Adaptogens & Herbs for Beginners


Full disclosure, I am NOT a biomedical scientist. I'm a photographer. Just clearing that up—because everything I'm going to talk to here is just what I think, based on my open-minded but also skeptical experiences. I'm a firm believer in the idea that if it works for you it works for you, everybody is different.

I think I first heard about "adaptogenic herbs" through Amanda Chantal Bacon's Top Shelf. Mushrooms that make you feel things...stuff like that. It's super interesting to me. Living in New York, I find myself at Whole Foods at the end of a day a lot, feasting on a buffet of prepared Indian food and then pulled into the beauty section to buy some things I don't really need. That they offer to make me calmer, more focused, or just "healthier" is pure LUXURY for me.

I first dipped my toe into these kinds of supplements with Maca—adding it in my smoothies. Now I have the pills too. I love Maca, everyone should try it. I've heard it described as "natural Ritalin" but I've never had Ritalin so I do not know—I just know it makes me feel extra awake, especially after a long workout. It has definitely powered a few post-5-mile-run apartment cleaning sessions. Most recently, I am about to take one and then try to will myself to change my duvet cover for spring. Taking Maca just makes me feel a bit more on.

The second adaptogen I suggest is Ashwagandha, and I suggest it so heavily that I once Amazon'ed it to my best friend when I was bored. This one I sometimes think works like a placebo—I just take it in the morning when I think I might have a stressful commute or an anxiety-ridden start to the day. It helps. I keep coming back to it because, like Maca, the benefits go a little beyond the mental ones—like helping to balance blood sugar and a bunch of other things I don't want to 100% vouch for as a non-medical worker. But if you Google a bit I bet you can find out!

Third would be Magnesium. This isn't an adaptogen but a mineral—something that's a bit more traditional, but I think it's worth mentioning as it's part of my new-age health arsenal, too. I haven't jumped on the melatonin train yet because I just don't really have trouble getting a good sleep, BUT some nights I do have trouble winding down, and my mind starts to race. That's what Magnesium has helped me with—evening out and calming down.

Lastly, I'm throwing a wild card in here. Spirulina! It's an algae. "The most nutrient dense food on the planet." The real reason I take this is when I've been eating too much non-green food. Just to make me feel less bad about that. Outside of that, it's got a lot of protein, iron, and calcium.

That's what I've been playing with lately, and nothing terrible has happened yet. How about you?

—Tom Newton

Photographed by the author.