Today is a big day for power. There's a flood of strong energy heading to DC today that includes several of my friends and family members, and an energetic feeling of connectedness and camaraderie. It's power, it's moving, and it's uniting. For the past several months (for a myriad of reasons), there's been a thousand reasons to feel stressed. Often times, our body doesn't differentiate between types of stress - whether i's financial, physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, political or even made up, all in your head stress. The physiological reaction is usually the same, and we could all use some support, regardless of where your stress is coming from. I suppose we could say that health could be defined as the ability to adapt quickly and efficiently. That's where herbal adaptogens really shine.

Physiology 101:

The endocrine system is the first line of defense against the physiological effects of stress, and therefore takes the hardest hit with periods of prolonged stress. Endocrine glands, including the pituitary, thyroid, thymus, parathyroid, and adrenal glands, continually work together releasing hormones into the blood stream, and the body's response to these hormones occur after either a matter of seconds or even days, however once the response has been initiated, the effects last for a much longer time than the actual stressor is present. There's a negative feedback loop happening with exposure to stress: The hypothalamus releases CRH (Corticotropin releasing hormone) which signals the pituitary to release ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol. We can release too much cortisol though - it's very contextual. When we release corticoids, we set up a negative feedback loop from the adrenals back to the hypothalamus which then take a blood sample, so to speak, and determine what needs to be added or detracted. Corticoids are like the original adaptogen - they enhance your ability to respond to your environment. However, prolonged exposure to corticoids can be neurotoxic, and this feedback loop is extremely dependent on lifestyle. This sets off a cascade reaction that involves the whole body, and our tendencies to try and adapt turn out to be self destructive, especially when we overwork ourselves. We're trying to adapt to the increased stress load but we end up hurting ourselves in the long run. (Enter the Self Care movement!)

Not surprisingly, herbal adaptogens work primarily on the endocrine system to lessen the long term effects of stress to buffer, tonify, strengthen and modulate the effects of these hormones on our other organ systems. I love herbal adaptogens because they're such BUILDING tonics. They don't just take the edge off and chill you out momentarily - they work best long term to strengthen your response to stress, and therefore have a better response over time (rather than just an acute reaction). It's commonly thrown around that herbal adaptogens are "great for stress"! and that's true - but in a super general way. Ideally, when you're choosing an herbal adaptogen, you need to know what type of person you are personally, and especially what part of the endocrine system you're working with. Most likely it's the adrenal glands which are divided into 2 parts: the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex, and they both produce different hormones (yet both serve important roles in the overall response to stress).The immediate stress response (like, running from a tiger) is controlled by the adrenal medulla by the secretion of adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) which cause immediate increase in nervous system activity, increases cardiac output and facilitates blood flow to the heart, brain, muscles and increase your blood pressure short term. The adrenal cortex deals with the more long term stress response, responsible for the production of cortisol and hydrocortisone (called glucocorticoids) which have a profound effect on the immune system, certain behavioral responses and even metabolism regulation.  When we're under acute stress, our immune system is upregulated. When we're under long term stress, the immune system is down regulated - hence why so many folks suffer from illness as a result of prolonged exposure to stress. 

Adaptogens - which to choose?

Ashwagandha - I've spoken about Ashwagnahda in a previous post, but as it relates to the endocrine system - it's one my my favorites to use! It really excels as a building tonic for those who are in a weakened state, chronically tired, overworked, over stressed or take on too much with no end in sight. Think new parents, caretakers, shift workers, high performance athletes, elderly folks etc. It particularly works well in the relationship between the endocrine system and the immune system because it's cytokine balancing, immune-modulating and very building (promotes pitta activity over time). This is the ideal adaptogen to take long term, and I think powder form is one of the best ways to take it!

--Where to find it: Powder / Cut & Sift / Capsules / Tincture

Holy Basil - I consider holy basil akin to the kitchen gadget that does 100 different things and it's essential to have around all the time. Holy basil is not just an adaptogen, it's a liver protective herb, an anti-inflammatory, a carminative in the gut (helps with gas and bloating) and, my personal favorite - a spiritually uplifting herb for the "blah" feeling that comes in winter. It has this uplifting, warming and moving quality that is so needed when you're fatigued from low cortisol and overwork and over stressed. It helps to give you that push to keep going when you have to without putting strain on the already taxed adrenal glands. Best taken as tea, I think, combine with some licorice and skullcap. 

