Four Immune Boost Adaptogens: Matcha, Chaga, Licorice, and Astragalus.

Four Immune Boost Adaptogens: Matcha, Chaga, Licorice, and Astragalus.

Contributing Author: Dr. Swathi Varanasi, Integrative Health Pharmacist 


Adaptogens seem to be everywhere these days. But, it begs the question: Are they simply the next passing health food trend, or have they been studied for their supposed benefits? 

As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, Dr. Swathi Varanasi is asked about adaptogens on a daily basis. Especially around this time of year with the seasons changing and the pandemic still in our midst, her practice highlights a valuable perspective on how key adaptogens may bolster immunity.

What are Adaptogens and How do they Work?

To break it down, adaptogens, by definition, are natural substances such as herbs and fungi (and yes, matcha) that may improve our body’s resilience against external and internal stressors.

What do Adaptogens do?

This well-named category of plants help the body adapt to the daily pressures of life, and have been shown to restore balance to certain physiological processes useful to your body’s good health!

Where do Adaptogens Come from? 

What’s more, is that many of the herbs & fungi that comprise this subsection of plants have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Ancient systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are known for their use of healthful adaptogens.

Below we touch on matcha, as well as three adaptogens known for their ability to work synergistically with our immune systems: chaga, licorice, and astragalus.

What is Chaga Mushroom? Benefits of Chaga

If you walked past naturally growing chaga, you’d be unlikely to guess that it’s actually a medicinal mushroom. With an appearance akin to a mound of black charcoal on the side of a tree, chaga is known as one of nature’s most potent sources of antioxidants.

Similar to the benefits you know from Japanese matcha, chaga also helps in the fight against oxidative stress (e.g. high levels of free radicals) – a state which if left too long may lead to inflammation, and even chronic diseases or  premature aging.

ORAC Content of Chaga | Highest ORAC Adaptogens

When evaluated side-by-side with other adaptogens in an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test, it was demonstrated that chaga has incredibly high antioxidant activity, with reports ranging up to 1,500 units per gram – approaching that of similar ranges identified for matcha tea powder.

  • Good to know: When evaluating ORACs for yourself, be sure to compare against the same “serving,” many report in 100g rather than 1g

In comparison, many of the closest natural substances evaluated in terms of antioxidant activities are less common to surpass 100 ORAC units — roughly speaking that means heavy hitting wellness-boosters like matcha, or chaga, tend to be approximately 15x more potent than other herbs and fungi in your diet!

Chaga Adaptogen for Cytokine Benefits?

Unsurprisingly, adaptogens go a lot deeper than antioxidants. Chaga mushrooms are beneficial for overall immunity, and due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, chaga may prevent the overproduction of cytokines, a term that may sound familiar from this past year.

The term, cytokine, has recently been discussed in relation to the pathophysiology of COVID-19; cytokines are important in a number of cell signaling pathways.

When there are too many cytokines, the body can think that it is under attack and therefore begin inadvertently attacking itself, causing a number of unwanted effects such as autoimmune conditions and other immunocompromising states.

To get those possible protections from chaga, there are a number of options like brewing a tea with the mushrooms themselves, or even adding the powdered form to a daily matcha beverage.

Is Licorice an Adaptogen? Licorice Benefits and Properties

Your familiarity with licorice may be associated with the chewy candies we either thought were delicious (or not) as a child. Who would have thought that the key ingredient has so much nutritional value!

In particular, the root of the licorice is the part that has been used for centuries, dating back to as early as the afternoon tea for Egyptian pharaohs. Today, we know that licorice root has many beneficial properties that may support the immune system!

Some of the best understood adaptogenic benefits from licorice are suggested to include antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antacid-like effects in the body.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root: Adaptogen and more

The bioactive compound in licorice with the most attention is called glycyrrhizin. On this note, when shopping in the natural grocery stores and supplement aisles, you may see deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL).

To err on the side of caution, it’s recommended to choose the DGL version to decrease any possibility for glycyrrhizin toxicity, unless under physician supervision.

Combining Licorice with other Adaptogens such as Matcha Tea

Still the DGL version still has many healthful properties and bioactive flavonoids – especially notable are those gastrointestinal (GI) benefits, such as helping heartburn or calming gastritis.

Those choosing licorice as an adaptogen for digestive health may also consider whether the GI/probiotic benefits from matcha tea could work in tandem with those health effects.

Is Astragalus an Adaptogen? What does it do?

As one of the mainstay herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is more commonly referred to as ‘huáng qí.’ Of the many species of astragalus, only two of them have been extensively studied and used in contemporary medicine: Astragalus mongholicus and Astragalus membranaceus.

Overall, astragalus has been shown to be one of the strongest enhancers of our immune systems. Through its impact on increasing the body’s production of white blood cells, it may guard against bacterial infections, increase total energy, and offer possible protections from diseases including heart failure and Type II diabetes.

  • These days, astragalus can be found in numerous types of formulations for consumption such as capsules, tablets, powders, herbal teas, and food products.

Like most other adaptogens, the best results are seen after consuming them consistently for anywhere from two to six weeks – this detail being especially analogous to research on matcha tea benefits and long-term use.

Astragalus Safety Info + Autoimmune Details

Doses can range depending on the purpose intended, so due to this, and because of the ability for astragalus to modulate our immune systems, people who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease should not begin taking it without a discussion with their healthcare provider.

The Bottom Line: Choosing your Adaptogens Wisely

The options are endless when it comes to natural supplements. Still, considering wise ways to incorporate these ancient, natural adaptogens into your wellness routine may mean a world of difference for your resilience against daily stressors.

All that said, it’s important to review these options with a healthcare practitioner who has a background in natural medicines.

As a team, you’ll be equipped to develop a personalized wellness regimen that works best for you, bearing front of mind those time-vetted options such as chaga, licorice, astragalus, and matcha.



*Japanese Farm-direct*

Related: Is there such a thing as too much matcha?

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