Pull From the Root: Can Trendy Foods Help Chill us Out?

Americans are frazzled. A 2019 Gallup poll revealed we’re some of the most-stressed people on the planet. And that’s bad news for our bodies.

Your body can handle a certain amount of stress without making you aware of it, which is a physical state known as adaptation. Over time, it learns to cope with moderate influxes of the stress hormone cortisol, but excessive stress (or a smaller amount on a compromised system) overwhelms and exhausts us.

Red Bull. 5 Hour Energy. Monster Energy. Rockstar Energy. And, of course, soda and coffee. We’ve medicated our stressed-induced exhaustion with massive amounts of caffeine. But energy drinks are packed with sugar and unsavory chemicals and the crash that follows the initial caffeine jolt can leave us even more sluggish and foggy than before.

Caffeine can ward off exhaustion for a while but it’s clearly not sustainable. It’s no surprise that more and more Americans are turning to plant-based comestible remedies and centuries-old eastern and indigenous healing practice for boosts in their days and balance in their lives.

Adaptogens are one remedy, the term coined by Russian scientists directly after WWII and applied to plants long-believed to help the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the peripheral nervous system adapt to stress by extending its adaptation period.

Adaptogens are creeping into ingredient lists on restaurant menus, flavored seltzers and even entire cafe concepts. Chefs concoct soups chock-full of reishi and maitake mushrooms dosed in ginger and garlic, bartenders drip tinctures of ashwaganda into $16 cocktails and that new coffee spot on your corner really only makes matcha lattes.

And it’s no wonder why some have fully subscribed to this trend–we as a culture have been priming ourselves for it for decades. Beyond the very fact that many now have dedicated “wellness routines,” these routines often include other Eastern health practices; essentially, yoga and cupping have played as gateway drugs to adaptogens.

Then there’s the actual drug marijuana. We as a nation are waking up to acknowledge and explore the plant’s many health benefits. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 11 states and medical marijuana is legal in 33. Restaurants, bakeries and bars in many cities now infuse their products with CBD, the non-psychotic chemical derived from cannabis. CBD can be used topically or ingested to reduce physical pain, and has also shown to reduce the negative effects of anxiety and depression.

In fact, many stumble into adaptogens by way of CBD. Recess, a sparkling CBD-infused beverage brand, has attracted many fans with their adaptogen-inclusive recipe. Founder Ben Witte is a big believer in the pairing’s amplifying effect, “Adaptogens help your body balance and counteract stress and as a naturally wired, hyper and anxious person, I had been experimenting with CBD and adaptogens prior to Recess,” Witte said. “When I started incorporating both, I felt—not relaxed—but balanced, centered, and more productive which inspired me to look for another way to get CBD and adaptogens in one fell swoop.”

And given that our stressors (the general state of global and national politics, climate change, our longer-than-ever workdays), we’re bound to see more and more treats with adaptogens and more natural ingredients to help us chill us out.