You've heard about them here, there and everywhere. Here's an easy to understand overview:
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help lower cortisol levels, enhance immune function, and reduce anxiety, insomnia and depression. “Adaptogens are herbs that help the body and mind adapt to physical, emotional and environmental stressors," according to Autumn Blum, group vice president and founder, TheraNeem. “Adaptogens work on many body systems at once, including the immune system and nervous system. They work differently in each person, giving your body specifically the tools it needs. In some cases, they can be energizing (but not necessarily stimulating), and in other cases, they can be calming (but not necessarily sedating)."
Commonly accepted adaptogenic herbs include the white American ginseng, Siberian ginseng, suma, ashwaganda, astragalus, licorice, schisandra and jiaogulan. The mushrooms reishi, shiitake and maitake are also considered to have adaptogenic properties.
Nervines, like adaptogens, are a class of botanicals that aid in stress relief, except they elicit a direct response from the central nervous system to help restore emotional foundation. Fresh milky oat (Avena sativa), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), linden flower (Tilia argentea), American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), passion flower (Passiflora incarnate), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), lavender (Lavandula), chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) are all considered nervines. Nervines also come with scientific clout. American skullcap—not Chinese skullcap—possesses possible anxiolytic and sedative qualities, and passion flower was noted in one German study to have pharmacological confirmation of sedative and anxiolytic effects. Both scientific and clinical data support the traditional uses of lavender, including its carminative (smooth muscle relaxing), sedative and anti-depressive effects. And a controlled clinical trial found chamomile extract reduced mean total HAM-A (Hamilton Anxiety Scale) score in patients with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder versus placebo. A lower HAM-A score indicates fewer depressive symptoms.
Excerpts from a lengthy article on stress and sleep, courtesy of Natural Products Marketplace. Found in its entirety, with sources, here.