adaptogens

Q&A with Herbalist Rachelle for Elanveda - ayurvedic body wellness

IG_elanveda.png

Today on the blog we interview Rachelle Robinett, a wellness practitioner who uses a plant-based holistic approach to guide people on how to lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Specializing in Complementary & Integrative Health and Clinical Herbalism, Rachelle is a wealth of knowledge on traditional medicine (including Ayurveda), Reiki I attunement, meditation, plant-based nutrition, mindfulness, and positive psychology.

Rachelle is the founder of Supernatural – a company dedicated to real world, plant-based wellness that includes an “herbal cafe,” workshops and events, and personal health coaching—as well as HRBLS, a line of herb infused gummies. She is also a resident herbalist at CAP Beauty in NYC.

We sat down for a Q&A with Rachelle to talk Ayurveda, trends in wellness, and tips for everyday healthy living.

Q&A

ELANVEDA: Do you incorporate Ayurveda into your lifestyle? If so, how?

RACHELLE: I have a great deal of respect for Ayurveda. My approach is really global, so I look at Ayurveda for assisting myself or for clients, but I also look at traditional Chinese medicine, I look at Western herbalism, I look at nutrition… I look at a lot of different systems to draw from them as needed. So, often I’m dipping into Ayurveda, but not exclusively. I definitely identify as Vata, but I don’t always avoid aggravating it. For example, I love raw food and will continue to eat raw food! Other than that, I have also oil pulled for a very long time, and I dry brush often; I absolutely love it. 

E: Speaking of dry brushing, do you have some favorite herbal ingredients as far as skincare goes?

R: I love coconut, jojoba, honey, and fruit enzymes. If I’m doing any kind of facial exfoliation, I like to do an enzymatic refresh, and that tends to come from fruit peels. In terms of “beauty food” or “beauty herbs” I think that really comes from all the food that we eat and the lifestyle we live. But high-antioxidant herbs like rose hips or hibiscus can be really beautiful for getting the antioxidants you need for a nice glowy face—either topically or internally.

E: I know you’ve mentioned that Triphala is a staple for you. Any tips on how to incorporate Triphala into your regimen?

R: I personally like it for seasonal cleanses. My digestion moves really quickly, so I don’t use it on a regular basis. Periodically I’ll do a refresh of liquid meals and a course of triphala. I tend to recommend it to people for brief, focused periods of time, as opposed to sporadically. But I do have some clients who occasionally just need to move their digestive system more often than seasonally, if it naturally runs slower for them. The beauty of triphala is that it’s nourishing and not depleting.

E: Can you share a few go-to pharmaceutical swaps? i.e. natural alternative treatments for everyday ailments?

R: I want to start with a caveat that sometimes medication is really important, and I think there’s a place for pharmaceuticals, especially for severe mood imbalances or when we’re really sick. But if you’re looking for alternatives for the more daily aches and pains, herbs are where it’s at! For headaches you can look at white willow - that’s what Aspirin was originally made from. It can be used over time, especially for migraines. I really like cacao or 100% dark chocolate for headaches too. You get a little bit of a circulation boost and central nervous system stimulation—with only trace amounts of caffeine. Cacao is also full of magnesium and can be very relaxing.

There are so many herbs for sleep. I have an arsenal of these for my clients and can really tailor the selection based on which body system is keeping them up at night. Some of my favorites are Valerian, Chamomile and Lavender, California Poppy, Passionflower... It’s really individual as some people are having trouble sleeping because of a monkey mind, whereas others are feeling tension in their bodies, which something like rose petals can assist. I also love Skullcap, which is great for anxiety and incessant minds (I describe it as natural Xanax because it is binding to some of the same receptor sites in the brain as benzodiazepines). Kava is my favorite replacement for a glass of wine.

I definitely like garlic and ginger for colds and flus. I do use heat when treating people who are sick or trying to prevent sickness. Heat heat heat, spice spice spice, internal and out. Sweat it out.

E: Let’s talk adaptogens. “Adaptogen” is a big buzzword these days. What are your feelings on this kind of herb?

