You may have heard of an herb called “adaptogens,” or adaptogenic herbs, with anti-stress properties. But, what, exactly, are adaptogens, are they safe, and how do they work?

Adaptogens are well known for their effect on the stress response in the body. They are available in capsule form, powder for mixing with drinks or smoothies, or as a whole-leaf or herbal tea bag. There’s nothing like a relaxing cup of tea, to wind down, particularly one with the powerful stress reducing herbs.

The good news is that, according to Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a certified doctor of natural medicine, Doctor of Chiropractic and clinical nutritionist, there is some significant scientific evidence that backs up the amazing benefits of adaptogens.

What Are Adaptogenic Herbs?

Adaptogenic herbs (or adaptogens) are one type of herbs and foods used in natural medicine. Herbal adaptogens are a natural substance–derived from plant extracts–which are said to help the body adapt to or resist the damaging effects of stress. Adaptogens help promote the body’s ability to adapt to stress, while exerting a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.

The Body’s Stress Response

What is the body’s response to stress? Basically, a hormone called cortisol is released by the body in response to stress. But, when cortisol levels remain high over long periods of time, the effects on the body can be detrimental. According to Mayo Clinic, some examples of the body’s response to chronic stress (and high levels of cortisol) include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment
  • Thyroid problems
  • Accelerated Aging

While combating chronic stress may require that a person employ multiple diet and lifestyle changes, adaptogenic herbs can be one tool, considered safe and effective by many health and wellness experts.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

Adaptogens are said to “help balance, restore and protect the body,” according to Dr. Axe. Naturopath, Edward Wallace was quoted by Dr. Axe as explaining, “An adaptogen doesn’t have a specific action; it helps you respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing your physiological [normal functions of the human body, cells and organs] functions.”

Recent animal studies have discovered evidence that supports the theory that adaptogens have an ability to increase a person’s stress tolerance level.

What is Holy Basil?

In India, Holy basil (also called tulsi) is known as a very powerful anti-aging adaptogen. Its benefits have been part of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It’s used to treat infections, skin diseases, liver disorders, respiratory infections, and more. More recently, researchers have discovered the powerful impact of holy basil on the body’s stress response. In fact, a 2015 study in humans revealed that holy basil improved cognition (reaction times and error rates) compared to the study participants who took a placebo.

Holy basil is comprised of 3 very strong phytochemical compounds (biologically active compounds found in plants) identified as potent anti-stress compounds, in clinical research studies.

Other potential benefits of holy basil include:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing seizure activity
  • Fighting bacteria
  • Killing fungi
  • Fighting viral infections
  • Protecting the liver
  • Reducing pain
  • Promoting the immune system

Other Adaptogenic Herbs include:

  • Panex Ginseng – red ginger from Asia, considered a very potent herb, increases work performance and promotes calmness, a powerful anti-stress herb
  • Ashwagandha (Indian ginger) – may prevent stress-related gastric ulcers and weight gain and help stabilize cortisol levels
  • Licorice root – helps regulate cortisol
  • Rhodiola – promotes anti-fatigue effect, increases mental performance and decreases cortisol levels.


Although though there is some very strong evidence supporting the benefits of adaptogens, many of the research studies are still in the early stages. More studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of these healthy herbs. In the meantime, no adverse effects of holy basil have been identified by medical science, so why not drink a healthy cup of herbal tulsi tea today? As always, however, check with your medical provider before changing or starting your diet.


Dr. Josh Axe:

Mayo Clinic: