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Adaptogens, Tonics and Nervines: A Simplified Review

6 min read time Sep 17, 2020


Regardless of your “health status”, supporting and nourishing your body can never do you harm.

For this reason alone, your first line of defense should be (in regards to herbs) tonics, adaptogens and nervines.  

While I am sure everyone at one time has read that the three biggest killers in this country are cancer, diabetes and heart disease, I believe we are truly missing the big picture.

These “conditions” are the end result of how our bodies deal with a massive accumulation of stressors that surround us on a daily basis.

Supporting a healthy stress response can make a great difference in our overall well being

In order to truly understand tonics and adaptogens it must be made very clear that while there is a fine line for why we may use one over another, the line does in fact exist. Allow me to simplify this so there is a more clear and defined line between these two powerful categories of herbs.

Simply put, because of their nourishing qualities, tonic herbs are used to support the act of restoring your system back to balance. This means that anyone who is worn out and feels depleted of true nourishment is going to greatly benefit from the use of tonics. They support the restoration of vital nourishment that we lose on a daily basis from all of the bad lifestyle habits we have and the external stressors we have no control over. This vital restoration goes far beyond nutrition, as this is a restoration of all systems, on much deeper levels. The body does not just use the nutrients and phytochemicals from these tonics but the living energy as well, in order to support the restoration of all systems back to optimal function. This energy is the essence and intelligence of these plants because it knows what to do and where to go in order to bring balance back. This is exactly why I say that tonics are a true first line of defense.

Which adaptogens are right for you?

Adaptogens are about supporting the body in its ability to have a healthy stress response. Therefore, these are what one might call management herbs. If you are under a lot of stress and you consistently take your adaptogens, you will see over time your body has the ability to adapt more efficiently to the external stressors that surround us.

Your personality, mental state of mind and physical status are the biggest factors when deciding which adaptogens are right for you. To make this simple, when we look at the action of an adaptogenic herb, there are two general categories. Please note, within these categories, there are going to be stronger and more mild adaptogens.

  1. The first category is stimulating adaptogens. Now, don’t get all stressed out (pun intended) as if, you are going to feel like you just drank 6 cups of coffee. In simple terms, stimulating adaptogens have a stronger and faster onset. If you lack stamina both mentally and physically this type of adaptogen should be a leading herb in your formula because it won’t be long before you feel the benefits. If you are someone who gets overheated, angry, or, has an explosive personality, then stimulating adaptogens may not be your best first line of defense as an individual herb or as the lead herb in a formula. These types of adaptogen if used incorrectly may exacerbate the issue.
  2. The other category is calming adaptogens. Two great examples of this are Ashwagandha and Schisandra. The effects of these adaptogens build over time. For my personality type, these are a godsend and are big players in the formulas I put together for myself. These adaptogens are for those who need the support due to a high-stress lifestyle but are not necessarily low on vital energy. You may be wondering whether or not, those who are low on vital energy can use this type of adaptogen with success? The answer is yes. Calming adaptogens for those that need to rebuild vital energy are very helpful as a supportive herb in the formula. The important key is, they should only be used as the supportive herbs in the formula for those who have low stamina.

Nervines: A match made in heaven

When we look at how stress and malnourishment tend to affect us, one of the first places is the brain/nervous system. This is exactly why all herbalist agree that adaptogens and nervines are a match made in heaven. Nervines are a category of plants and foods that support the body’s ability to restore and maintain a healthy nervous system. The brain and nervous system control everything in the body so keeping it strong and balanced is a very important thing, to say the least.

If you think about it almost every organ in the body has the ability to be transplanted and replaced. If someone loses a limb there are prosthetics and if a man got testicular cancer and his testicles were removed, its function can be replaced by a patch or injection, right? But what about the brain? The nervous system has been known to be able to take quite a beating and still come back fighting but like everything else, it can only take so much.

This is why nervines play such an important role. By restoring emotional balance and nourishing the nerves you help to calm an overstimulated system (chronic fight or flight) and help to bring all systems back into balance.

Putting it all together

Let’s now pull this all together in a nice neat package.

If you want to see optimal results when using herbs, then using tonic herbs that support restoration as your first line of defense would be a very efficient method to go with. I am not saying that you can’t use the adaptogens and nervines without the tonics but here is why I suggest you consider my point. If you are feeling the effects of stress and decide to take adaptogens without properly restoring your vitality and replenishing what was lost during this time of stress, then over time, what you may find is that you are trying to get fuel (to support the healthy stress response) from an empty gas tank.

Common sense would dictate that if you are going to take a car ride from point A to point B and don’t have enough gas your chances are not that great for making the trip a success. I want to be clear that the adaptogens will work and do what they are supposed to do if you never take a tonic in your life. I am simply providing a more efficient way to approach this to get the most out of what you are doing.  

When you attempt to manage without restoring and replenishing first, what you are essentially doing is pulling from a tank that may not have enough reserves which will produce less than an optimal end result. Furthermore, in some cases, you may cause more harm than good and here is why: You are putting more pressure on all the parts (that are fighting to stay together) to get you where you need to go.

So while on the front end you may achieve the goal, you caused damage in the process simply because you didn’t properly fuel. Essentially you are now back to square one because all you did was steal from Peter to pay Paul. This example is very similar to the results of what happens to us when we drink too much coffee or energy drinks. We make it there, but at what cost?

The purpose here is to get you to think about different ways of approaching your problems. Therefore, if you are not someone who typically nourishes themselves properly then you may want to consider looking at the beginning with mostly tonics and fewer adaptogens and nervines until you feel you are replenished.

You will know when this happens and a feeling of wellbeing will come over you. Keep in mind that there is no perfect definition for this feeling so it may vary from person to person.  Once you get to that point then just choose your one tonic to continue replenishing and the appropriate adaptogens and nervines to help restore, maintain and manage.

About Michael Stuchiner

Michael Stuchiner is an experienced Master Herbalist, the Head of Education for Z Natural Foods, a teacher, and an accomplished author. With an 18-year specialization in medicinal herbs, Mike also has a vast knowledge in tonic and adaptogenic herbalism. Mike has enjoyed a 25-year career as an elite-level competitive powerlifter where he learned to heal his ‘mind and body’ as an avid user of herbal remedies.

        As an “in-the-trenches” herbalist, Mike has done more than 85 speaking engagements, consulted with clients ranging from young to elderly, worked with athletes in virtually all sports and with clients who have “dis-ease” states of a wide variety. Mike also mentors student Master Herbalists and will continue to teach the next generation to grow a deeper wisdom of the human body through appropriate herbal remedies.

For Bulk inquiries and custom formulations click here: https://www.znaturalfoods.com/pages/bulk


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