R: So, there’s a myth I’d like to bust—the notion that “adaptogen” is a synonym for “herb.” I’m starting to see that more and more, where people will say they’re taking adaptogens and then mention “chamomile” or “matcha,” but adaptogens is a very specific category of herbs, and there are lots of categories of herbs. And I don’t necessarily think adaptogens are the one that the modern world needs most; I think it’s the one that’s been really well marketed and caught on. The upside of that is that it’s opened a ton of hearts and minds to the power of plants. The downside is that there’s little understanding of what adaptogens are. The action of the adaptogen is nonspecific; it’s a broad, general effect in the body. In my experience, people are usually looking for a more specific action from herbs, be it antidepressant, or sleep aid, or something to help my anxiety or give me more energy or balance my hormones—and all of those actions come from plants that are more targeted in action. So, adaptogens are not bad, but it’s really worth understanding which herb is right for you. If it happens to be an adaptogen, great. If it’s not, great. Then it’s really important to know what dosage, what form, and when to take a break from it.

E: So, you live in New York City, and we’re based in Los Angeles. Something we often wonder is how to stay healthy living in a big, busy, polluted city when there’s so much toxicity in our environment?

R: It’s hard. I would say really focusing on the things we can control, like our water—using a good water filter—and making sure we’re sourcing our food from good places. If you have the means, then shopping at the farmer’s market is great. I think it’s a matter of inside-out. Making sure that our detoxification system—not just our liver, but remember that our skin, digestive system, kidneys, and lymph are all important in our body continuing to help us live in places like this with less damage than if it gets stagnant internally. For me, it’s eating really well and drinking really well. I’m a big fan of deep greens (vegetables and/or supplements like blue-green algae or chlorella). I think dry brushing is great, along with moving, lots and lots of sweating, staying hydrated, and just making sure we have enough roughage and hydration that our digestion is cleaning out every day if possible.

E: What’s a trend in the wellness industry you’d like to see grow?

R: Holistic plant-based wellness, meaning the inside-out, food first, regular use of plants for overall wellness, rather than spot-treating symptoms. Really building a relationship with the natural world again as our health support, whether it’s preventative or acute. Right now we’re very much in that stage of treating symptoms, putting out fires, and thinking about the “herb for this” and the “herb for that,” whereas we can think about every single bite and every single drink as an act of health. And it doesn’t mean that it all has to be “healthy.” If that glass of wine makes you happy and able to enjoy your life more fully, then please do—or birthday cake, or whatever it is. I don’t think that we need to pursue perfection, but we can think of health holistically (and even “basically”) as opposed to with a bandaging or damage-control approach.

E: What wellness trend would you like to see disappear?

R: It’s hard to say CBD or adaptogens because they’ve grown awareness of herbs and plant-based wellness so much. I think CBD is great, but it’s just one ingredient in the natural medicine cabinet along with all the other plants. It’s raising the awareness of the power of plants, and that’s excellent, but it absolutely, positively cannot compete with a diet or lifestyle that is out of balance. I see a lot of folks not adjusting diet or lifestyle and they’re distraught because they’ve started taking CBD and aren’t seeing life-changing benefits. I’m sympathetic  because a lot of the information out there suggests it’s going to cure us all. That said, there’s minimal harm in it. You have to figure out the dosage, and if it’s even the right remedy for whatever you’re dealing with. But it is a good thing if you can get good quality, proper dosage, and it’s the right plant for you. With it being so popular, there’s a lot of poor quality stuff. In the last year in New York, CBD went from being seen as sketchy to every single coffee shop, every single bodega, every single sandwich board that you walk by hollering, “CBD lattes!” “Weed lattes!” “We have weed!” It’s just everywhere, and it’s way too overblown. Over-marketing happens. CBD is great but it’s not the best, just like adaptogens are great but they’re not the best.

I think the trend, really with the human species, is this incessant pursuit of the “magic pill”—that we’re going to find the one thing: the one diet, the one herb, the one tactic that will make us live longer, make us lose weight, make us more beautiful, whatever it is that we want—and there’s this optimism that we’re going to figure it out tomorrow, like, “Maybe it’s CBD!” But we actually have figured it out; it’s just a little more involved than one food or one herb. It’s a holistic, natural lifestyle and balance that can actually make our lives better.

