Updated: Jan 15, 2020
I recently taught a class for the students of my local soup kitchen's culinary program. In preparation, the program director asked the class what they'd like to learn from an herbalist. Most of them said "how to have more energy!"
I laughed, because the majority of people who walk through my door tell me they need more energy. Some of them feel fatigued all the time, some of them are talking a mile a minute and having a hard time sitting still. Some of them are single moms of six who work three jobs to pay the household bills.
No matter how much energy we have, it's never enough
Our culture, operating in a capitalist model, values people according to how productive they are. We value ourselves based on how productive we are. We feel we need to be sick in order to take a rest. So I say to that single mom, no wonder you're tired, because more is being asked of you than one human can possibly do. You're accomplishing an incredible amount. You're expending massive amounts of energy. What you need is a break, and sadly a break isn't always in the cards.
Treating the root cause vs. the symptoms.
I told the students in my class about the Resilience Scale. Let's imagine that every human body has a metaphorical scale associated with it, and one bucket holds all the things in that person's life that support them, and the other bucket holds everything that stresses them.
In my support bucket, let's pretend I have a close community of family and friends who I can call on when I'm struggling, I'm eating a wide variety of nutritional foods and taking some herbs and vitamins, I really like my job, I have reliable sources of food and a roof over my head, most days I engage in joyful movement, etc.
In my stress bucket, let's say I have a hard time remembering to drink enough water, I'm struggling to get enough sleep at night, I'm self-employed and the lead parent of a toddler, we're potty training, my toddler is bringing home viruses that my body is having to fend off all the time, it's tax season, etc.
When the support bucket equals or outweighs the stress bucket, I'm very resilient. When the stress bucket starts to weigh the scale down, I get less resilient, and experience symptoms like fatigue, irritability, seasonal allergies, chronic inflammation, getting the flu, etc; a.k.a. "not having enough energy." When those symptoms pop up, I do my best to pour things into the support bucket, and take what I can out of the stress bucket. Sometimes this means adding some supportive herbs to the routine, sometimes it means changing jobs or ending relationships.
Herbs for Energy, Part 1
My beloved herbal teacher Zita Xavier developed this mushroom-infused hot cocoa, and it's one of my favorite ways to pour chocolatey goodness into my support bucket. The first time I drank a cup, I instantly felt more awake and refreshed. You can prepare it any way that suits you: pour it into hot water plain, sweeten it with any sweetener you choose, add cream or nut milk if you like. If you're not a raving fan of hot cocoa like I am , I also offer mushroom elixirs to clients in a chai mix, or a form that can be added to smoothies. It contains powders of:
Reishi Ganoderma lucidum
A traditional Chinese herb, Reishi is called the "Mushroom of Immortality." It supports kidney, liver, brain, and immune system function. Note: Traditional Chinese Medicine warns against taking this mushroom if you're actively sick. Use it as a preventative instead.
Cordyceps Cordyceps militaris or sinensis
Cordyceps is another mushroom used as a kidney tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Whenever someone complains of "low energy," I always look to support their liver, kidneys, and other organs of elimination. The kidneys in particular are associated with the adrenal glands, which sit right on top of them and regulate our stress hormones. Cordyceps has also been shown to improve brain function and possibly help re-grow damaged nerves.
Shiitake Lentinula edodes
Shiitakes support heart, gut, and immune system health. They contain antioxidants and act as anti-inflammatories.
Chaga Inonotus obliquus
Chaga is anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, anti-viral, supportive of the liver, and has even been shown to be anti-tumor in lab studies.
Lion's Mane Hericeum erinaceus
Lion's Mane helps our brains be their best selves. It can encourage repair of damaged nerves, improve memory and overall brain function, and improve mood.
Thank you to my herbal teacher Anna-Marija Helt, who taught me about mushroom medicine and whose excellent articles on Basmati I referenced for this section.
Note: Be very careful where you source your mushrooms. Species like Chaga are being actively over-harvested, sometimes in a way that kills the trees they were growing on. Other companies use toxic chemicals that are absorbed by the mushrooms they cultivate. I recommend Mushroom Harvest as a good source, they grow all their own organically, and they take extra steps to ensure that the constituents are bio-available.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where I'll be talking about Adaptogens (herbs that help our bodies cope with stress), by signing up for my newsletter.
The information in this article does not constitute medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose or prescribe. Always thoroughly research an herb before taking it, and any decisions you make regarding your own health are always your own.