I went to the herb store to find out
EC: Can Eating Herbs With Breakfast Help Ease Stress?
Credit: photo by gabrielle van tassel

I am not an avid herbalist. I’m not even an occasional one. I am, however, stressed out about work, money, and life in general. So, instead of spending wads of cash on acupuncture and massage, I turned to food blogs to see if I could find a cheaper, and more natural, way to de-stress. After reading around, I kept seeing stuff about adaptogens, which admittedly sound like some sort of computer parasite from the Matrix, and recipes that use adaptogens. But, if not some science fiction biochemical, what are adaptogens? According to the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, “Adaptogens are herbs that improve an individual's ability to cope with stress.” These herbs allegedly normalize physiological processes and help the body adapt to internal changes. Hence adaptogens. The most popular one I came across among a variety of wellness bloggers and self-described herbalists that make adaptogen recipes was Ashwagandha.

Armed with this knowledge I hit the herb store. At Radicle Herb Shop in Brooklyn, I entered a world of herbal remedies. What I learned from the staff was that there are supposedly two types of de-stressing herbs: nervines and adaptogens. Nervines act fast and allegedly affect the central nervous system much like a Xanax. Adaptogens, they claim, take weeks of regular ingestion to start taking effect because they regulate and balance your adrenal and endocrine systems. This was a little bit of a bummer because I wanted to be able to try out the adaptogens and get a result immediately. I left the store with an ounce (a week’s worth) of powdered Ashwagandha root and a couple ounces of a special blend of nervines that would make me a few cups of relaxing tea in the mean time.

If you've ever had a cup of chamomile tea, you've also been sipping on a nervine. I was given a blend of 9 different nervine herbs—catnip, chamomile, lavender, skullcap, passionflower, lemon balm, oat top, and vervain—that are supposed to act as tension relievers especially in the neck and head area where many people retain physical symptoms of stress. But, according to Marina at Radicle, if you’re looking for a more long-term tension reliever and sleep aid, you should get you some Ashwagandha to bring you, and your hormones, back to center. Some studies even revere Ashwagandha (basically Indian ginseng) as a reproductive stimulant for women.

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Credit: photo by gabrielle van tassel

Unlike the nervine herbs that are supposed to calm your nerves, Ashwagandha, and most other adaptogens, are supposed to work more long-term to not only relieve tension and imbalances but to make you hormonally more resilient to stressors. According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1999, Ashwagandha improved the stress tolerance of the animals (specifically rats swimming in cold water, though, which isn’t quite the same as humans in an office). Another study published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines in 2011 claims that “Ashwagandha induced a calming anxiolytic effect that was comparable to the drug Lorazepam in all three standard Anxiety tests.” It seemed worth a shot, to me, given that an ounce of the adaptogen was only $3.19. But it’s worth pointing out that the FDA has not approved the use of Ashwagandha, or other adaptogens, for mitigation, prevention, or treatment of any ailments, mental or physical, so consulting a doctor is still your best bet. We at Extra Crispy are breakfast professionals, not medical professionals.

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Credit: photo by gabrielle van tassel

When embarking on your herbal remedy quest, Marina made sure to stress that whatever you make with your Ashwagandha there needs to be a fat to activate it. Sprinkling it in your milk-based hot chocolate, adding it in your taco meat, mixing it in with nut butter, or doing what I did and baking it into a batch of chocolate chip cookies are all options. But, be warned. Ashwagandha has a very nutty, earthy taste and reminds me of the smell of bird suet. Having dumped the entire packet of powder into the cookie mix, figuring it would take me a week to eat them (LOL), I almost instantly regretted it. Marina had warned me that it has an intensely nutty taste and is probably best mixed with something that already tastes nutty, but I couldn’t find any peanut butter cookie mix so I opted for just plain chocolate chip. Big mistake. Find some peanut butter and it'll help mask the taste. Will Ashwagandha help with the everyday stresses of life? Ask me in a couple weeks.