The last time I covered on adaptogens, I posted about how I try to take ginseng and jiaogulan on a daily basis. They’re also 2 of TCM’s most beloved herbs up to this day for a reason, so I suggest you take a look at the post before reading more on this. Right now I’m going to delve into the 2 adaptogenic herbs I promised at the end of that post that boosts overall mood and energy levels: Licorice root and cordyceps.
A brief disclaimer before I jump right in: I am far from a healthcare professional and I don’t own Baymax. I’m merely sharing my regimen with these herbs because I believe these can help someone who’s had the same health problems as I did in the past, namely, severe stress and hormonal imbalances. I’ve shared my story here and there across the blog with depression, and before my current herbal regimen I’ve always been skeptical about alternative medicine. But these adaptogenic herbs have treated me well ever since the mental breakdown hit me. I finally listened to my mom and take in all the tonics she used to make me when I was a kid, just like most Asian mothers do to their kids. Besides, there’s a reason why Asian people live the longest!
Again, I’m not implying these adaptogenic herbs as a substitute to healthy eating, regular physical activity and restful sleep. They constitute a supplemental routine (as opposed to a complete alternative) to my overall health regime because what adaptogens do is help enhance and/or restore the body’s physiological functions. They’re safe, nontoxic, and powerful, as we’ve learned. With or without incorporating adaptogens in your regime, you still have to rest whenever you have to, eat your veggies to get your vitamins and minerals, and jump for joy to keep stress at bay.
Okay that turned out to be a long disclaimer, so let’s dive right in.
The “sweet root” you used to eat as candies is a potent remedy for a wide variety of ailments, and it’s been used by TCM practitioners for thousands of years. A native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, the perennial plant can grow up to 7 feet high, but it’s usually the roots are used for healing people.
Like other adaptogenic herbs, licorice root adapts to your physiology’s specific needs, so it comes as no surprise that it targets multiple conditions, depending on your individual concerns. In the past, licorice has been an integral component of medicines that treat cough, flu, cold, sore throat, and any other problems caused by virus and bacteria. However, the efficacy of licorice is most widely reported to treat liver and stomach problems, specifically hepatitis and ulcers. It is one of the most prescribed alternative treatment to hepatitis C, but it’s also shown promising results for treating other viral infections, such as HIV, influenza, and SARS.12
The key therapeutic compound in licorice root is glycyrrhizin, which is, like, 50x sweeter than your regular sugar. Scientists believe the active ingredient is responsible for its anti-depressant effects throughout your system – from being a mild laxative to acting as an expectorant for you to breathe easier. Just as licorice root helps treat stomach ulcers, it also lowers stomach acid levels, eases heartburn, and helps with indigestion.
Glycyrrhizin is potent in that it protects us from various sorts of endocrine disruptors3. It prevents the breakdown of adrenal hormones that causes your inner time bomb to explode, particularly cortisol. In doing this, cortisol becomes more bioavailable (more readily used in the body) so you experience increased energy, feel less stressed, and safe yourself from unpleasant effects of hormonal imbalances like certain depressive symptoms, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia.
Licorice root also has antioxidants and phytoestrogens (plant compounds that act like estrogen in your body) that eases menopausal4 symptoms in older women, PMS and other menstrual problems like bloating, irritability, and breast tenderness. Licorice root is also an extremely popular over-the-counter medicine in Japan, where tofu and natto are part of their daily consumption and because they believe good health is linked to phytoestrogen intake.
What got me into buying this licorice supplement and licorice teas was actually to keep my “soils” (read: ovaries) fertile and overall mood stable. Believe me, there is such a thing as stress-induced infertility.
Longtime readers, you already know I had severe stress for 17 months and went to 2 gynecologists to see what’s up. The first doctor gave me standard hormone pills, the latter doctor simply said I need to manage stress. That’s when I started to be more open-minded to alternative medicine, TCM, and all these adaptogenic herbs that’s became part of my daily routine.
During this time, I also bought Dr. D’Adamo’s books. While there isn’t enough evidential support to back them up, it doesn’t mean I dismissed his health recommendations right away: As a blood type B. I’ve seen firsthand that 80% of my family (it’s the 5 of us and we’re all Bs expect my O mom) thrives in dairy and seafood, while other blood types tend to have lower tolerance for the 2 controversial food groups. So when Dr. D’Adamo suggested in his book that the only supplement blood type Bs might need is licorice, I Googled ‘licorice root’ for hours before finally buying into the idea of supplementing my current regime with the herb.
So it’s been 6 months now since I take a capsule every other day (the recommended dosage is 2 capsules everyday, 3x per day). My moods are more in balance, not to mention that my menstrual cycle is fairly stable now (even though I cycle at anywhere between 33-45 days, whereas normal girls have it 21-35 days (average 28 days). I also find myself more able to slow down and chill, which then allows more timeframe to stop myself from reacting to unpleasant situations in my daily life. before, it takes a nanosecond from unicorns pooping rainbows to boiling water and bloodshot eyes. This is testified by the people around me, so I know I’m not just seeing these positive effects alone.
You may ask why I’m reluctant (read: scared) to take it everyday and took it in smaller doses instead.
The common dosage of licorice root is between 2-15 g daily5, but overdosing usually leads to a host of reactions you don’t want to see: High blood pressure, hypertension, fluid retention, low potassium levels, weakness, tiredness, paralysis, certain cancers, kidney problems, and even brain damage.678 Because I’m only using licorice as a tonic, I reduced my dosage but keep it as a long-term regimen (thus the every-other-day routine). If you must take large doses of it, it’s usually not recommend to take licorice root for longer than 6 weeks, so again, be careful and do your research first.
