In this episode, Wilson speaks to David Winston of Herbalist & Alchemist, who is the world’s leading expert on adaptogens. In this episode, they discuss:
- 2:00: The history of adaptogens.
- 3:00: The historical definition of what an adaptogen is.
- 4:40: Practitioners still use old definitions of adaptogens.
- 5:30: We need to define adaptogens correctly. There are only 9.
- 6:12: Classifying other herbs with adaptogenic properties.
- 7:46: Using adaptogens in marketing messages.
- 9:00: The nine plants that are actually adaptogens.
- 11:12: Herbs and plants that are possible adaptogens, but more research is needed.
- 12:20: What truly makes a herb or plant an adaptogen.
- 13:25: How adaptogens also work on a cellular level.
- 16:55: Secondary sets of adaptogen characteristics.
- 19:27: TCM, Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, Campo, Jamu, Sidha, Tibetan medicine, physiomedicalism, herbs are used in complex formulas.
- 20:00: People are complex, and have complex problems, compounding herbs is key.
- 22:06: How practitioners can best help their patients understand the use of adaptogens.
- 28:05: Energetics, primary and secondary uses. Look at each adaptogen, and if it makes sense for you.
- 29:09: Treating the person, not the problem.
- 33:06: Treating people with chronic stress, the rise in interest in adaptogens.
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Good morning, David, how are you doing today?
I'm wonderful, Wilson, how are you?
Excellent. Thank you for joining me on Herbal Explorations to discuss all things adaptogens. For those that don't know David Winston's work, he's a herbalist and teacher that blends herbs from many different herbal traditions to create what I consider truly unique formulas at Herbalist & Alchemist. I consider him the foremost expert on adaptogens. Prior to reading your book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, it's no longer my opinion, but fact.
So the first question today is really that people often think about herbal knowledge as being ancient, but adaptogens are a relatively developed category. What is the history of adaptogens, David?
Well, the use of tonic remedies, superior remedies, whether we're talking about TCM or Ayurveda, and we'll talk more about that in a little bit, is ancient. So many of the herbs that are known as adaptogens have been used for hundreds of years, sometimes millennia. But the concept of adaptogens, the idea of adaptogens, is relatively modern.
The first research on adaptogens started in 1947 in the old Soviet Union. And while the research was interesting, the underlying reasons were not entirely benign, meaning the Soviets were looking for substances, initially pharmaceutical substances, not herbs, that could make better soldiers and better workers and better cosmonauts so they could do what Khrushchev said, and that was to bury the West.
The initial research is done by a Soviet researcher named Dr. Lazarov, and then the research switches over to a man who's considered to be the father of adaptogenic research, and that is a man named Israel Breckman. Breckman, in 1961, published the first paper on a, quote/unquote, "adaptogenic substance." Initially, when he starts looking at adaptogens, he starts researching Asian ginseng, which of course is grown in both Korea as well as in China. But the challenge is, at the time, even though the Chinese government and the Russians were both socialist republics, they were not friends. And, in fact, they had the two largest standing armies in the world on each other's borders. And so the idea of having to pay hard-earned Western currency to the Chinese was not something that the Russians were interested in doing.
And they did not grow panax in Russia, and it was expensive, and so they started searching for indigenous Russian plants that they could look at. And what they came up with is the plant in China that's called Acanthopanax senticosus, and everywhere else in the world is called Eeutherococcus senticosus. So Breckman publishes the first word on eleutherococcus as a substance that enhances what they call a non-specific state of resistance in 1961.
In 1969, Breckman and another professor, Professor Dartimov, created the first definition of what is an adaptogen. So their initial definition, which was formulated more than 50 years ago, was, number one, an adaptogen is a substance that is relatively non-toxic in a normal therapeutic dose.
Number two, it creates a non-specific state of resistance, meaning it helps you to resist stress regardless of the cause. So it could be psychological stress, environmental stress, physiological stress. It doesn't matter what the cause, it helps you to handle stress more effectively and more appropriately. And thirdly, it has what would be considered a systemic amphoteric effect, meaning it helps to normalize systemic function on a wide range of organs and tissues in the body.
