Medicinal herbs and plants, once dank and earthy blends associated with Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, have morphed into bright and shiny wunder-drugs over the past few years in the biggest rebrand since “New Coke.”
Packaged in new-age pinks and cosmic metallics, medicinal mushrooms, roots and herbal concoctions have become fresh cure-alls for our collective anxiety, sleeplessness, colds and mood disorders. Along with old-school immune boosters like echinacea, we’re now tapping into whole new class of remedies called adaptogens, the official term for natural supplements like ginseng and ashwagandha. Their popularity coincided with the rise of CBD, which in 2018 seemed exotic, but now can be found in our waters, our coffees and our chocolates. Adaptogens are following suit, showing up in teas, nut milks, and lattes. Turns out all of us are stressed out, have adrenal fatigue, and need to restore balance!
Of course, these feelings aren’t new, but more of us are looking for a natural way to deal with them. As Huey Lewis said (probably while drinking a New Coke), “I want a new drug…One that won’t keep me up all night, One that won’t make me sleep all day, One that won’t make me nervous, Wonderin’ what to do.” A glass of wine just won’t cut it anymore, nor will pharmaceuticals, so we’ve turned to nature to curb stress and optimize our own user experience of life.
So do these natural remedies actually work? The hitch with adaptogens, in the words of clinical herbalist Rachelle Robinett, owner of Industry City’s Supernatural Cafe, is that they are “nonspecific, nontoxic at therapeutic doses, and normalizing.” Meaning the benefits will be subtle to say the least, or not at all noticeable if your body doesn’t need the balance, boost of energy or shot of immunity. So perhaps the real question to ask is, will they work for you?
Generally speaking there are no dangerous side effects of herbalism, aside from a much lighter wallet, so there’s little harm in experimenting. Here are a few products to help you through cold season and the stress of NYC, starting with the ones we’ve personally tried, and a few we’re intrigued by.
WTHN // Herbal Remedies
WTHN is part of the fast wellness trend that I suspect we will be seeing more of. Bright, shiny, with same-day appointments available for acupuncture, cupping, or ear seeds with a monthly membership fee. You can also download sound therapy for just $10 or buy herbal blends for everything from sleep aids to daily energy. I’ve been taking Run The World vitamins for daily stress management which is a blend of herbs in an adorable package. You’re meant to take 2-3 tablets twice a day, but I usually do once a day when I’m cooking dinner and see the canister on my counter. I didn’t notice any difference, but I was talking about the benefits of ashwagandha with my husband’s cousin and she mentioned that it gives her a headache and she can’t take it. I couldn’t believe it, but I had been having (unusual, for me) headaches on and off for a month and didn’t know why. I stopped using the pills and like magic, they disappeared. Turns out this is a common side-effect of ashwagandha, so keep in mind that all of these plants do work differently with each person. It’s good practice to be aware of what exactly we are putting in our bodies and not just ingest blindly. Run the World $45, Wthn, 20 W. 22nd Street, Flatiron. www.wthn.com
Urban Moonshine // Immune Zoom
Yesterday I was coming down with a cold and bought a jar of elderberry pills which I swallowed along with a ginger orange juice. Today I feel fine. More than likely, you’re already fully hip to the benefits of elderberry, echinacea and zinc. The company, Urban Moonshine, a Burlington, Vermont-based company started by Jovial King in her kitchen, is my go-to for special blends like Immune Zoom (elderberry & echinacea), Immune Tonic (red reishi & astragalus), Clear Chest (elecampane & honey), and Throat Spray (sage & spilanthes.) They also sell digestive bitters which I keep collecting but forget to use. (Like right now, I just found out about Healthy Liver Bitters and am hovering over the purchase button.) I found out about the company years ago from my friend who lives in Burlington, but I buy them at Prelandra or Whole Foods. They also sell Joy Tonic and Simmer Down—which include adaptogens. $18.99 per bottle, Urban Moonshine, www.urbanmoonshine.com
Wylde One // Supertonic Energy
Brooklyn-based wellness brand Wylde One has a powdered herbal blend for all of life’s quandaries: stress, lack of energy, sickness, even distraction. While you could probably find an herbalist to help select the ginseng, ashwagandha and medicinal mushrooms found in these packets, Wylde One does the quality sourcing and dosing for you. Having tried the Brain Buzz, the Immune Shrooms, Yoga in a Cup and Supertonic Energy, I felt that the Energy packet had the most noticeable effect. If I had too little sleep and needed a dose of energy, one of these packets sprinkled into coffee woke me right up, and kept me zooming throughout the day. In the reviews on the site, people also recommend it pre-workout to fight the fatigue that follows, and to bypass an afternoon slump. Though a bit of stevia is blended into each to make the taste more palatable, they didn’t really hide the fact that you are drinking a very earthy herbal blend. Mixing one into a smoothie, which is also recommended, could do the trick, and new latte blends presumably mask the taste further. Try the variety pack to see what works best for you. $35/ box of 12 packets. Wylde One, www.wylde-one.com—Nicole Davis
Quantum Health // SuperLysine+
Cold sore sufferers, this one’s for you. The amino acid lysine is often used in cold sore treatments because it restores the precious balance your body keeps between this amino acid and another called arginine. Your diet can affect this ratio, and I can often trace an outbreak to a recent arginine-heavy popcorn or chocolate binge (as well as crazy stress and lack of sleep). Quantum Health’s SuperLysine+ tincture tastes absolutely terrible, there’s no getting around it. But it lessens the severity of a cold sore, and it has helped me ward off colds as well, given the addition of echinacea, goldenseal and shitake mushrooms. Add it to your arsenal, along with their slightly better tasting Immune Support tincture. $13.50/2ml bottle, Quantum Health, quantumhealth.com—N.D.
