Natural herbs can be an excellent way to supplement a healthy lifestyle and stay naturally energised. With the demands of today’s fast paced society, it‘s easy to rely on coffee and energy drinks to get through the day. The problem with this is that caffeine only provides a quick burst of borrowed energy, inevitably leading to a comedown that can make you feel exhausted and depleted.
There are many natural herbs that can be used to help revitalise and increase the body’s natural reserves of energy - without caffeine. While there is no sudden crash, the herbs can create a balanced sense of well-being. Plus, they do not cause addiction in the way caffeine does.
There are three main groups of herbs that will serve this purpose - tonics, adaptogens and stimulants. While they all finally energize the body and mind, how they do it differs quite a bit.
The word „tonic“ is nowadays mostly used for tonic water, which consists of water and quinine, a plant-derived alkaloid that has fever reducing, antimalarial, painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties. Tonic water is commonly used to mix cocktails, but tonic water has very little to do with a traditional herbal tonic. A plant or herb that is considered a tonic generally helps to increase energy through metabolic means, restore and maintain balance of homoeostasis, and increase overall resistance and immunity. To qualify as a tonic, a herb has to be nontoxic even with prolonged use, have no contraindications and contribute to the overall longevity of the organism. In traditional Chinese medicine, great emphasis is placed on tonics, and more than 50 such herbs are in use. One of the best known tonics is the Ginseng root, which is revered as one of the most valuable and effective overall tonics.
The term „adaptogen“ is fairly new, and herbs in this category are closely related to tonics, if not equal to tonics. While the term originally has been coined by Russian researchers to solely describe the effects of Eleutherococcus Senticosus, the term has been quickly adopted and used for a wider range of herbs. Chinese medicine doesn‘t recognise this term, and it can be argued that only widespread lack of understanding for the properties of a true tonic led to the term „adaptogen“ in the first place. Commonly, it is understood that the quality of adaptogens lies in their ability to adapt to the unique circumstances of the body - hence the name. The ability to adapt refers to the bi-directional action of a herb, meaning that it can both increase and decrease a range of body functions in order to restore homoeostasis and enhance well-being. However, this same quality is also a property of any true tonic. Pharmacologically, tonics and adaptogens are the very same thing, the difference ultimately comes down to terminology and perspective. As a consequence, from now on we will solely use the term tonic.
Stimulants, on the other hand, are clearly a different class than tonics. Stimulants do not, as opposed to tonics, create and maintain homeostatic balance. Instead, they trigger a well defined and specific reaction, which occurs regardless of the condition of the body. In other words, stimulants to not adapt to the unique circumstances of the body, but they reliably perform a specific function. Pharmacologically speaking, stimulants are unidirectional, meaning that they only work in one way, which can lead to over-stimulation, depletion and imbalance. However, when used carefully and punctual, they can deliver energy on demand. Well known stimulants are cocaine, caffeine, ephedra, and amphetamines.
The following herbs are our top 10 natural supplements that can help improve, maintain and revitalise the body.
Maca is a natural tonic and energiser that can be found growing the high and mountainous reaches of the Andes. It is used by the local Peruvian people as an aphrodisiac, super food and staple of their diet. As a result Maca is a very important plant to the people of Peru, both economically and culturally. The use of Maca dates back to the Inca Empire, where it was a reserve of the upper echelons of society, as well as a reward given to renowned warriors to help boost their fighting capabilities.
This safe and nutritious herb is now becoming a very popular dietary supplement and alternative to caffeine within Western societies. It is a perfect natural energiser and invigorator. It boosts natural energy levels, increases stamina and endurance, balances hormones, boosts testosterone, helps relieve menstrual problems, act as an aphrodisiac, and is even though to help with the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. These well rounded effects come hand in hand with a good dose of vitamins, minerals and other healthy acids – it is an all-round super food.
