Everything you need to know about adaptogens

26 July 2023, 12:25 PM
  • As adaptogens mainstream into supermarkets, they’re becoming big business. Here’s what fine food retailers should know about selling adaptogen food and drink
Everything you need to know about adaptogens

Adaptogens have swept through the food and drink sector, attracting the attention of health-conscious consumers, but for the uninitiated, what separates these products from other healthy alternatives?

Adaptogens were traditionally an area for the health food stores and supplement shops alone. However, as more research indicates the health and wellness benefits they can offer, they’re quickly becoming more attractive, and mainstreaming into other independent food stores. Now is the perfect time to read up on them, and learn which products to stock.

What is an adaptogen?

Simply put, adaptogens are certain herbs and mushrooms believed to have health and wellness benefits, such as managing stress. Increasingly, they are being added to food and drink products rather being available as powders and capsules only.

“Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs, medicinal mushrooms and medicinal food that support the body’s response to stress and improve health parameters, including immunity, reducing inflammation and supporting longevity,” explains medical herbalist and chief formulator at Adaptogenic Apothecary, Sara Rooney.

In the food sector, adaptogens are part of the growing interest in functional ingredients.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens help the body adjust – or adapt – to stressors, supporting the body to restore balance, also known as homeostasis, by triggering stress-protection responses.

Silvia Mocsari, founder of Honey Heaven, which has created a honey made with adaptogenic mushrooms, explains: “Adaptogens are plant extracts that work by affecting certain body tissues and organs to reduce stress and fatigue and restore the body’s natural balance, especially when you’re under pressure. They can also improve performance, focus and mood.”

As with many growing areas of interest at the intersection of food and health – like gut-friendly foods – more research is needed to scientifically prove these claims.

Why are adaptogens so popular?

“The concept of adaptogens has made a big and exciting shift in the food market,” Sara says. “Since the pandemic, customers have become a lot more invested in their health and wellbeing and how, as intelligent consumers, they can proactively support their wellbeing through their food and drink choices,” she says.

Silvia agrees that the Covid pandemic has made more and more people conscious of their health. 

“They are increasingly interested in trying to find alternative, natural medicines that work with the body,” Silvia says. “Medicinal mushrooms and other sources of adaptogens fit the bill exactly with their wonderful health boosting properties, making adaptogen products increasingly popular.”

Are adaptogens safe?

“The key point about adaptogens is they are non-toxic, safe to incorporate into food and drinks, and support the body’s stress response,” Sara explains. “An adaptogen is effectively a tonic. They have been used safely and extensively in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine through millennia.”

Health experts recommend anyone thinking about trying adaptogens should discuss them with their doctor – particularly if they’re taking medications. This is an important factor in the selling of any adaptogen product.

What are the types of adaptogens?

There are dozens of plants considered adaptogenic, but these are six of the most well-known types:


Research has linked this shrub, which grows in India, the Middle East and some areas of Africa, to stress relief. “It is a prime example, calming and supporting the nervous system whilst reducing anxiety,” Sara says.


This herb, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, is believed to boost memory and promote calmness, while also claiming to improve the immune system.


A spice originating from India, which is touted for its ability to reduce depression. It is also thought to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Lion’s mane

If you’ve heard of a medicinal mushroom, it was likely lion’s mane. Sara says it “originates from China and has been clinically researched to improve cognitive function and productivity, as well as reducing brain fog in peri menopausal women”.


Maca root, from the Peruvian Andes mountains, “increases libido in both male and females without overstimulating like caffeine. It was used traditionally to increase stamina and support hormone balance in indigenous communities in South America,” Sara says.

Tulsi, or holy basil

This plant, which is native to southeast Asia, is believed to reduce physical and mental stress, as well as anxiety and depression.

How should fine food retailers approach adaptogens?

If your customers are interested in foods that boast health and wellness benefits, introducing an adaptogenic product to your shelves might give your sales a nice boost. 

Adaptogenic coffees, wellness drinks and adaptogen powders are some of the most common forms these products take, according to Sara. “Ashwagandha, lion’s mane and maca are key examples of how these ingredients can be incorporated into food and drink for ultimate wellness options for the health-conscious market.”

Other examples include Brite’s adaptogenic soft drinks and Fungtn’s Lion’s Mane IPA.

But more and more, producers like Silvia are beginning to experiment with adding adaptogens to their formulas, and we could soon see an increase of more options for stocking.

“There are already a raft of adaptogenic products available: coffee, gummies, ice cream to name a few, and we believe we are the first to market with our Mushroom Honey,” Silvia says. “I expect there will be increasing experimentation with adaptogens in the coming years – anything’s possible!”

With many consumers leaning towards naturally healthy products, retailers who take a punt on adaptogenic products could see success by emphasising their natural benefits. “Adaptogens, like those from the medicinal mushrooms in our honey, are entirely natural, so the positive effects they have on the body are gentle and entirely natural too,” Silvia says. “Adaptogens are a fantastic way to restore balance when under pressure and improve performance and focus, naturally.”

With so many options available, Sara recommends consulting with an expert to choose the right combination for your market, product and customer. “Each adaptogen has its own unique benefits and strength so it is important to combine correctly for the best result,” she says.

more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing