Licorice root, an adaptogen thought to have anti-inflammatory properties


What’s Old Is New Again

as told to Tamara Johnson

Feeling stressed? Adaptogens might help. Molly Brennand, FNLP, CHHC, a Santa Fe-based functional nutritionist and lifestyle practitioner, explains, “As the name implies, this class of herbs literally helps you adapt to the stressors of life.” Diverse and robust, adaptogens are thought to support resilience and ease stress, providing the type of aid that feels especially welcome these days.

It would be hard not to be impressed by Brennand. The path to her vocation­­ began with the traumatic delivery of her son, followed by the discovery and management of his chronic autoimmune illness, which causes neuropsychiatric symptoms. “I started using whole foods to help with his behavior, attention and immune issues,” says Brennand. “I saw such a profound difference in him that I was immediately motivated to put myself through school to learn more about the power of functional nutrition.” Functional nutrition focuses on how food “functions” in the various systems of the body and uses food to shift a person’s inner terrain so that signs and symptoms commonly associated with disease are no longer present. After experiencing great success using functional nutrition principles in her personal life and professional practice, Brennand is eager to share her philosophy with others. She believes each of us has the innate ability to heal and thrive.

In this interview, Brennand explains more about adaptogens and their use.

“Adaptogens nourish and calm the adrenal glands and encourage proper communication of stress hormones within the body.  Adaptogens are also high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect our cells from chemical exposures.”

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a class of nontoxic herbs that have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. (Ayurveda seeks to balance bodily systems using herbal treatment, diet and yogic breathing.) Adaptogens are thought to promote well-being and vitality by helping the body adapt to the stressors of everyday life.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens are said to help support and regulate the body’s adrenal stress response. The adrenal glands control many bodily processes and play a big role in immune system function, blood sugar balance and the body’s ability to handle stress. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a perceived or real threat in our environment. While it is vitally important for our survival and functioning in everyday life, prolonged periods of cortisol release can push the body out of balance and cause serious health problems. To avoid this, many people use adaptogens to encourage homeostasis. Adaptogens nourish and calm the adrenal glands and encourage proper communication of stress hormones within the body.  Adaptogens are also high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect our cells from chemical exposures.

Two bowls with spices and pansies
Licorice root, an adaptogen thought to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties
A citrus beverage with a red garnish
Clafoutis's adaptogen drink, "Morning Glory"

What are some examples of specific adaptogens and their benefits?

While adaptogens regulate and modulate the stress response, many of them have other unique properties. Holy Basil can elevate mood and help with mild depression. Ashwagandha is thought to improve energy, memory and learning. Rhodiola has anti-anxiety properties and may improve sleep and mental and physical stamina.

How safe are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are generally considered safe and gentle for short- and long-term use, although the Food and Drug Administration does not monitor the quality or purity of any herbs or supplements. Consult your physician before trying adaptogens, particularly if you take any medications or have a pre-existing medical condition.

How can adaptogens be used most effectively?

Adaptogens cannot replace eating a healthy, whole food, nutrient-dense diet; getting quality, consistent sleep and exercise; and staying hydrated. You’re most likely to see results if you’re doing that and add specific adaptogens. Also, while some adaptogens work in the short term, most of them require weeks or months to yield the full benefits.

Santa Fe has long been a place for those who wish to pursue healing, whether for the mind, body, soul or all three. Adaptogens are one of many options to consider in such a journey. If you want to try them while also discovering how good they can taste, sample one in the specialty drinks offered by Love Yourself Café or Apothecary Restaurant in Santa Fe Oxygen and Healing Bar. Here’s to your health!

Morning Glory

Courtesy of Clafoutis

This adaptogen drink, made with turmeric, ginger, honey and lemon, is in anti-inflammatory and is thought to keep the metabolism strong and ease depression.


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 lemon, quartered and squeezed
  • 2 tbsp ginger powder
  • 1½ tsp turmeric
  • 1/3 cup raw honey

Bring water, lemon, ginger and turmeric to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain mixture into pitcher to cool. Add honey. Serve hot or iced. Can be stored, refrigerated, for one day.

Disclaimer: The Santa Fean and its affiliates make no representation and assume no responsibility for the accuracy of information in this article. The article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider about questions you have regarding the content. 

Tamara Johnson

Tamara Johnson is a writer, educator and dancer living in Santa Fe. She grew up in New York and moved to New Mexico five years ago after a decade working in South America and Asia.


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