Should you wish to maintain the ritual of using caffeine, Yerba Mate and Guayusa can make a great alternative to the morning drink of tea or coffee. Both derive from the same family of caffeinated holly trees found in the rainforests of South America and are brewed like a tea.
Yerba Mate and Guayusa are both primarily stimulants, although the wide range of constituents other than caffeine qualifies them also as energising overall tonics. They have a bitter sweet taste with a strong earthy overtone. While they contain caffeine, both Yerba Mate and Guayusa also contain extra alkaloids and compounds that invigorate and boost the body’s natural energy levels. These compounds help cleanse the blood, stimulate the heart, improve digestion, and maintain a healthy bowel. It also works as an anti-oxidant, protecting the body from free radicals. Furthermore, Yerba Mate and Guayusa contain very few tannins in comparison to tea of coffee, meaning it is less acidic and can help maintain the body’s natural pH.
Please note: Due to the unknown nature of Ephedra, and the potential health risks it poses, Ephedra is illegal in many countries including the Netherlands. Please ensure you are aware of the legal status of Ephedra in your country, and the risks associated with it.
Ephedra, also known as Ma Huang and Mormon Tea, is a classic stimulant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 5000 years. However, the Chinese have used the herb not only as a stimulant, but much smaller quantities were prescribed for a variety of ailments; such as respiratory and urinary problems, as well as a bronchodilator. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, the long term toxicity of ephedra has been recognised early, which is why is has been used only in small quantities and for limited duration.
Research into its effects have shown that it increases the metabolism, stimulates the brain, increases heart rate, promotes perspiration, and relaxes the respiratory system to make breathing easier. All of which can help to kickstart a sluggish system, or boost a healthy body. For this reason, it is often used as an aid to athletes, although it is a banned substance for many professional athletes as many sports organisations consider it a performance enhancing drug.
The controversy surrounding Ephedra is one that is largely debated. There is both scientific evidence that states it is safe, and that it is harmful. It is now a banned substance in many countries across the globe, and has been linked to heart attacks, strokes and death. The lack of further research into the subject makes it hard to comment on exactly how safe it is.
Eleutherococcus Senticosus, also known as Siberian Ginseng Root and Eleuthero, is a natural herb found growing in the reaches of Siberia, British Columbia and some parts of the US. It has been traditionally used as a natural remedy in both Russia and China to bolster the immune system, increase natural energy and combat stress induced fatigue.
According to research, Eleuthero significantly reduced fatigue in animals, and scientists believe that it has similar effects on humans, supporting both anecdotal and historical claims.
Eleuthero is the best known tonic from Russia, helping the body deal with stress. For this reason, Eleuthero is often used as a natural remedy by those recovering from illness, bolstering the body as a whole.
It should be noted that in the US 25% of Siberian Ginseng Root supplements have actually been found to contain no Siberian Ginseng at all, so be careful who you buy from. It is also worth noting that some reported potential side effects of using this are increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances and aggravating cancer in those already suffering from it.
Suma is a tonic plant that has been used by the natives of South America for generations in order to maintain the endurance and stamina required for hunting. It was introduced to the US market as Brazilian Ginseng, although it is not actually related to Ginseng in any way.
Suma is a very well-rounded supplement, and can boost the immune system, increase endurance, improve natural energy, reduce inflammation and even help fight various diseases – possibly including cancer. According to Dr. Oz, a famous doctor who hosts his own TV show, the root releases chemicals into the bloodstream that can shut down cancerous cells. It should be noted this is not claiming to be a cure, and a medical professional should be sought for advice before taking it in this situation.
It is these broad and well-rounded qualities that have so many people attesting to the energy giving qualities of Suma, revitalising them and improving their well-being as a whole.
Brahmi is one of the most prevalent herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine and is renowned for its mentally stimulating effects. Found growing in the wetlands of Southern India and Australia, Brahmi is now building a reputation internationally as neurological tonic, and an alternative to the more commonly used energisers. It is considered a natural nootropic.