So that was the initial definition of an adaptogen, but, and one of the challenges is, is that a lot of people are still using that definition for what is or is not an adaptogen. But as I said, that definition was created more than 50 years ago, and time has not stood still. And in the intervening, at this point, 53 years, there have been additional factors that have been added in because we now know more about what makes something an adaptogen.
In fact, the book that you mentioned, the book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, originally the first edition was published in 2007. The second edition in 2019. And the reason I originally wrote that book, or at least one of the major reasons, was I got tired of people calling herbs adaptogens, that aren't adaptogens.
And, in fact, people will be very surprised to know there are only eight or nine herbs that are well researched adaptogens, meaning we have really good evidence that they indeed are adaptogens. We have another maybe five or six that I would call probable adaptogens, meaning the evidence is not quite as strong, but I strongly suspect based on what research there is that they are indeed adaptogens.
And then we have maybe another 10 or 12 herbs, and the list is actually probably slightly larger than that, but there's some very obscure plants that may be adaptogens but are just not widely available. But there's another 10 or 12, including things like maca and reishi, which everybody thinks is an adaptogen. I call them possible adaptogens because the evidence for them actually being adaptogens is really poor. Now, this doesn't mean they're not great herbs. It just means they do not fit the actual definition of an adaptogen.
And one of the challenges is, and I see this a lot in the herbal community and probably in the TCM community and whatever, and in the general public for sure, is that people have this idea, well, I'm going to sort of define it however I want to. Well, the challenge is this term adaptogens didn't come from TCM.
It didn't come from Ayurveda. It didn't come from Unani Tibb. It didn't come from the herbal community. It came from science. And so somebody said to me one time, well, why do scientists get to determine what an adaptogen is? Because they came up with the whole concept in the first place.
And so it is really, I think, vitally important, and that of course is another reason why I wrote the book, is to define what is, and is not, an adaptogen. When I started to see people calling cranberries adaptogens, or I see all these products in the marketplace, and there are shampoos with adaptogens in them. Adaptogens for the most part are not going to help your hair or your scalp.
You and I, you and I. I think one of the things that we see from a marketing point of view is that they want to say everything is something. And they tend to misclassify things. And I think you said it very succinctly. Just because it's a hybrid car doesn't make it an electric car. Those are two different things. They both have the capacity to run on electricity. Each has its own advantages, but it doesn't make it the same thing. We can't conflate the two, although they both use electricity to run the system. And in fact, even a gas powered car uses electricity to run some of the systems. Still not the same thing.
So I think what's really key is like, hey, what are we really talking about? And just like you, probably some things that drive me nuts is this overuse of things that don't really make sense. Sure, is there adaptogen in your shampoo? Yes. But will it work as an adaptation? No. I see a label, like the water's gluten free. Well, where's the gluten coming from in this water? Did you add it in? It's mind boggling. But back to adaptogens. In your book, you mentioned eight or nine for sure adaptogens. Can you just list them off quickly just so the audience has an idea, and then they can read more about what they are?
Absolutely. So we have Asian ginseng, and some people, you know, will say Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng. They're the same plant. There's different strains and there's different processing techniques, whether it's red or white ginseng, and within China, there's different grades of ginseng and things like that. So number one, Asian ginseng. American ginseng, the Panax quinquefolius. Ashwagandha from India. Then we have schisandra from China.
We have eleuthero, when it was first introduced to the United States, they called it Siberian ginseng, which is a misnomer. It is not a Panax species. Even though it is in the Araliaceae family, it is not ginseng. But, of course, since people knew ginseng, attaching the name, again, was good marketing. Well, I could call it that. For sale, you cannot call it that. They actually passed a law going back some years, pushed by the Wisconsin ginseng growers, to make it illegal to call eleuthero Siberian ginseng, which I'm fine with because it, again, is not a ginseng. Then we have the Ayurvedic herb shilajit. We also have rhodiola. We have rhaponticum. And what am I leaving out? Oh, cordyceps.
