What Is an Adaptogenic Herb?

Adaptogenic herbs are lining the shelves of supplement boutiques and healthcare stores. They’re incorporated into everything from skin care to coffee alternatives. People seek more beneficial versions of the things they use every day, and some research suggests that adaptogens may offer the body some additional support.

Before you start using adaptogenic herbs, there are a few things you need to understand about what they are and how they may work. Having all the information will empower you to make an informed decision regarding your wellness. 

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbs that are perceived to have benefits to the body outside of their nutrient content. Although sometimes vague marketing language may give that impression, they aren’t medicine, vitamins, or supplements.

Adaptogens are believed to work by helping the body to manage or regulate certain types of stress. Both physical and emotional stress can take a toll on your body, and stress may cause a material effect on your endocrine system, immune system, and neurological system. 

The effects of physical stress are often easy to recognize, as they manifest in the form of noticeable aches, pains, and strains. 

Mental or emotional stresses can cause fatigue, an unhappy mood, and irritability but may also manifest as tension in the body, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, and even changes in appetite. 

Adaptogens Throughout History

Many herbs and fungi we now consider to be adaptogens were vital components of early medicine thousands of years ago. Traditional Chinese medicine and India’s Ayurvedic medicine were largely founded on using plants, herbs, and even animals for their perceived healing abilities. 

Adaptogens like tulsi (Holy Basil), Rhodiola Rosea (arctic root), and Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng) are grown near where these traditions originated in Asia. 

Their use continued into the modern era, with many adaptogenic herbal preparations being marketed as tonics or tinctures. Interest in these preparations died down with the advent of traditional western medicine, but the tables are beginning to turn. 

More people are taking an interest in natural, subtle ways to improve their wellness when their health doesn’t dictate that formal pharmacological intervention isn’t necessary. 

Do Adaptogens Work?

There are many different theories regarding how adaptogens deliver their purported benefits. Some research suggests that adaptogens are able to interact with the hormones responsible for our body’s stress response system in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. 

Supposedly, adaptogens can balance the side effects of heightened cortisol levels, stimulate your central nervous system, and regulate the adrenal glands. However, these theories have not been proven.

When your body encounters a stressor, it rings an alarm to release hormones like adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. While these hormones help us push past stress, they also raise our heart rate and blood pressure, impact our mental performance, 

Adaptogens are still being researched, and there’s still much more to be discovered. Some research suggests that certain adaptogens don’t produce clinically meaningful effects. In other clinical studies, effects and benefits are observed with prolonged and consistent use.

One study of adaptogenic mushrooms for athletic performance found that supplementation with certain mushrooms may protect endurance athletes from increased oxidative stress while they exercise. 

A small study on ashwagandha root suggested that long-term supplementation reduced feelings and biological markers of stress in participants

Studies are few and far between, and most studies that find a correlation between an adaptogen and a perceived effect will note that the difference is subtle and caused by a nonspecific action. 

Adaptogens won’t radically transform the way people look or feel. They won’t significantly enhance cognitive functions, squash exhaustion, or cure your anxiety and depression. When they are found to work, they’re found to work gently. 

Adaptogens and Their Reported Functions

Adaptogens need to be used consistently for an indefinite period of time to achieve the desired effects. They don’t replace the advice of a doctor or prescription medication. At most, they’re a slight boost that promotes a favorable response in your body. 

Adaptogens are like a change in diet or exercise routine that makes you feel better rather than a solution to a medically recognized issue. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of herbs, flowers, and berries are believed to have adaptogenic properties like holy basil, licorice root, or reishi mushrooms. Adaptogens can be made into powder for smoothies, taken in capsules, or used in topical skin care. 

These are some of the adaptogens we use in our skincare products.

Astragalus membranaceus (Huang Qi)

Huang Qi has been a quintessential part of ancient Chinese medicine throughout all of its recorded history. This adaptogen has been studied for a vast array of potential benefits, including as an internally administered supplement for patients with diabetes mellitus

Huang Qi is potentially one of the most valuable adaptogens, even if its potential benefits are only subtle. It seems to positively impact the body’s resiliency in a multifunctional way. 

Caldera + Lab uses Huang Qi in our skin care products to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Huang Qi seems to have a beneficial impact on the aging process as an antioxidant and immunomodulator


Echinacea is most commonly used as an herbal supplement to support the immune system. Research finds that echinacea may function as an adaptogen in the way it delivers its benefits. 

Although there is no cure for the common cold, echinacea seems to decrease its average duration by a day or more. These findings aren’t generally recognized as clinically significant, but many people enjoy the prospect of feeling better a day sooner when they’re under the weather. When applied topically, echinacea acts as an antioxidant. 


Elderberry’s medicinal use is first recognized among early Native American populations who used elderberry to treat cold and cough symptoms. Many companies that manufacture cough drops or lozenges include elderberry extracts as a natural flavor and potentially active ingredient. 

Elderberries may have immunomodulating properties, and the naturally occurring pigments in the berry provide antioxidant benefits. Elderberry also contains high levels of vitamin A. 

Vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant while helping to nourish the skin. This vitamin may help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and age spots. 

Adaptogens in Skin Care

Skin care serums like Caldera + Lab’s The Good are thin in consistency and highly concentrated with active botanicals. These serums can penetrate the surface of the skin, delivering benefits from within the skin itself. 

In addition to hydrating the skin, the wealth of plant-derived ingredients and antioxidants work to support and protect the skin. Our extensive clinical trial demonstrated that 96% of participants experienced healthier-looking skin after using The Good, with 91% reporting smoother-looking skin and less dryness after 60 days of consistent use. 

We make our skincare products from plants that have been organically grown or sustainably wild harvested. Every ingredient in The Good boasts antioxidant power to the tune of 3.4 million skin-protecting antioxidant units per drop. 

Cleanse your face, blot it dry, and put a few drops of The Good into your palm. Gently massage it into your face and neck, and seal it in with our moisturizer. That’s all it takes to experience the benefits of active botanicals and adaptogenic herbs for your skin.



Improving Training Condition Assessment in Endurance Cyclists: Effects of Ganoderma lucidum and Ophiocordyceps sinensis Dietary Supplementation | Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine

An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract | Medicine Journal

System Pharmacology-Based Dissection of the Synergistic Mechanism of Huangqi and Huanglian for Diabetes Mellitus | Frontiers in Pharmacology

Anti-Aging Implications of Astragalus Membranaceus (Huangqi): A Well-Known Chinese Tonic. | Europe PMC

Effects of Herbal Supplements on the Immune System in Relation to Exercise | Sage Journals

Echinacea Information | Mount Sinai

The Monographs: Elderberry | Adaptogens Book