Brahmi is said to enhance cognition and improve memory, which is why it is often used by the elderly as an aid to keep their minds in shape. In addition to this, Brahmi is an effective adaptogen, helping people deal with stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. The combination of these two effects causes the feeling of having a well-rounded vitality.
It is worth noting that due to the chemical composition of Brahmi, it should not be consumed on an empty stomach, as this can cause nausea, cramping, bloating and diarrhoea.
Ashwagandha, sometimes referred to as “Indian Ginseng”, is a traditional healing herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine on the Indian sub-continent. The translation of Ashwagandha means “smell of the horse”, that‘s because fresh roots smell like a horse‘s urine. It can be found growing natively in dry regions such as India, Northern Africa and the Middle East; but it can also grow in milder climates, such as parts of the USA.
Ashwagandha is a tonic, and is used to strengthen the immune system after illness, energise, and help users cope with stress and anxiety often associated with depression. It is these benefits that have seen it spread across the world as it has risen in popularity.
With this rise in popularity, scientists have become more and more interested in its effects. There is now a great deal of research available on the plant, which combined have found 216 medicinal benefits to using Ashwagandha. Some of these benefits include: lowering cholesterol, bolstering the immune system, combating stress, reducing anxiety and depression, stabilising blood sugar levels, reducing brain cell degeneration, and improving learning, memory and reaction time. It is these traits that make Ashwagandha a well-rounded supplement that can help maintain natural vigour.
Reishi, also known as the “mushroom of immortality” and “medicine of kings” is an ancient Chinese medicine that acts as a tonic to improve many varying aspects of the body as a whole.
Research into this mushroom has found the chemicals in Reishi boost the immune system by increasing the amount of macrophages T-cells present within the blood. It also contains a mixture of sterols, ganoderic acids, mannitol, coumarin and polysaccharides that all work to improve vascular functioning – allowing for easier exercise and an improved feeling of natural energy.
Not only do these effects help boost natural vitality, but also have a wide range of medical applications, including helping those with immune system disorders, chronic bronchitis, muscle aches, leaky-gut syndrome, as well as many other infectious diseases
Rhodiola rosea, also known as “Golden Root”, has long been cherished by the Scandinavian countries for its tonic and energy giving qualities. It was used by the Vikings in order to increase strength and stamina, and was sought after by Chinese emperors who wanted to use it in their alchemical concoctions. It is a hardy plant that can thrive in cold and hostile locations, and its ability to do so was thought to be transferred to the user who consumed it.
It is still widely used today for these beneficial effects. In Russia it is used to help with fatigue, increase the attention span and improve memory. In China it is an everyday supplement used to aid professional athletes in training and improving stamina. Its ability to enhance mood and improve physical capacity make it a perfect natural remedy for anyone looking to boost and strengthen their own natural energy reserves.
Ginseng has been used as a traditional herbal medicine for centuries in both Asia and the US. It is probably the most popular herbal supplement in the world. Most of its popularity stems from ancient Chinese medicine, where Ginseng Panax, the native species, has been in use as a overall health tonic for thousands of years. Due to its incredible popularity, wild ginseng has now been overharvested. Prices for Ginseng have reached astronomical levels, with affluent Asian businessmen paying more than 200‘000 USD for old, wild harvested Ginseng.
Ginseng is a tonic, and is used to improve the body as a whole, energising, improving stress resistance and bolstering the immune system. For this reason ginseng is usually used by those who are frequently feeling weak, fatigued and/or stressed; but it also makes for an extremely good supplement to complement and boost a healthy lifestyle.
Many believe that there are medicinal differences between wild ginseng and cultivated varieties. Also, there is a difference between the American grown (known as Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng, with the latter being superior.
Due to its popularity, there has been much research into Ginseng. It has been shown that ginseng can provide energy and combat fatigue, improve cognitive function, reduce inflammation and may help prevent cancer. Although ginseng is safe to use, it can have unwanted side effects on rare occasions. These have been reported as headaches, nausea, elevated heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and restlessness.