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SAGE ADVICE: Natural Energy Management


by Iris Gage

Dear Iris,

I have the hardest time falling asleep at night. I just can’t stop thinking. What’s worse is that I then rely on stimulants like coffee throughout the day to give me the energy I need. How can I manage my energy better without relying on coffee? – M. Wills

You’re lying in bed late at night, thinking about how your coworker kept interrupting you at the weekly meeting and about how you desperately need to do the laundry. You sigh, knowing that if you keep ruminating like this, you will never fall asleep. The thought crosses your mind to count sheep. “Does that really work?” you think to yourself. You restlessly turn over to check the time. It’s 3:30 am. Why can’t I ever fall asleep?!

This story is all too familiar for many of us. Our body’s circadian rhythm can easily become shifted with stress, travel, illness, diet, and many other factors. A simple way to picture what is happening to us is to imagine our adrenal glands releasing cortisol (our natural stimulant) at inappropriate times, such as when we are trying to fall asleep. If our adrenals release too much cortisol at night, then there isn’t enough to help us wake up in the morning, hence the need for outside stimulants such as coffee.  What we need to do is encourage our adrenals to release cortisol in the mornings, when we wake up and again if needed in the afternoon—not at night!  An answer for this dilemma is one word, adaptogens.

Adaptogens are a category of herbs that help our bodies adapt by strengthening our response to stressful situations while simultaneously improving the health of the adrenals, decreasing fatigue, and reducing anxiety.  If taken regularly, adaptogens help realign our bodies into a natural state of homeostasis, or equilibrium. This will help us fall asleep and have the apt amount of energy we need at the proper times. Let me tell you about some of my favorite adaptogen herbs.

Ashwagandha: An ancient nutritive and restorative root, used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine in India. Ashwagandha is traditionally used for insomnia, a weakened immune system, anxiety, and chronic fatigue.  This root can be taken at any time of day.  One teaspoon of powdered root simmered in a cup of milk before bed with honey and cardamom is a delicious way to alleviate insomnia and feel rejuvenated upon waking.

Rhodiola: Also known as Arctic rose, this root comes from high altitudes of Europe and Asia and is now widely cultivated. Rhodiola can be very stimulating for some people, so it is best to take half the recommended dose in the form of a capsule or tincture, first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Eleuthero: Performance-enhancing, for athletes, students, or those undertaking demanding work,  eleuthero used to be called Siberian ginseng, since it was traditionally used in Siberia and is in the ginseng family. I personally reach for eleuthero when I am overworked but not able to take a break.  I take it as a tincture or capsule, first thing in the morning and afternoon.

Licorice: Incredibly sweet, tasty, soothing, and a powerful inflammation reducer, licorice is a great addition to any blend, especially chai.  Not everyone enjoys the flavor of licorice; luckily you don’t need much and it works best in combination with other adaptogens. My favorite is licorice with rhodiola in tincture form. Use caution with high blood pressure and kidney disease. 

Schizandra:  A powerful berry that possesses all five flavors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and pungent).  Eat 1–2 teaspoons of dried berries in the morning and afternoon. One teaspoon of powdered berries can also be added to morning smoothies.

Tulsi:  This herb has a delightful bubble-gum like flavor.  Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, is a part of daily life in India as a panacea and sacred plant.  The qualities of tulsi are somewhat amphoteric; this plant can help us sleep when we are wired and can also perk us up when we are tired.  I add a tablespoon of fresh or dried tulsi into any cup of tea that I am brewing. I find that it complements just about any flavor.

Chocolate Energy Balls

  • 3 cups tahini (drain excess oil from the top)                                                                                                            
  • 1 cup nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew)                                                                                                                                 
  • 2 cups honey (more or less to taste)                                                                                                                             
  • 5 ounces  ashwagandha powder                                                                                                                                          
  • 2 ounces eleuthero powder                                                                                                                                          
  • 1 ounce rhodiola powder                                                                                                                                          
  • 1 tbsp cardamom powder                                                                                                                                          
  • 1 ounce bee pollen, optional                                                                                                                                        
  • 1 ounce unsweetened shredded coconut                                                                                                                 
  • 1 cup finely chopped nuts 
  • (almond, walnut, etc.)                                                                                                                             
  • 1 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder                                                                                                                      

1. Mix tahini, nut butter and honey until smooth.  Add herbal powders, except the cocoa powder, and combine well.                                  2. Add nuts, bee pollen and coconut; mix in well                                                                                                  

3. Roll the dough into small balls.  Then roll them in the cocoa powder until they are no longer sticky.                                                           4. Eat 2-3 energy balls in the morning or afternoon, daily. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Iced Adaptogen Chai caffeine free, serves 8

  • 10 cups water (filtered/well/spring)                                                                                                                          
  • 4 tbsp tulsi leaf                                                                                                                                            
  • 2 tbsp ashwagandha root                                                                                                                                            
  • 2 tbsp astragalus root                                                                                                                                            
  • 4 cinnamon sticks                                                                                                                                        
  • 2 tbsp cardamom pods                                                                                                                                            
  • 1 tbsp licorice root                                                                                                                                            
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns                                                                                                                                     
  • 6 star anise                                                                                                                                           
  • 6 cloves                                                                                                                                          
  • 1 tbsp ginger, fresh or dried                                                     

1. Place all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, cover with lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15–20 minutes.                             2. Strain chai with a fine mesh strainer.

3.  Place strained chai tea in the refrigerator to chill (2–3 hours).                                                                       

4. Remove from fridge, pour into glass and enjoy (add a splash of milk if desired).                                                         

*Will keep in fridge for roughly 5 days.