Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
If healing herbs such as suma and schisandra aren’t exactly your go-to ingredients for healthful kitchen concoctions, herbalist Agatha Noveille has the perfect tool to remedy that. Her new book, The Complete Guide to Adaptogens: From Ashwagandha to Rhodiola, Medicinal Herbs That Transform and Heal, offers over 75 clever recipes for elixirs, extracts, tonics, teas, and flavorful, nutrient-packed foods that promise to take adaptogen use and understanding to the next level.
“One of the ways it does that is by actually making the topic more accessible,” says Noveille of these unique herbs that help the mind and body adapt to stress while normalizing bodily processes. “I found that adding herbs to food is really a wonderful way to add them to your diet—adaptogens especially so. And they’re most beneficial if you’re using them on a daily basis.”
Whipping up a sparkling herbal refresher or a batch of eleuthero-infused granola bites can be a fun and easy way to introduce exotic-sounding herbs to your regimen. “Being able to think creatively about using herbs in foods opens up so many good possibilities—and that can really help you take your health to the next level,” Noveille adds.
As an herbalist, how have these herbs influenced your wellness?
I was diagnosed with Lyme disease 12 years ago. So adaptogens are actually a very important aspect for my self-care during recovery. I especially turned to tulsi, or holy basil, because of its remarkable ability to support wholeness. And it’s very uplifting, so it can be helpful if I’m really, really stressed. It also does a really good job supporting the immune system overall. In fact, it’s known as an immune modulator. So if your immune system is too active, like if you’re responding to environmental allergens, or if your immune system is underactive, like when you sleep all the time, holy basil has this very remarkable ability to help your body find the balance that it needs to function at a normal level. Another nervine adaptogen that I used a lot while I was recovering from Lyme was rhodiola. Not only does it have an affinity for emotional support and mental wellness overall, it’s also really good to help rebuild stamina for energy support.
My health improved in the first couple of years, and then after that most of my symptoms had disappeared. I’ve been functioning at a pretty normal level ever since. So that’s been wonderful.
What are some of the most versatile adaptogens?
Nervines are incredibly versatile. And goji berries are, too. They have a pleasant taste, so they’re really sweet and mild. You can get them in a dried or powdered form. And they’re really great to use in a number of recipes. You can substitute them anytime you use raisins in a baking recipe, for example. Not only do they have the usual adaptogen qualities, but they’re an overall tonic that supports the immune system. They’re protective of the liver, which, considering all of the toxic chemicals we come into contact with on a daily basis and the stress we undergo, our liver can be overburdened. So goji berries can be really helpful. They’re also a nutritive herb (meaning) they are especially food-like in nutrition.
Schisandra is another one that I consider to be one of the most versatile. It’s another berry, but it has a very resonant, unusual taste for a berry. It’s also called five-flavor berry because it has such a complex flavor. Again, it’s a nervine, so you’re going to have that whole adaptogen support package—but with an emphasis on emotional well-being and cognitive support. It has this unique ability to help promote calmness. Using it during the day can help insomnia at night.
What’s a Brainiac Oxymel?
An oxymel is a type of herbal preparation that uses vinegar to extract the beneficial properties of herbs. Honey is added for palatability. The result is a sweet and sour mix that you can enjoy by the spoonful, or you can add it to a glass of water to make a beverage. The recipe in my book for Brainiac Oxymel [see betternutrition.com for the full recipe] features ashwagandha and gotu kola. Ashwagandha is calming and supports clear thinking. Gotu kola is used as a tonic in Ayurveda, and it has an affinity for memory and mental fatigue. Both herbs are very supportive of brain function and mental health.