So those are basically the well researched adaptogens. Now, there are a number of other plants that there is preliminary evidence suggesting they are indeed adaptogens. So for instance, holy basil would be in that category. Or we also have things like suo yang/cynomorium and rou cong rong/cistanche.
Those are all probable adaptogens. Shatavari from the Ayurvedic tradition. I would say all of those are most likely adaptogens, we just don't have the same level of evidence we have for those first eight or nine plants. And then as I said, there's a whole bunch of things that are possible adaptogens, but the evidence is really poor. And then what I did when I wrote the second edition of the book, I said, well, you know, there's all these plants that are really wonderful, great remedies. And in fact, maybe in a moment, I'll talk a little bit more about that. They're these great remedies, but they just don't fit the definition of adaptogen, which I guess I should actually give everybody.
So what is an adaptogen? Okay. So we started off by talking about the fact that the initial definition, non-toxic in normal therapeutic dose, and we're not talking about allergic reaction, because anybody can have an idiosyncratic or allergic reaction to anything. But for the average person, it is non-toxic in the normal therapeutic dose. It creates a nonspecific state of resistance, and it has a systemic balancing or amphoteric effect. That is all still true, but that is not enough to make something an adaptogen. Many plants that are not adaptogens will do all three of those things.
So what makes it an adaptogen? Number one, it works through one of the two master control systems in the body, the HPA axis, that's the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, which is the interface between the endocrine system, the nervous system, the immune system, the gut/brain so the digestive system, male and female reproductive system, cardiovascular system including the hormonal aspect of the heart which was only discovered about 25 or 30 years ago.
All that interface is the HPA axis. And then the SAS is the other control system, which is the sympatho adrenal system, which is your fight or flight. So the HPA deals with chronic stress primarily whereas the SAS primarily deals with acute stress. So adaptogens work through one or both of those systems. So that information came out in the 1990s. Then they discovered around 2009, it was just a couple years after I published the first edition of the book.
Around 2009 to 2012, they came up with some additional information about what makes something an adaptogen. And what they figured out was adaptogens also work on a cellular level. So not just through organs or the endocrine system, but they're also working individually on a cellular level. And what they do is they upregulate what are called molecular chaperones, specifically heat shock proteins. There are four heat shock proteins that it's known to upregulate. A forkhead protein known as FOXO, neuropeptide Y.
And what do these things do? When you are under stress, your body increases production of all of these compounds, and it protects you from stress. And so what we now understand is adaptogens work a little bit like a stress vaccine. So unlike a vaccine, the effect is not necessarily long lasting. You stop taking adaptogens, and the effect over a couple of weeks is going to wear off.
So it's not a long lasting effect. But it basically says to your body, "Stress is coming. Get ready," and it increases the production of all these compounds, which have a broad reaching effect on the body. They inhibit addiction. They reduce pain. They help prevent misfolding of proteins when you're doing DNA synthesis. They increase neuroplasticity, especially neuropeptide Y. They have a wide range of activities in the body.
So for an herb to be an adaptogen, it also has to upregulate these compounds, and in the process, they do one other thing. Because stress will upregulate those things, but stress also increases production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. One of the things adaptogens do is they prevent increase of cortisol levels, and they help prevent elevated cortisol induced mitochondrial dysfunction.
With a lot of conditions, like chronic fatigue, immune deficiency syndrome, or fibromyalgia, which at their root, at least clinically from my perspective, but there's also research to back this up, are really chronic sleep disorders and HPA axis disorders. And so basically that's one of the reasons adaptogens can be so incredibly useful for treating those types of conditions.
And now that you mentioned that, there's a lot of research coming out about red ginseng, Panax araliaceae that's been steamed, and how it helps improve the quality of sleep and through that same kind of mechanism. And I think one thing that's really interesting from me being based in TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, there's the difference between red and white ginseng, and American ginseng.
American ginseng is actually a different species, but especially with the white and red ginseng, whether it's from Korea, China, or wherever it may be grown, but those are the two primary places. Now Russia has a little bit of ginseng growing there as well. But really is it that we really should be looking at these adaptogens not, okay, if it's a true adaption, like one of the ginsengs, are we also looking at a secondary set of characteristics?