--Where to find it: Cut & Sift / Tincture / Capsules / Powder

Siberian Ginseng - High in a saponins called eleutherosides, these compounds directly impact the adrenal medulla. Traditionally, Siberian ginseng (also called Eleuthero) was used to tonify the spleen and kidneys (capacity to generate energy) and invigorate the blood as a circulatory stimulant. All helpful actions that directly impact the endocrine system as well in times of stress. This is best for the person with a sense of overwhelm, fatigue, exhaustion and sluggish mind, not for the agitated, hypervigilent stressed out person due to it's stimulating qualities. With any of the ginsengs, start with a low dose and work your way up gradually, and always take early in the day or afternoon to re-informece your normal cortisol pattern.

--Where to find it: Cut & Sift / Tincture / Capsules

Panax Ginseng - one of the more stimulating adaptogens, this has a broad response to both the adrenal cortex and medulla, and is best used for weakened conditions (elderly, recovering from prolonged illness etc) and makes you more adaptable short term. Panax ginseng tends to make you burn fuel more efficiently, allowing skeletal muscles to more effective use free fatty acids as fuel rather than relying on glucose. I use this generally for a stress pattern associated with deficiency, sleep / insomnia issues and inappropriate cortisol patterns early in the day. It helps to reinforce what your circadian rhythm should be doing when you wake up in the morning (cortisol should rise!). Not great for long term use - 3 months us usually the max I would recommend using this one.  *Always look for responsibly sourced ginseng*

--Where to find it: Whole Root / Tincture / Capsules

Licorice - Specifically supports the adrenal cortex response to ACTH. Licorice is sweet, building and nourishing to the endocrine system in every way - and most especially for the adrenal glands. The triterpene constituents in licorice are broken down in the body into molecules similar to the structure of adrenal hormones, and this likely explains licorice's amazing adaptogenic (and anti-inflammatory) properties. Licorice, along with ashwagandha, is one of the best herbal adaptogens to be used long term for the best building and nourishing effect on the whole body. Because of it's demulcent qualities, it's especially helpful to sooth inflammation in the gut, which can be irritated by the prolonged presence of cortisol. Win win. 

--Where to find it: Powder / Cut & Sift / Tincture / Capsules

Ashwagandha, licorice, and the ginsengs are all roots, therefore when prepared as a tea (which is my personal fave way to take most herbs), you can take 1 tsp of dried root in 2 cups of hot water and simmer together on low heat with a tight fitting lid for 15 minutes, making a strong decoction that you can sip on in times of need. Ashwagandha does best when decocted in a fatty milk, like whole milk or coconut milk. Same ratio and cooking techniques apply. 

Additional tip - it makes for a particularly effective herbal tonic when you combine an adaptogen with a nervine for a balancing effect. Some of my favorites to partner with adaptogens include skullcap, milky oats and lemon balm to help lessen the impact of accompanying anxiety or fatigue. 

There are LOTS more herbal adaptogens, like maca and rhodiola and reishi (oh gosh, allllll the amazing mushrooms) the list goes on, but for the sake of brevity, these are my favorite top 5 adaptogens. Which ones are go-to's for you??

During the first week of January, I decided to continue with an herbal project that I hadn't done in several years. One of my first projects in grad school was to choose an herb I knew absolutely nothing about and get close and personal with it for a whole month. I came to call this: herbal dating. It was a perfect way to learn about the effects and energetics of herbs without the bias of learned facts about it. It was a completely sensory experience that involved only how the herb made me feel while using it, without clouded judgement about what I thought it should be doing. This of course was a fleeting time, as the months and years passed I learned more and more about so many herbal medicines, it was hard to continue this herbal escapade without preconceived expectations. But starting this month, I'm taking a new perspective on the herbal dating scene. I'm choosing to formulate an herbal tea every month, using herbs that I feel especially drawn to, herbs that I crave, or herbs I feel I could use their allied support. I'll be sipping on this blend for the entire month, several times a day, to really let it settle into my body and feel the effects of such a synergistic blend. Because, how else can we really truly let something in if we don't give it enough time to do the work? So we begin with the January Steep...

