fruits. 

Vigo Kombucha

Energising plants, sherberty goodness and the bonus of good gut-health. What's not to love?     

Schisandra tincture or powder 

Turbocharge your smoothies and juices with sherbet tasting plant vibes. Great with dark berries or tropical fruit. 

L-theanine (from green tea) 

Camellia sinensis

Why we love it

L-Theanine is excellent at boosting your mood, chilling you out and supercharging your productivity. It's found in green tea and provides a great counterpoint to caffeine, giving you that 'zen' feeling.

What is it?

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea, as well as in some mushrooms. L-Theanine is typically isolated from decaffeinated tea leaves, and humans have - in one way or another - been consuming it safely for thousands of years. Although it is relatively expensive in its purified form, it is an extremely benefit compound that elevates mood and focus and gives a feeling of calm without causing tiredness. L-Theanine has a savoury umami taste, so it enhances the flavour of anything that it is put in. 

How to use it 

L-Theanine can be consumed in teas, but it can also be found pure in dietary and workout supplements as a powder or capsules, in concentrations equivalent to around 10 cups of tea, minus the caffeine!

What is it good for? 

L-Theanine brings simultaneous chill and focus. 

L-Theanine is a potent stress reliever and anxiety reducer. It works by making you feel relaxed when you need a sense of calm - and relieves tiredness when fatigue kicks in! It has been used in multiple ways over the centuries including as the key component of zen tea ceremonies and on children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). L-Theanine has a use for most people, and you'll find it in products as wide-ranging as pre-workouts to relaxation aids.

L-Theanine makes your food taste better!

L-Theanine is structurally close to the amino acid glutamate, the amino acid responsible for giving food a savoury, umami, deliciousness. L-Theanine has a similar, almost marine brothiness characteristic of green teas. Still, as well as its functionality as an adaptogen, it's a brilliant natural flavour enhancer - lifting the flavours in food and drinks.

It balances the jitters that result from drinking too much coffee.

Everyone at some point or another has experienced the discomfort of drinking too much coffee, before a looming deadline, or before or after an all-nighter of work or play. Studies have shown that taking L-Theanine can further enhance the focus that caffeine brings, whilst also calming your thought processes; making you alert, comfortable and clear-headed. Perfect for working from home. 

It improves your sleep.

L-Theanine has been consumed by humans for thousands of years in combination with caffeine - but as well as keeping people up and alert, L-Theanine can be an excellent sleep aid when it flies solo. L-Theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier exceptionally quickly and as a result, its effects can be felt fast! Zzzzzz.

How to enjoy it 

Green tea

There are thousands of these! But we like the sampler that both T2 and Pukka offer. Get curious about this delicate tea

Three Spirit Social Elixir 

Keep calm and stay connected with enhancing plants including L-theanine from green tea, lion’s mane mushroom and passionflower. Just add ginger ale/beer or tonic and a lime wheel for a delicious cocktail.  

Ceremonial grade matcha powder 

Whip this up into a delicious matcha latte for a morning bliss trip with pure plant energy. 

The Guayusa Co. tea 

Guayusa is an Ecuadorian holly plant that’s rich in L-theanine and caffeine. Read more about it in Guayusa, WTF. 

Nue’s Noo-focus capsules 

Kickstart your grey matter this morning with these caps packed with L-Theanine plus a bunch of nootropics and psychostimulants designed for brain health. 

My Protein 100% L’Theanine powder 

Get your protein and some chilled-out plant magic in one hit. Add to your morning smoothie or juice to start the day right. 



By Geyan Surendran, Developmental Scientist at Three Spirit

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