This interview is also available on Elanveda’s website, here.

For Be Well by Frank Lipman: 5 Nervines To Relieve Stress And Calm You Down

rachelle robinett nervines bewell.jpg


I don’t have to tell you how popular adaptogens are. I would posit that this is in large part due to their broad support for the (also broad) term “stress.” I’ve made plenty of arguments against relying on adaptogens as bandaids for chronically stressful situations, which is a caution any good herbalist will also give you. So, I won’t do that again here. I’ve also called out the importance of checking sources, as there are many out there about adaptogens — but they’re often misrepresenting them.

I’ve also reminded people to inquire into the source of the stress, not just its effects. For example: are we treating tiredness with energizing herbs when we should really be going to bed earlier or adjusting our diet? Herbs are helpful, but they aren’t magic carpet rides to bliss. (Well, some are, but that’s another story.) And, very importantly: are the herbs we’re using the right ones for the situation we’re treating?

Stress and anxiety are some of the most common challenges clients ask for my help with. They’re not always at the top of the list, but they’re almost always on it. Many folks are trying adaptogens to treat the symptoms, though not sure if they’re “doing it right,” which is fair — since most products on the market don’t include great dosage information.

The first thing I explore with them is the source of the stress and how to minimize it. Then we look at what “stress” means for them and their bodies. For some, it’s tension headaches and hyperactivity. For others, it’s knotted shoulders and exhaustion. One commonality is that the stress is affecting our nervous system. (Makes sense, right?) And so, rather than reaching for adaptogens, I’ll likely pull some nervines off the shelf.

Ner-whats? Nervines are herbs that treat our nervous systems, and, by definition, have “a soothing or calming effect upon the nerves.” Do I have your attention now?

Just as “adaptogen” is a classification of herbs, so is “nervine.” One major difference is that adaptogens are general in their action — meaning broad and non-specific — whereas nervines are specific. They have a more singular mission: to mellow you out.

Different nervines have slightly different effects. Some are nourishing, like milky oat, while others are more sedative, like valerian. Generally, they’re very well tolerated and more gentle than adaptogens, which I prefer to reserve for recovery rather than prevention or long-term support. A nourishing mix of calming nervine herbs has become the single most popular tea that I blend and sell at Supernatural Café.

Read on for a few of my favorites

Featured in mindbodygreen: Rhodiola Rosea: Everything You Need To Know About The Stress-Fighting, Sleep-Boosting Adaptogen

rachelle robinett mindbodygreen rhodiola rosea herbalism health supernatural new york.png

These days, it can feel like everything comes with a side of adaptogens. From superfood chocolate to functional elixirs and beyond, herb-based medicines are easier to come by than ever.

And one adaptogen you're likely to see more of is Rhodiola rosea, a flowering plant whose root can be used for fighting stress and anxiety, increasing athletic performance, boosting energy, and more. Also known as golden root, arctic root, and King's crown, it has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Greek medicine—and its beginnings may stem back as early as the first century A.D.

As someone who has spent the past year and a half moving away from pharmaceuticals as much as possible (while understanding, appreciating, and utilizing them when needed!) and gravitating toward plant -and food-based medicine, I love exploring the uses and benefits of adaptogens and herbs. And Rhodiola rosea is a powerhouse that I keep in my herbal arsenal.

Let's take a look at the benefits and side effects of this adaptogen to help you see if it's the right thing to mix into your morning coffee (or matcha, or herbal tea, or smoothie...). Because while adaptogens are increasing in popularity, it's important to make educated and informed decisions about the ones you should actually be taking:

So, what are the benefits of taking Rhodiola rosea?

There are many reported benefits of Rhodiola rosea, some of which have been studied more than others. Here are a handful that are backed up by science:

It helps regulate stress.

First and foremost, Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen, so by definition it helps your body adapt to stress. These super herbs can adapt to what your body needs—whether it be a boost of energy when you're fatigued or a way to calm anxiety in stressful situations—and help regulate your cortisol levels to stave off fatigue. "Adaptogens are one of my favorite natural healing tools to use in my functional medicine clinic. I often recommend Rhodiola for patients who are severely stressed and anyone struggling with adrenal fatigue as it works to support your sympathetic nervous system—the stress control center of your body," shares Will Cole D.C., IFMCP, an author and functional medicine practitioner.