Like American ginseng is good for this. White Chinese ginseng is good for that. Red Chinese ginseng is good for that. To pick the right adaptogen for your needs, right? For the particular person's needs. It's not just, hey, let me just get any adaptogen. Let me just get some shilajit or something. It's really about picking the right one for your condition and what your needs are.
Well, that was another reason I wrote the book. Prior to COVID, I used to go over and teach in Europe almost every year. I'd be in Ireland, or the UK, or some other country. And when I would teach in the UK, there still are some really good herbal programs. If we were in the UK, it would be herbal. It would be herbal programs.
But a lot of times, their use of the material medica, the materials of medicine, was a little bit, how shall I say this, unsophisticated. So somebody would say, "Oh, you need an adaptogen. Let’s give you eleuthero." It was like eleuthero was the standard adaptogen for everybody. Adaptogens, like any category of herbs, are not a one size fits all phenomenon. So does everybody need an adaptogen? No. If you are healthy, and you're not in a really stressful situation, you probably don't need any adaptogens.
So it's not like everybody needs an adaptogen. But if you do need an adaptogen, then you have to look at who needs it. So it's more about treating the person rather than the disease. It relates to individualizing treatment. We have adaptogens that are heating. We have adaptogens that are cooling. We have adaptogens that are stimulating. We have adaptogens that are calming. We have adaptogens that are nourishing. We have adaptogens that are moistening. We have adaptogens that are drawing.
So give an example, rhodiola. Rhodiola is a stimulating adaptogen. In fact, red ginseng and rhodiola are the two most stimulating adaptogens, but they're very different. Red ginseng is deeply nourishing, and so that balances out the stimulating effect, because it's also deeply nourishing to the body. But rhodiola is not nourishing at all. It's just stimulating.
And so rhodiola, for instance, if you have a patient, and they are the kind of person who tells you if they have even a cup of tea after lunch, or they eat a little square of chocolate, they're so stimulated they can't sleep at night. Don't give rhodiola to that person. They'll be up all night. Rhodiola is also incredibly drying, so if you have anybody with yin deficiency, dryness, dry skin, dry mouth, dry eyes, vaginal dryness, lack of synovial fluid in the joints, dry cough, furred tongue ... If you have patterns like that, rhodiola is really inappropriate for that person.
And so it's about figuring out which adaptogen. And then the other thing I would point out is that, in all traditional systems of medicine, whether we are talking about TCM, Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, Campo, Jamu, Sidha, Tibetan medicine, physiomedicalism, herbs are used in complex formulas.
Why? Because we're dealing with complex people with complex problems. And so the Western idea of using a single herb at a time is great in the sense of research. For research, it's really useful, because it really gives you clear information about a specific herb. But clinically, herbs are used in formulas, and so you're probably going to be using not only an adaptogen, but you're also going to probably mix it in with other herbs that it works well with. And I call them companion herbs.
So, for instance, some of the categories of companion nerves for adaptogens are what are known as nervines, which are the nerve tonics. We have things like nootropics, which are cerebral tonics. We have the category which I kind of created, which I call restorative tonics, and restorative tonics are many of them. They're great herbs. Huang qi, astragalus, is a great restorative tonic. It just isn't an adaptogen. Or shu di huang, processed rehmannia, great herb, just not an adaptogen. Amla fruit, goji berry, wonderful herbs. The fact that they're not adaptogens, that they don't meet the definition of adaptogen, doesn't make them any less useful.
So I, in a sense in the book, created my own category to just say, okay, there are these wonderful herbs that are really useful, and they may be kidney yang tonics, or qi tonics in TCM, or rasāyana in Ayurveda, and that's the point I actually wanted to make earlier. In TCM, kidney yang tonics, qi tonics, blood tonics, these are classic categories. In Ayurveda, you have rasāyanas and Medhya rasāyanas, and they're classic categories. Some of the herbs in each of those categories are adaptogens, but many herbs that are in those categories are also not adaptogens. And so you cannot make that assumption based on tradition what is and is not an adaptogen.
