Adaptogens, which include functional mushrooms and herbs like ashwagandha, are a variety of plants and fungi known to support your nervous system, immune system, and general well-being. These natural powerhouses work as their name implies, by helping your body adapt to your environment so that you’re better able to find balance.
Practitioners of ancient holistic systems of medicine, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, have been utilizing adaptogens for thousands of years. Today, one of the most popular reasons people turn to these natural allies is to support their body’s ability to cope with physical or mental stress, such as fatigue or feelings of anxiety.
Through complex physiological processes, adaptogens help your body maintain homeostasis by interacting with your endocrine, nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems to ultimately support functions such as sleep, circulation, immune defenses, focus, and more.
Of the many adaptogens out there, each offers its own unique benefits and functions a little differently. As such, some adaptogens might be better suited to certain needs than others—and are best taken at certain times of the day. While some adaptogens are more stimulating and most appropriate to take in the morning or early afternoon, others have a more calming effect and are best taken later in the day or evening when you want to wind down.
To optimize your routine, read on to get clear on the best times of day to take different adaptogens.
Take These Adaptogens Earlier In The Day
Because of their energizing effects, take the following adaptogens in the morning—or at least by early afternoon—in order to reap the benefits of their natural boost without feeling revved up when it’s time for bed.
1. Cordyceps Mushrooms
“Cordyceps are medicinal mushrooms best known for their potential to improve stamina and athletic performance,” explains Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., a nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe. “Although you could take them any time of day, they’re generally going to be most useful taken in the morning or before exercise.”
For that reason, you’ll find cordyceps in supplements formulated to boost energy. They can also be particularly helpful for anyone participating in intense physical training or experiencing overtraining, The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, L.D.N., R.D.N., C.P.T., previously told What’s Good.
Research suggests that the herb rhodiola may help improve performance during stressful situations and work to lift mood. It’s also a go-to for alertness, memory, and general mental performance, shown in research to improve mental performance on work tasks by up to 20 percent.
“Because it has a stimulating effect on the body, it’s best to take rhodiola in the morning,” says naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D. In fact, you’ll find rhodiola in everything from energy drinks to pre-workouts.
Ginseng is an herb long used to help relieve mental and physical fatigue while supporting energy and performance, particularly amidst stress. Research shows that Asian or Panax ginseng supports the nervous system, specifically the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, which plays a role in our “fight or flight” response.
It’s also been found to have antioxidant effects, meaning it helps combat oxidative stress which can damage the cardiovascular system and other organs. Like rhodiola, it’s a common ingredient in pre-workouts and energy drinks because of its fatigue-busting effects.
Similar to Asian ginseng, Siberian ginseng (officially named Eleutherococcus senticosus and often called “eleuthero“) is also best taken in the a.m. “It’s one of my favorite adaptogenic herbs to take in the morning because it provides energy, prevents fatigue, and boosts stamina,” says Rose.
4. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
As a medicinal mushroom, lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is known for its nootropic benefits, or ability to support cognitive health. “Various studies have shown the potential of lion’s mane to improve memory and cognition,” says Blakely.
Though one study suggests lion’s mane offers sleep benefits, specifically for those who are overweight or obese, “the majority of people would benefit from taking lion’s mane in the morning or early afternoon in order to take advantage of the potential cognition and memory boost it offers,” Blakely notes. Unsurprisingly, it’s a staple in everything from focus gummies to coffee alternatives.
Take These Adaptogens Later In The Day Or Before Bed
When it’s time to unwind, turn to the following adaptogens to support your body in finding a sense of calm and settling down for the rest it needs.
One of the most well-known and versatile adaptogens, “ashwagandha is best known for its stress benefits and is a powerful herb that’s helpful for people looking to support balance in their body,” says Blakely. “It has been shown to help work against the stress hormone cortisol, which then helps ward off feelings of anxiety, supports sleep, and promotes vitality.”
Read More: How Poor Sleep Affects Your Appetite
Because ashwagandha can support sleep, Rose recommends adding it to your evening routine. That said, if you’re interested in its overall benefits and doze off no problem, you can certainly add it to your morning regimen instead.
Known as ‘Queen of Mushrooms,’ reishi is one of the most-researched of the adaptogenic mushrooms that have become famous for their wide-ranging benefits. Like many other adaptogens, research suggests reishi works by helping to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol to promote hormonal regulation and a sense of ease.
Because of its calming properties, nutritional and medical herbalist Sonya Elnaschie, M.C.P.P., M.C.S.P., H.C.P.C., founder of Hawthorn Integrated Health & Wellness, recommends reishi for those who find that stress impacts their ability to score quality shut-eye. As such, pretty much any mushroom product out there formulated to help you unwind (like Four Sigmatic’s popular Chill Mushroom Elixir) stars reishi.
3. Valerian Root
Valerian, an herb containing many active compounds, is used most often to improve sleep quality. In fact, Rose herself takes valerian capsules before bed to support a deep, restful sleep. Studies back this up, with one meta-analysis concluding that “valerian could be a safe and effective herb to promote sleep.”
To make valerian a soothing part of your evening routine, you could even sip on a tea that contains the herb, suggest Rose. This way, both the plant and your evening ritual itself help you prepare for rest.
4. Holy Basil (a.k.a. Tulsi)
Holy basil is an ancient herb that “supports total body balance, helping to address the psychological, physiological, immunological, and metabolic stresses of modern living,” says Blakey. It’s also been found to fight oxidative stress and support cognition and nervous system function.
This herb also happens to be another of Rose’s favorites. “I enjoy combining it with turmeric in an herbal tea before going to bed to assist in relaxation,” she says. Though you can reap its benefits at any time of day, incorporating it into your routine in the afternoon or evening can help you make the most of its soothing effects.
Best Practices For Taking Adaptogens
Since different adaptogens can have different effects, always check your labels to make sure you’re using a particular helpful herb or fungi properly. (When in doubt, consult with a nutritionist, naturopath, or herbalist.) For instance, some adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, can cause an upset stomach, so taking them with food during the day or before bed is a good idea to help minimize any potential side effects, says Blakey.
Finally, keep in mind that it can take some time (we’re talking weeks or even months) to experience the full benefits of adaptogens, so have some patience and stick with it if you’re just getting started! And remember that adaptogens are one piece of the puzzle when it comes to supporting inner balance, so keep up with other healthful practices such as meditation, exercise, and time outside.