Book Review: Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes
I recently finished reading Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes – and found a valuable reference work. It certainly is an apt topic for most of us, particularly in mainstream America., because unlike the Cybermen*:
we have emotions and thus stress and often need to mechanisms to cope with that stress. So Winston’s and Maimes’ book is extremely useful for most of us. And not only useful but a very good book as well – informative and thought provoking.
The first part of the book (representing more than 1/3 of the book) is an enormous, and enormously valuable, info dump covering the history of herbal medicine and adaptogens, the definition of them and theories about biochemical and physiological mechanisms involving stress and them. All really interesting and useful stuff. But very much a large dump of information so there’s a tendency to be a bit dry. Almost like a collection of related dense essays – heck any of them would be excellent separate essays on any of the individual topics. All of it excellent though, but the chapter on the physiological aspects of the stress response is just outstanding and fascinating (well, to me at least – YMMV.)
I like how they quote the different definitions of adaptogens to show the approaches to the concept. I particularly like the one by Israel Brekhman and Dardymov back in 1968:
- An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient
- An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body – an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
- And adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.
In my mind, that’s how I tend to think of them. They do however point out that there is no officially accepted one in the herbalist communities. Which allows things like some herbalists I know that include things like nettles as adaptogens. I can see what they are thinking, but that doesn’t quite work for me. Because while yes they can help I see the mechanisms as more indirect. They are nourishing and the dietary help is supportive in adapting. Good and useful but the same argument could be made for any healthy food in your diet, exercise, meditation, etc.
The next part of the book is Materia Medica and is excellent as well. But what is nice about it is that it is not just about adaptogens, but covers herbs that works well with them. I think that is a great concept. Because once you get past the easy catch phrases about plant spirits and healing, some herbs play together well, some play well with only certain herbs and others are very much lone stars. There’s a nice focus on nervines which have always been a favorite class of herb for me. And you can’t go wrong with formulas that blend adaptogens and nervines (and throw in nourishing herbs) for helping to generally support most anyone.
Overall, an excellent reference book. It can be a bit dry but still very much worth owning. It ends up being a book that I refer to frequently when dealing with any adaptogen (and sometimes even for their takes on nervines.)
And for the record my personal favorite adaptogens are:
- Schisandra –- I make a yummy tincture of the berries which I take a lot, but even more often I’ll just grab a handful of the dried berries and eat them. (I also make a mean Schisanra honey!)
- Reishi – I add powdered Reishi to my breakfast every morning. It’s awesome. Sometimes I’ll just make a tea of dried slices with some Chaga.
- Asian Ginseng – generally I’ll take a shot of infused red wine I make with it. (Hmm, time to make some more!)
* Yes, I could have gone with the Borg from Star Trek. But I like Doctor Who better. Besides the Borg are so based on the Cybermen – so deal with it! 🙂 Of course the Borg “adapting” would have fit better and would have been pretty cool then….but I stick with my decision, darn it!