Yes. And I think that's an excellent explanation of that. And how can practitioners best help their patients understand the use of adaptogens? We talked about a lot of times people start understanding, "Oh, I read about this latest thing or this is adaptogen," and they go to their practitioner and say, "Hey, I want to get into this thing and start this adaptogen regimen." What would you say? How can practitioners help people understand whether adaptogens are for them or which ones they should be taking?
So I'm going to start off by telling you an actual story from my clinical practice. So I had a patient many years ago, and he was telling me this story. He had been to the doctor, and he had to take his little son with him. And they're leaving the doctor's office, and his little son grabs his pant leg and tugs and says, "Daddy, Daddy, we forgot to ask the doctor something." He said, "What? What did we forget to ask the doctor?" He said, "We forgot to ask the doctor if Cialis is right for you."
So the point is, is the adaptogen right for you? So does it make sense for that person? So somebody who we were talking about, like with Rhodiola who's easily over stimulated, or has yin deficiency is most certainly not appropriate for that person. One of the broad parameters that I would say is, for instance, I think of ... And I'm going to give you sort of my ginseng and ginseng-like plant schedule.
So for eleuthero, I think of eleuthero being most appropriate for people who are 15 to 35 years old. They have all their vital energy. They're strong. They're well. Except they're undergoing some persistent stress. New baby in the house. You just passed the bar, and you got hired by a law company, and they expect you to work 70 hours a week. You're in college and you're pulling all nighters for finals. You are an athlete and you're running marathons. There is a significant amount of physiological or psychological stress in your life, and you need something to help you deal with that. Eleuthero works perfectly well. Would I give eleuthero to a 70 year old? Unlikely.
So then we have American ginseng. American ginseng is the least stimulating and probably the least powerful of the three Panax species. And by the way, there is also a Vietnamese ginseng, and there is a Japanese ginseng, and the evidence suggests that both of them are also adaptogenic except they're just not commercially available as far as I'm aware.
So American ginseng is moistening. It is deeply nourishing. It is not particularly stimulating. And unlike white Asian ginseng, which is warm, and red Asian ginseng, which is actually hot, the American ginseng, people say it's cooler. So people think it's cold. It's not. It's neutral to slightly warm. So I think of American ginseng as being most appropriate, again, for people who are maybe 40 to 60.
They're basically in good health, but they've started noticing that jet lag is harder to deal with. They're more sensitive to temperature. They're more sensitive if they get a poor night's sleep. They're starting to notice some of those first signs that happen as you get older where you just don't quite have the energy reserves, the qi, the jing, that you had when you were younger.
And there are exceptions to all this. So if I have somebody who's 24 years old, and is cold all the time, and depleted, and deficient, and has what I would call deficient insomnia, they don't have the energy to sleep, I might be giving them red ginseng. So don't assume that these are hard and fast categories. But Asian white ginseng I tend to use for people who are more like 50 to 70. They've definitely started to lose some of that vital energy. They may have started to have some myocardial issues, fatigue, tiredness, impaired sleep quality, things like that.
And then the red ginseng I tend to use for people who are 70 and older. But again, I could use it for somebody who's 24 if they fit the pattern. They're cold. They may have things like mild congestive heart failure, deficient insomnia. These are people that really need something that is deeply nourishing, deeply stimulating. And the thing about insomnia, you have somebody with excess insomnia, you give them red ginseng, and they're up all night. You have somebody with deficiency insomnia and you give them red ginseng, and they sleep wonderfully because it gives them that deep energy so that they can sleep and go into delta sleep where the body heals.
And so that is just a really broad little outline, but it gives you a sense of a time and place, and you're really looking at the person. Age is actually a secondary thing. You're really looking at the person. How deficient are they? How depleted are they?
If we look at another adaptogenic herb, for instance, something like Rhaponticum, rhaponticum is probably the most anabolic of all of the adaptogens, and so builds muscle mass.
