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Phytotherapy: using plants to manage stress

Daily life is increasingly stressful. Medicinal or “adaptogenic” plants can be used to help the body adapt to stress and to protect us against its negative effects. One example is rhodiala. 

What is an adaptogenic plant?

Russian researcher Nicolaï Lazarev created the concept of “adaptogens” in 1947: 

“An adaptogen is a pharmacological substance capable of inducing in an organism a non-specific state of increased resistance enabling it to counteract stress signals and adapt to exceptional effort.”

In other words, an adaptogen helps the body to adapt to stress. 
Since then, three basic criteria have been added to the definition. A plant must have all three features to be qualified as adaptogenic:

  1. the capability to increase the body’s overall resistance in a non-specific way;
  2. a normalising action on  a physiological level which increases the body’s ability to adapt to stress;
  3. non-toxic.

Rhodiola: an anxiolytic and antidepressant adaptogenic plant

Rhodiola is also known as “arctic root” or “golden root”. Its scientific name is Rhodiola rosea. When freshly cut, the roots have a subtle rose perfume.

It grows in altitudes of up to 4,000 in cold, mountainous regions of Asia, Siberia, Scandinavia and North America. As it grows, rhodiola becomes increasingly resistant to difficult conditions such as climate and weeds.

Anxiolytic and antidepressant1,2,3,4 :


  • Maintains cortisol at physiological values
  • Stops the destruction of serotonin and dopamine: hormones for motivation and well-being

Rhodiola is particularly recommended for: 

  • adaptation disorders combined with anxiety;
  • mild to moderate depression.

Other non-adaptogenic plants can be used as mood stabilisers to combat low spirits and/or low spirits due to stress. This is the case for both saffron and guarana.

Saffron: for mild to moderate depression

Saffron is an oriental plant from which the stigma, part of the pistil, is extracted. It has been used for medical purposes for thousands of years, but also to season food, to make dye and as perfume. 


  • Treating mild to moderate depression5
  • Neuroprotection: cognitive decline, for example in patients at risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Saffron is particularly recommended for:

  • mild to moderate depression;
  • cognitive disorders in older adults.

Guarana: to enhance physical and intellectual performance

The name of the plant comes from the Guarani, an American Indian tribe which consumed guarana when food was scarce to alleviate feelings of tiredness and hunger. The positive effects are due to the high content of caffeine, which is twice the content in coffee. 

Guarana comes from Brazil and the area surrounding the Amazon. The active ingredients are found in the seeds.

  • Physical stimulant 6,7
  • Intellectual stimulant 6,7

Guarana is particularly recommended for: 

  • improving physical and intellectual performance;
  • stimulating the memory.
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