The purported health benefits of these so-called miracle herbs and mushrooms are many...but are they actually legit?
Credit: eskymaks

If you’ve been plugged into the weird wellness world of 2018, you’ve likely heard of adaptogens. These non-toxic herbs, roots, and mushrooms, used for centuries in Eastern medicine, have garnered recent attention in the Western world for their alleged ability to help your body better handle stress, fix hormone imbalances, improve immunity and boost energy, among other purported benefits.

In other words, they essentially are—in theory, that is—magical, cure-all formulations. Which is why when I got the chance to try a brand new adaptogenic product myself—Wildcrafted, a collection of herbal and mushroom powders out of Greenville, South Carolina—I jumped at the chance. Because there are so many reputed perks of consuming adaptogens on the reg, and I’m curious if these super substances really live up to all their hype, I decided to conduct a very unscientific experiment and test the powder out myself for 30 days.

“People are really looking to the earth for medicinal value,” says Olivia Esquivel, Wildcrafted founder, of the recent buzz surrounding adaptogens. “Everyone is overstimulated and overstressed...[With adaptogens], it’s a relief that they’re not made in a lab.”

Esquivel launched the company in June 2018 after about six months of experimenting with adaptogens at Southern Pressed, a restaurant she co-owns with outposts in Austin, Texas and Greenville, South Carolina. An adaptogenic consumer herself for 1.5 years, Esquivel consulted local herbalists to formulate the Wildcrafted products, and many of the ingredients are sourced from suppliers and farms in Asia.

Though the product was sent gratis, all opinions expressed here are my own.

About the product

The package arrived with three sleek, black jars each containing 40 grams of formulation (about 80 servings). There were three types: Energy, advertised for its anti-fatigue, metabolism boosting, and stamina-increasing properties; Brain, purported to be good for mood, anxiety reduction, and mental clarity; and Beauty, promoted as anti-fatigue, hormone balancing, and anti-inflammatory.

Though product guidelines said I could safely consume all three products at once (!), as an adaptogen newbie-slash-skeptic, I decided to pick just one. And thinking that hair and skin health would be easier to evaluate than mental health and energy levels, I opted for the Beauty formulation. According to the product fact sheet included in the shipment, the formula “works to restore emotional balance, enhancing elasticity of the skin, boost libido, and nourish the inner organs resulting in shiny hair and glowing skin.” It also works to “promote optimal thyroid and liver function while helping to fight free radical damage.” In other words, it’s a fountain-of-youth mix, thanks to its 3-ingredient formulation of ashwagandha, He Shou Wu, and Schisandra.

Ashwagandha, a medicinal herb, is known for its stress reducing effects, says Amanda Barnes, registered dietitian. He Shou Wu, another medicinal herb native to China, is known for anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties; and Schisandra, a berry, is an antioxidant used for coughs, insomnia, and liver disease, Barnes explains.

The process of taking it

Though Esquivel recommends adding the powder to salads, smoothies, coffee, or juice, I wanted to experience the flavors unmasked, and thus opted to simply mix it with about a half cup of water. I took the cloudy concoction every morning soon after rising. The formula wasn’t terrible tasting, per se. But with its bitter, earthy flavor (earthy in a dirt-esque way, not a beet-esque way), it certainly wasn’t something I looked forward to. On the plus side, my coffee, which I drank immediately after, had never tasted better.

In terms of dosage, the label advises taking ¼ teaspoon a day, and Esquivel recommends no more than ½ teaspoon. “You won’t overdose,” she says, “but eventually your body will eliminate what it doesn’t need.” Esquivel also recommends taking the product 6 days a week, with one day off to “help with absorption.” This I did not know until after the experiment, so I took a ¼ teaspoon dose religiously for 30 days straight. And though the powder wasn’t easy on my taste buds, it was easy on my stomach, with no difficulty digesting and no unpleasant burping, which I’ve experienced when taking other supplements (glaring at you, fish oil).

What I noticed

The brain and energy formulations usually produce a difference “right away,” Esquivel tells me, while the beauty formulation can require four to six weeks of consistent consumption before you might notice any benefits.

I was surprised to hear this, because I noticed changes in both my skin and my hair—especially my skin—within a week of taking the beauty supplement. My face, typically acne-prone, had a fresh, youthful glow to it that I swear I hadn’t seen since college, when I had relatively little stress and the luxury of sleeping 10-plus hours a night. My hair, which often looks more frizzy than fabulous, took on a healthy, glossy sheen.

That said, no one but me seemed to notice these changes (not even my roommate, who sees me day in and day out), and the “transformation” wasn’t really visible in photos, so although I did have fewer zits than normal, the skin glow and hair gloss could have very well been all in my mind (or just minute enough that it was only perceptible to me). But the resulting confidence boost was real, and these changes carried through weeks 2 and 3 of the experiment.  

Unfortunately, the effects seemed to wear off in the final week of the experiment, when I got a bout of acne again, which included one of those particularly nasty beneath-the-surface bumps on my chin. But to be fair, it was an especially hectic week—both work-wise and life-wise—and these external stressors likely played a role.

This mindfulness of stress and the effects it may have on our bodies is a core component of the adaptogenic ritual, says Esquivel. The intent behind Wildcrafted, she explains, is to “just slow down, and be more mindful about how stress is affecting your life emotionally and physically.”

As hokey as it sounds, doing this experiment helped me on both fronts. The ritual of pouring, mixing and drinking the herbs each morning helped me take a small moment at the beginning of my day to reflect on my stress levels and adjust my day accordingly, whether it was finding time to hit the gym, saying “no” to a project that would overburden my schedule, or carving out an hour that night to call a friend.

And perhaps that’s part of the benefit of adaptogens—whether or not you actually consume the herbs, just thinking about them makes you more aware of your stress in the first place, which I think is a baseline necessity for knowing how to manage it.

The drawbacks

“We aren’t clinicians,” says Esquivel of herself and the Wildcrafted team. “We can’t say [the products] won’t counteract with any medicine.” Indeed, studies have found some herbs can interfere with prescription medications, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before adding the herbs, roots and mushrooms to your diet.

The bottom line

Did I become more beautiful when taking the adaptogens? In my (sole, unsupported opinion), yes. Did the adaptogens absolutely cause these changes? That’s difficult—if not impossible—to say. There are so many factors that can contribute to your overall skin and hair health—diet, sleep, stress, hydration, etc.—that without a physician or scientific study, it’s hard to pinpoint which factors are influencing what. Even so, I have about 50 servings left in my jar of beauty powder, and I plan on taking them until it runs out. And when that happens, depending on how my skin and hair looks these next two months, I may go for the $35 refill. As for my stress levels, I now feel slightly better equipped to handle those—herbs or no herbs.