So you have somebody who's elderly with muscle wasting, or you have somebody who's younger but is doing things that require a tremendous amount of physical activity ... Again, athletes, marathoners, somebody who's working a job that is just ... A miner, whatever. Then that probably would be more appropriate for them. The biggest problem with rhaponticum is it's really hard to get decent quality rhaponticum. There is some stuff coming out of Canada that I've seen that is actually pretty nice, but most of the rhaponticum comes out of Russia. And at the moment, I think most of us are probably not wanting to buy anything coming out of Russia.
So you're really looking at each adaptogen and if it makes sense for you. And, again, I guess the third reason I wrote the book is I tried to give really nice monographs on each adaptogen so that we could paint a picture so people would get a sense of, okay, this is really where this herb shines. So you see what I would call the personality of the plant. And it's the energetics, yes. It's also the chemistry. It's the primary uses, the secondary uses. What is it doing? How is it doing it?
And then you look at the person and you say does it make sense for the person? Not the name of the disease, because you can have five people all diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. They're not five rheumatoid arthritis's. So just like in TCM or Ayurveda, they're not going to get the same treatment. Well, any good herbalist, if they're treating diseases, your level of efficacy is going to be poor. Hippocrates said more than 2000 years ago, and he was right then, and it's correct now, it's more important to know the person that has the disease than the disease the person has.
It's absolutely true. You treat the person, not the problem. So last question of the day. Thank you for such an enlightening discussion and overview of adaptogens. In recent years, even before the pandemic but especially during the pandemic, there's this explosion in adaptogens. What do you think accounts for that?
Well, I would say there are several factors. Number one, this last two and a half year period has, I think, for many people been one of the most stressful periods of their entire life. None of us have dealt with, unless somebody was alive, and if they were alive, they were probably really young, they're still alive, the 1918 flu epidemic. We really haven't dealt with anything. We've had some smaller scale epidemics, and we've had some diseases that have affected specific countries or populations, but nothing quite like this. And so it's been incredibly stressful.
And while probably a good 15 or so percent of the population in normal times is anxious or depressed, that number pretty much doubled during COVID. And I don't know about where you are in California, but here, I have good news. The pandemic is over, or at least the people around here are acting like it is over. Unfortunately, it is not. Virtually nobody wears masks. Nobody is taking any precautions whatsoever, unfortunately. And a lot of people have just kind of gone back to their normal lives.
But for a good part of that two year period, there was just a tremendous amount of stress. And so that's one reason that people are looking for adaptogens and other herbs, like your nervines. Things like fresh oat, American skullcap, chamomile, lemon balm and lavender and things like that. People are looking for those kinds of things because they are wound tight at the moment.
Plus, of course, with the pandemic, you had not only the fear of getting COVID, but there's addition issues, economic issues. Lots of people lost jobs, at least initially. And then of course, there's the constant fear if you think that way, about the possibility of getting COVID. I will tell you clinically, in the past four or five months, I've treated at least six people who got mild COVID who had minor symptoms and now have severe long COVID. So the fact that somebody had a mild case of COVID is not a guarantee that everything is going to be okay.
And so there is certainly that. We live in a crazy, complicated world, and so just speaking about the US and not talking about other parts of the world, but we live in a culture that is deeply divided, where anybody who thinks differently from you now is not just somebody with a different opinion, they're now the enemy. They're on the other side. They're on the other team. Successful countries need to find a way to realize that we're all in the same boat together, and we don't need to all think the same, we don't need to all believe the same, but we need to have respect for one another, and try to find some common ground. But that has kind of disappeared.
And so politically, economically they're talking about possible recession, on so many levels, we are dealing in an incredibly stressful time. And of course then there is the whole advertising thing, which then goes into what we talked about earlier about people calling things adaptogens that aren't adaptogens, or sticking adaptogens in things that make no sense for an adaptogen. You don't need to use adaptogens in your cereal. You don't need adaptogens in your soda. The amount that they're going to put in there is probably close to homeopathic, so it's unlikely to be of any benefit anyway.
The point is that they are wonderful remedies for people who are experiencing chronic stress or long term acute stress. And so that's one of the reasons I think that adaptogens have gotten such an incredible push over the last several years. Plus more and more people are utilizing the term, whether correctly or not, and so there's greater consumer awareness that there is this category of substance. Because a lot of people wouldn't even necessarily know that they're necessarily herbs. I'm sure there's people out there talking about adaptogenic vitamins and stuff like that.