Five herbs really called to me at the beginning of this month for their nutritive, immune and calming qualities. I was really craving minerals and nourishment after the glorious bounty of the holidays, and this blend feels perfect to sip on hour after hour, and even to share with everyone who pays me a visit this month. Nettle and oat straw are packed with minerals and nutrients like potassium, magnesium, zinc, calcium and chromium. Nettle has an earthy salty taste while oat carries a bit of sweetness. Dandelion, also rich in nutrients, favors the liver and immune system to gently support and cleanse any stagnation or sluggish movement in the liver. Astragalus, a deep immune tonic, carries a nutritive sweetness with a mild anti-inflammatory quality. Finally, my dearest skullcap, is something I always crave (it was my first herbal long term relationship), and just smelling it today makes me feel comforted. Skullcap is ideal for it's nervine and anxiolytic qualities, calming and soothing the musculoskeletal system. Once this month started, I was feeling overwhelmed with a packed schedule and catching up from taking 10 days off during the holidays. Skullcap takes the edge right off. 

This day in January feels especially perfect to be sipping on this richly nutritive blend. It's pouring down snow outside, and we're all staying indoors, bundled under blankets being absolutely lazy, reading new holiday gifted books, snoozing by the fire and Greg, as always, is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Snowy and slow weekends in are such a rare gift. 

If you have local sources for these herbal ingredients that's always ideal. If not. Mountain Rose Herbs, Zack Woods Herb Farm, Starwest Botanicals & Frontier Co-op offer organically sourced herbs. You can also start your own Herbal Apothecary At Home this year if you're feeling to inclined!

January Steep

30 grams Nettle leaf
30 grams Oat Straw
30 grams Astragalus
30 grams Dandelion root
30 grams Skullcap

Combine all herbs in equal parts in a large bowl and blend well. Store in a sealed glass container for the month. To brew, steep 1 tablespoon in 2 cups hot water for 10 minutes. Strain, and sip consciously several times per day. 

For overnight infusions, take a 1 quart glass mason jar, add 3 tablespoons of the herbal mixture and cover with room temperature water. Cover, and let sit overnight. In the morning, shake well and strain. Sip throughout the day. 


Back in October, Greg and I had a really awesome and downright dreamy wedding - a wedding we later termed, the Micro Wedding. After our October 8th Micro Wedding, we threw a gigantic party in our backyard the following weekend and invited ALL of our friends and family to celebrate with us. This was the giant party we always wanted without the stress of actually getting married at the same time (and we high five to this often because we thought it was such a great idea).  Because we had such a tiny wedding, there were dozens of people we wanted to see and who wanted to congratulate us and celebrate with us who were not at the actual ceremony, and this gave us plenty of reason to throw an after party, and it also gave Greg his much desired dream of "LOTS OF PEOPLE TO COOK FOR". He actually really wanted to cook for everyone at our wedding, but that was probably the one thing I put my foot down and said "no" to (because Groom's are kind of busy with other things at their weddings...). But for the party - absolutely. Greg planned the menu, sourced all of the ingredients, and we built a weird make-shift grill in our garden the day-of for him to throw down an unbelievable amount of food. 

With our crew - we have the whole spectrum of dietary nuisances. Gluten Free. Vegan. Vegetarian. Diary free. Potato Free. Paleo. Carnivores. It's all over the place. But the fun thing about our crew is...when Greg is cooking - they want to eat EVERYTHING. I'm lucky that I married a guy who gets major thrills from cooking. He's incredibly good at developing recipes and cooking for crowds, while being equally badass at making his own sausage and cooking a pork tenderloin while he also has 10 mouth watering tofu recipes up his sleeves. I stock the fridge. He cooks. It's a good partnership. 

Our party was amazingly fun, and it just filled out hearts to have so many people we loved gather together at the same time. And much like our actual wedding day - we had a lot of help from from friends and family who wanted to contribute and make the day special. I can't stress enough how grateful I am for the friends and family that we're gifted to have. We're both so grateful that our families were so supportive of our small wedding desires and did their best to help make it happen. I would encourage anyone to have a small wedding and throw an after party, because to us it was just the best of both worlds. An intimate, stress free wedding + added bonus of a delayed massive party = prolonged celebrations and more cake.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year (and many years previous), and it's worth celebrating everyday in big and small ways. As the new year approaches tomorrow, I'm reflecting on all of the things that made me smile this year and setting an intention to celebrate more in the coming year. Celebrate the little things, the big things, the mundane things, and mysterious things and the unexpected things. I'm setting a meditation intention tonight to send out joy to people around the world who could use it so desperately right now. And I'll be sending out thoughts of gratitude to everyone who continues to support this blog and make it a fun and nourishing for my creative soul to continue. Gratitude to everyone around the world, and happy new year blessings...

Photography by Renee Byrd - love you!

Happy New Year. Joy filled blessings to the world....

Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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