It increases energy and fights fatigue.

One of the foremost reasons individuals choose to take Rhodiola rosea is for its energy-boosting and fatigue-fighting properties. According to one study that followed nursing students working shifts, Rhodiola rosea helped reduce their fatigue levels more than a placebo. Rhodiola rosea has also been shown to be beneficial for brain function and concentration. Another clinical trial showed that participants who took Rhodiola rosea every morning were more capable of fighting burnout and maintaining concentration throughout the day.

It can boost physical activity.

Due to its energy-boosting abilities, Rhodiola rosea is often used by endurance athletes. One clinical study that followed young, healthy individuals who took Rhodiola rosea daily for four weeks showed an increased endurance during exercise, and the adaptogen has even been shown to act as an antiviral during prolonged physical activitysuch as marathon running, meaning it makes athletes less susceptible to infection. It's not just for super-athletes either.

"Rhodiola can be really effective for people who are consistently physically active. Athletes, yes, but also any of us who stand for much of the day, walk a ton, lift, or the like," explained Rachelle Robinett, a holistic health practitioner and founder of Supernatural. "As an adaptogen, it's been pretty well-studied in physical (and mental) performance, and if it's the right herb for you, you should see better performance times or cognitive function, and recovery from physical exertion too."

So before you hit the gym, go for a run, or hike up that mountain, consider a dose of Rhodiola rosea for some extra support.

It might help fight depression.

The adaptogen has also been studied in regards to supporting individuals struggling with depression. Compared to Sertraline, a pharmaceutical antidepressant (you may know it under the name Zoloft), Rhodiola rosea was found to be less effective at treating symptoms, but it had fewer side effects like nausea and drowsiness. The study concluded it to be a potentially better option for those with mild to moderate depression who want to mitigate the risk of such side effects.

The laundry list of other potential Rhodiola rosea benefits in early research stages includes fighting diabetes, fighting cancer, preventing altitude sickness, and more.

That sounds awesome! I should definitely take it then, right?

Adaptogens are widely considered to be safe and low-risk, but there are certainly some things to keep in mind before taking them on the daily. Rhodiola rosea side effects are rather limited, but a small group of participants in one study showed mild side effects such as headaches and insomnia. "Rhodiola can be over-energizing, but in lower doses this can turn into a calming effect," explained Robinett. So you should consider taking Rhodiola in the morning, but be cautious if you are already a hyper-energized or anxious person.

Rhodiola rosea side effects have also included dry mouth and dizziness. If you feel these effects or any general discomfort after taking Rhodiola rosea, stop taking it. There may be an herb that provides similar benefits that your body is more welcoming to.

You should avoid experimenting with Rhodiola rosea if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking mood stabilizers. It is always optimal to consult with a doctor, herbalist, or naturopath when considering which herbs and adaptogens are right for you.

OK, I want to try it! How much do I take and in what form?

It's important to note that adaptogens generally work in your body over time, so try to work them into your daily routine for optimal benefits. If you want, you can take the occasional break to see if the herbs are really working.

Rhodiola rosea comes in several forms—powder, tincture, extract, and pills. "I love the powder, because I get to smell it, taste it, and see the dusty-pink color. But for convenience, tinctures are also great," Robinett explains. Personally, I take it in tincture form, which I throw in water or into a morning elixir.

As for dosage, smart small and work your way up. Robinett advises "One-eighth teaspoon per day to start, if using a powder standardized at ~3 percent salidosides, for example, which is then increased slowly to find the sweet spot. For most, if it's the right herb for you, that tends to be between 100 and 400 milligrams per day. If you're not seeing benefits there, it may be worth exploring other options."

If you have a local herb shop, the herbalists may be able to provide specific dosing for your needs or make you a blend with other herbs that would be relevant to what symptoms you are experiencing.

You also want to make sure Rhodiola rosea (and any other herbal supplements you're taking!) come from a trusted source. Look for third-party certifications from the brands you are purchasing such as the USP or NSF seal to make sure you're taking the adaptogen in its pure form.

~

This post appears originally on mindbodygreen, here.