It's easy to be swept up in a full calendar of activities and to-dos, especially this summer after being apart for so long. As we collectively begin coming into community, each in our own way, we will need our plant allies to help mitigate the stresses that this season brings.
Not to worry, one of our favorite forest friends is here to help us keep our cool: the adaptogenic herb eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
Eleuthero, a perennial member of the Araliacea family, grows in the Russian taiga (forest) and the northern regions of China, Japan and Korea. In its deciduous habitat, it is an understory woody shrub whose roots are unbroken. They connect vast distances, and the shrub can grow up to 20 feet high!
Along its mostly unbranched stems you will find downward facing spikes or thorns on the younger stems, while older stems mature into smoothness. The leaves are palmately compound with five elliptical leaflets and a serrated margin. They are often attached to the stem by reddish petioles. Flowers are small, multiple, and umbelliferous, and they can be female, male, or bisexual. Fruit is a drupe with multiple kernels, appearing as black berries.
Other names: Pinyin: Ci Wu Jia, Ussurian Thorny Pepperbush (formerly Siberian Ginseng*)
Parts used: root (outer bark and rhizome)
Phytochemicals: eleutherosides, triterpenoid saponins, phytosterols, and polysaccharides
*In another WishGarden Herbs blog, we discussed eleuthero’s previous name (Acanthopanax senticosus, Siberian ginseng) and how ginseng is now reserved to the genus Panax.
New on the Scene: Adaptogens
We are all constantly in the throes of daily stressors and need help to find our balance. Adaptogenic herbs are superhero allies for our prevailing times. They are revered for their exceptional ability to strengthen our body’s capacity to adapt to a range of stressors. Specifically, adaptogens like eleuthero support our endocrine system by normalizing stress hormone levels, enhancing our energy and endurance, which leads to strength in both mind and physiological functioning. But where did the term “adaptogen” come from?
Near the beginning of the Cold War, in 1948, the term “adaptogen” was coined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Soviet scientist whose pursuit of the perfect performance tonic led him to eleuthero. Following this discovery, he and another Soviet researcher, Dr. Brekhman, ushered in thousands of clinical studies and trails on eleuthero and other herbal adaptogens.
By the Montréal Olympics in 1976, the majority of Russian Olympians were using eleuthero to increase stamina and endurance. It was also included in the space program for all Russian cosmonauts. Fast-forward to the 1990s, and Dr. Brekhman had formulated a blend of adaptogens that more than 150 American athletes used during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Whether you’re training for a marathon or simply attempting to handle a Monday morning at work, eleuthero has become one of our greatest allies for battling stress.
Plant Walk with Eleuthero
While I can’t walk each of you through the wilds of the tiaga, we can explore how eleuthero is being germinated by hand and heart in America with two herbal elders.
First, let’s take a trip down an ol’ dirt road to visit a beloved teacher and sacred steward of plants, Joe Hollis, who germinates and stewards eleuthero, along with approximately 500 spp. of other medicinal plants. It has been a labor of love in developing his Paradise Garden, (formerly called Mountain Gardens) in the Black Mountain woodlands of western North Carolina. In this short video, Joe will lead you on an herb walk to meet eleuthero.
Next, let’s travel north to the rocky coast of Maine to Avena Botanicals to meet beloved, joy-hearted herbalist, gardener, teacher, and author Deb Soule. Deb’s biodynamic agricultural and sacred connection to the vitality of plants has served her community for decades. In this short video, Deb highlights the essence and process of growing eleuthero on her land.
Fuel Up and Destress This Summer with Eleuthero
As we dive headlong into the busyness of summer, we reach for ways to beat the heat and relax. Luckily, eleuthero has your back — seriously. This powerful herb can help us ‘walk it off,’ as it enhances our exercise by supporting our heart rate and circulation. When we are feeling low on energy, eleuthero is a non-caffeinated option to help us reduce fatigue by acting as a deeply nourishing tonic for the kidneys and adrenals. It’s the friend who takes the volume set to 11 and brings it down to 5, so you can think clearly and make decisions again. Regardless of where your stress originates — emotional, environmental, physical, or a combination — seek eleuthero for adrenal rescue.
Eleuthero pairs well with many other plant allies, such as milky oats, tulsi, skullcap, motherwort, peppermint, borage, and nettles. You will also find it frequently paired with dandelion root and fungi kingdom friends for a coffee substitute.
A couple of my fave formulas here at WishGarden have eleuthero in the mix to keep me feeling clear and on the good foot. Genius Juice Refresh & Focus is my go-to energy boost after a long night spent dancing till sunrise. This blend helps me move past the 3 o’clock slump and has also been known to enhance breathing with ease at altitude, making it an ally for friends visiting Colorado from sea level.
If you feel like your adrenal tank is empty, our Deep Stress Adrenal Rescue formula is like receiving a nourishing and energizing hug from a dear friend. And not just any friend. The friend who gets you — truly gets you. The herbs in this blend support me to the core and make it easier to face the ebbs and flows of life with more grace. And that’s an excellent reason to partner with plants, wouldn’t you agree?
Dawn Amber Miller has apprenticed and studied across the United States of America and has received certificates in traditional and medical herbalism from the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism, the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, and the Hawthorn Institute. She is a passionate steward of the sacred realm of Nature and moves with the wildflowers, tending the rituals of wildcrafting by heart and hand. Currently she is a customer journey representative at WishGarden Herbs.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.
- Eleutherococcus senticosus. (2006). Alternative Medicine Review : A Journal Of Clinical Therapeutic, 11(2), 151-5.
- Bone K, Mills S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Elsevier health. China. (Pg. 818-825).
- World Health Organization. WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants, Vol. 2: Radix Eleutherococci. World Health Organization. 2002. Geneva, Switzerland.
- Skenderi G. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford, NJ: Herbacy Press; 2003.