Although, I will tell you there is actually some very early preliminary evidence that suggests there may actually be a supplement that is adaptogenic, and that's melatonin. Which is really interesting. But don't don't say, "Oh, he said it is." I'm not saying it is. I said some very early preliminary suggestions maybe. But for the most part, we're talking about plant medicines. We're talking about herbs.
And so I think for all of those reasons, adaptogens have found their way into the marketplace, and everybody thinks they need an adaptogen. Which, again, not everyone does. If you're really anxious, yes, there are calming adaptogens like ashwagandha or cordyceps, which are calming adaptogens. Schisandra is a calming adaptogen, although maybe two or one or two people out of a hundred will take a schisandra and get stimulated by it. But for most people, it's actually a gentle, calming agent. Wonderful for that.
So there are some calming adaptogens, but then again, we have these other categories of herbs, like the nervines, or if we're in the UK, nervines, which are really appropriate for dealing with anxiety. Or our anxiolytics like bacopa, suan zao ren, ziziphus seed, gou teng, gambir, we have things like lavender and rosemary and holy basil, which are phenomenal anxiolytics. We have things like lavender and rosemary and holy basil, which are phenomenal anxiolytics. And so, again, the more you can treat the person, not just the disease, and the more you look at this herb or combination of herbs and match it to the person, the more clinically successful you are going to be every single time.
Yeah, you don't need to know the energetics. If somebody has wart, you're treating a topically. If you have a good wart remedy, stick it on there. But for most conditions, and, again, things like poison ivy, I don't know the energetics. A wart. I don't need to know the energetics. But if you are dealing with chronic stress, if you are dealing with autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, if you are dealing with chronic skin problems, arthritis, et cetera, there is no arthritis herb. There is no depression herb. So people hear these little soundbites of information.
St. John’s wort, has become the depression herb, and saw palmetto was the prostate herb, and black cohosh is the menopause herb. There's only one problem with each one of those statements that I just gave you. They're wrong, wrong, and wrong. St. John’s wort, from an herbalist perspective, I categorized depression under 14 different subtypes of depression. And in TCM, you have the same kind of thing where you're looking at the underlying cause. Is it liver chi stagnation?
What is the cause of the depression? Treating depression, whether you're using Prozac or St. John's Wort, at best, it's going to be about 40% effective unless you treat the person who is depressed. So St. John's wort works for three of the more than 14 types of depression. Black cohosh, it has some benefit for menopausal symptomology, but as a simple, most women are going to be underwhelmed. And you're going to say, "You ever try herbs?" And they say, "Oh, yeah. I tried black cohosh. It didn't really help very much."
Because, again, you're trying to treat a symptom with a simple, with a single herb. And the same thing is true with saw palmetto. Saw palmetto is useful in a formula for a benign prostatic hyperplasia, but by itself, it is underwhelming. And so what happens with those little soundbites of information is people try herbs based on that, and more than often, they are disappointed, and they think, "Eh, I tried herbs. They don't work." That's not herbal medicine. That's an allopathic use of herbs, or more or less herbal marketing.
Yes. A lot of it is because there's this marketing perception of what it should do, and it should do it under certain conditions, and you fit that pattern, and the person has to be very specific into that pattern. So I think that's amazing. I got two closing comments.
One is: schisandra is very calming unless you take it and chew it. And I do a lot, and the five flavors really will give your system a nice little temporary shock, then you relax. But chewing it really makes it fun. I just love how that herb tastes, although it's not for everyone to chew. I think you're right, adaptogens are the category of herbs for these stressful times, and I think it's just so much stress in the world out there that it's a great category to span and explore and see what you need and how it can help specific people with specific issues. So I love it.
Thank you so much for your time and your knowledge. Really appreciate it. And thank you for writing the book. And I recommend anyone that really wants to do a deep dive to get the newest edition, the updated expanded edition. It has so much information there. It is so well written. And thank you for your time, David.
Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to speak with you today.