Kin Euphorics // Non-alcoholic drink
Everyone is doing a Dry January these days, or at least a “Damp” January, as my friend Liz proclaimed. But without alcohol, what are you supposed to drink? You could follow Liz’s lead, and make your own Shirley Temples. Or you could try Kin Euphorics, which promises the bliss of alcohol with none of the booze. How does that work? “Balancing adaptogens, replenishing nootropics, and nourishing botanics lift the mind and relax the body to open the spirit to the people around you,” their website says. Oh, that explains it. I got mine at Clover Grocery in the West Village, but you can order them online or purchase at a few bars across the city. I drank two of them back to back. I did feel something, but it wasn’t exactly a fun, party feeling. It didn’t really feel like a mellow high either. It was more along the lines of taking two Advil; that headache you forgot about has gone away. $39/ bottle. Kin Euphorics, www.kineuphorics.com
Moon & Bloom // Flower Essence
If Heidi Smith was a flower, she would be a sunflower, a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. As a psychosomatic therapist, herbalist and flower essence practitioner, her bedside manner is thoughtful, engaged and therapeutic. (Smith is also co-owner of Spirit Shop in Brooklyn; see below.) I only went to her once, years ago, on a referral of another wellness practitioner, but was inspired by her practice and the special potion she made for me. It didn’t surprise me to learn that she has a book coming out in May, called The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance. “Flowers represent a branch of plant medicine that is specifically concerned with our consciousness and evolution,” she explains in her book. “To connect with their essence catalyzes the blossoming of our own healing and spiritual journeys.” I’m not sure I took the tincture long enough to reap all the subtle benefits, but I liked the ritual of dropping flowers into my body. Additionally, Smith seems dedicated to healing, and ready to offer additional resources that may help. Moon and Bloom, www.moonandbloom.com
Sun Song // Aura Sprays and Potions
My sister-in-law gave me this Sunlight Flower Essence, a mood-altering tincture, for Christmas. Although made in Los Angeles, it’s the perfect thing to combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder that most of us New Yorkers carry to some degree through the winters. It’s made from yellow wildflowers to shift your vibrations to pure joy. I think it’s working because I’ve been in a good mood since the holidays ended (but maybe that’s also because the stress of the holidays is over.) Also, I’ve been filling a dropper and swallowing the whole thing, but now see that a few drops a day are all you need. Saewon Oh of Sun Song also makes aura sprays for spritzing around your room or your auric field. Sunlight Flower Essence, $20, Sun Song, shop-sunsong.com
Spirit Shop // Vaginal Steaming
While I was shopping for a present one day in Prospect Heights, I came across Spirit Shop, an inclusive health and wellness center focused on female health. The gift store sells candles, sage sticks, zines, etc. but what they really seem to stock up on is jars of tea. “Wow, it’s amazing that you guys make your own tea here,” I commented. What I didn’t realize that this wasn’t tea that you drink. Spirit Shop found a niche in making herbs for vaginal steaming, including herbs for painful periods, postpartum support, fertility support, relaxing and more. They also sell The Flower Pot, which is a wooden cube with a hole in it (like a kids potty!) that makes steaming a little more comfortable than squatting over a pot. In the brick-and-mortar they also offer group steaming sessions, if you’d like to try it first and see if it’s right for you. It’s easy to mock, but I think it’s safe to say (especially if you’ve given birth) that as a culture we have a long way to go around womb health. My womb might still be traumatized, and this may have assisted my recovery better than being shoved out the door with a prescription to Percocets and a recommendation to abstain from sex or heavy lifting for 6-weeks. $350 Flower Pot, $75 steaming circle, $30 herbs. Spirit Shop, 639 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights. www.spiritshopbk.com
Gathering Ground // Bath Soaks & Tisanes
Having spent time with herbalist Liz Neves of Gathering Ground, I can attest to her profound knowledge of plants and foraging which I wrote about earlier this year when I went on a foraging walk with her. If I had a bathtub that I wasn’t afraid of sitting in, I would definitely try her Heaven on Earth bath soak which is “designed to ground the spiritual into the physical body.” As someone who lives most of the time in my brain or spacing out, I feel like this would be helpfu, and feel nice. According to Neves, Heather and Damiana elicit heavenly feelings, while Angelica protects energetic boundaries of ecstasy. Sounds like a perfect Saturday night. Bath Soak $12, Gathering Ground, www.gatheringground.nyc