I’m sure you’ve heard of this medicinal mushroom by now. It’s the secret ingredient of the Chinese female track runners who broke records in 19939, and the running world has been raving about it ever since.
In all honesty, reading about the female runners’ time was what prompted me to start taking this herb regularly. My mom has been buying all of us (my brothers and I) each of these supplements since forever, but you know how skeptical I was. But things changed since I started running in 2008.
There are 2 types of distance runners: Those who perform better fueled, and those who perform better empty. I consider myself latter, simply because I tend to feel bloated throughout my run if I eat before a 5-10k. I tend to run-walk-run-walk if I grab something to eat, but continue to run all the way from start to a fast finish if I’m empty. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to find natural performance enhancers to improve even better: There’s the chia fresca I fuel up the night before, the green10 and white teas for the caffeine and endurance, and these Tibetan caterpillar fungus on the empty stomach (my mom have always told me it’s best to ingest it on an empty stomach and I’ve never known why, but we’ll cover that in a minute).
Winter worms, summer grass
Literally translated, 冬虫夏草 means winter worms, summer grass. This is going to get a little disgusting, but bear with me.
During winter, spores of the cordyceps mushrooms infects various insects and bugs, the case is usually caterpillar larvae . By summer, these bugs will be dead, and the fungus would have grown out of the heads of these dead bugs.
Back then, Chinese herdsmen would notice how energized their animals became after feasting on these infected bugs, but today, world-class athletes are devouters of the parasite, not to mention that it’s growing less in the wild and its demand only increases, making it one disgustingly expensive herb in the Chinese materia medica.
Aside from performance enhancement, this invigorating herb is also effective for anti-aging purposes for its antioxidant properties, as a possible cancer treatment, for maintaining respiratory and cardiovascular health, lowering blood sugar levels, strengthening the immune system, and as an aphrodisiac too1112. Sounds too good to be true, right? But all science-backed and well-documented, thus making it rightfully comparable to the energizing ginseng.
I started taking cordyceps consistently only for the past 6 months, just when I started taking licorice root supplement every other day. I down on them the minute I wake on Tuesdays with licorice root, sometimes on Sundays too when I need a major energy booster. On most weeks I take cordyceps twice a week, but some weeks it’s 3 times (this is mostly during menstruation week).
I can’t say if there’s any difference from my consistent use for many reasons: 1) I’m still young (and wild and full of energy), 2) I don’t have data from when I was at younger age taking cordyceps consistently, so there’s nothing to compare, and 3) Again, I’m still young, so I have no idea whether cordyceps really delayed my natural aging process or not. But there’s a couple of things I noticed:
I used to need a Fuji apple when I wake in the morning to wake my brain, but with cordyceps I seem to have conditioned myself to function just as fine without glucose. Also, even though my daily tea consumption hasn’t changed (and that’s a lot of cups per day and therefore lots of antioxidants coming in), for the past 6 months I’ve noticed it’s far easier for me to breathe deeply and properly at rest and while running. My heart no longer beats like a hummingbird one moment to a whale the next, like how my emotions used to explode like a time bomb.
Turns out that cordyceps help increase oxygen uptake, especially when you’re taking in on an empty stomach. They work on your lungs and making your body better able deliver more oxygen to cells, making it more efficient in using up oxygen, and that you always have a surplus of oxygen. It’s pure calm energy throughout the day – no sudden jolts and extreme lows from caffeine and sugar. This is important if you do a lot of long aerobic exercise like running, where you have to find a neat balance between getting your heart rate up and conserving energy, not to mention that cordyceps reduces muscle fatigue, boosts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels by almost 28% (It’s tiny “batteries” our body uses for storing and moving energy), and improves fat metabolism once you hit “the wall”.
Another thing is that before these past 6 months, there’ll be a 50:50 chance that I’d get headaches after my workouts, particularly if I’ve had a lot of stress at work that day. These days, that ringing pain in my head and constant worrying is practically nonexistent, but I highly suspect it’s the cordyceps + licorice root combo, not just the effect of cordyceps itself.
Like I said, 1 capsule 2-3 times a week, even though the recommended dosage on my Ocean Health Cordyceps Standardized Extract (only available in certain countries) is 1-2 capsules daily before meals. I figure I don’t need it as much just because my whole reason for taking this herb is to adapt my body for physical performance and athletic endurance. But since cordyceps intake may make your immune system become more active, it’s best to avoid overdosing it, lest you see signs and symptoms of autoimmune disorders show up.
So there you have it: My basic adaptogenic remedies consist of American ginseng, jiaogulan, licorice root, and cordyceps, apart from opening up more to my friends and family, deep breathing, looking at pigs on Instagram, praying, and journaling.
Oral medications aside, how are you making yourself feel energized and emotionally healthy today?
- Glycyrrhizin, an Active Component of Licorice Roots, Reduce Morbidity and Mortality of Mice Infected with Lethal Doses of Influenza Virus. [Antimicrobial Agents and Chemothereapy, 1997] [↩]
- Licking Latency with Licorice. [The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2005] [↩]
- History of the Endocrine Effects of Licorice. ((Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes.  [↩]
- Effects of Licorice on Relief and Recurrence of Menopausal Hot Flashes. [Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 2012] [↩]
- Licorice. Drugs.com [↩]
- Licorice. WebMD [↩]
- Licorice. University of Maryland Medical Center [↩]
- Licorice. NIH MedlinePlus Supplements [↩]
- Ophiocordyceps sinensis: Introduction to the Western world. Wikipedia [↩]
- Green Tea Extract Boosts Exercise Endurance 8-24%, Utilizing Fat as Energy Source [ScienceDaily] [↩]
- The Scientific Discovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis, Part I. [The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 1998] [↩]
- The Scientific Discovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis, Part II. [The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 1998] [↩]