We’ve written before about the growing trend towards all things plant-based. From the explosion of interest in vegan cuisine to the rising number of us seeking out clean beauty products, it would seem that natural botanical ingredients are here to stay. And we couldn’t be more pleased about it!
As part of this clean living movement, we’ve seen a number of super-ingredients take centre stage, many of them after millennia of being used in traditional medicines in India and the Far East. So today, we’re exploring four of our favourite powerful plant-based super-ingredients, looking at what these superfoods are, what they’re good for and how to incorporate them into your own wellness routine. (And before we kick off, wondering what a superfood is? Here’s everything you need to know about superfoods.)
1. Reishi mushrooms
What are reishi mushrooms?
Known as the “mushroom of immortality” and found growing at the bottom of deciduous trees, the rare reishi ‘supermushroom’ has been on the traditional medicine scene for at least two millennia. Because they’re hard to find in the wild, products you’ll find on the market are usually made from mushrooms grown commercially. They’re known for their distinctive bitter, woody taste.
What do reishi mushrooms help with?
‘Ganoderma lucidum’, to give these powerful mushrooms their scientific name, is popular in Eastern medicine and is thought to boost the immune system, as well as helping to alleviate the symptoms of numerous conditions. It’s even claimed that they can help fight off cancer, though there isn’t scientific evidence to back this up.
Traditionally used to keep illness at bay, reishi mushrooms are believed to do a lot more than just boosting the immune system. Enthusiasts claim these supermushrooms can lower blood pressure, strengthen the heart, protect the brain from symptoms of ageing, increase athletic stamina and enhance cognitive function, mental clarity and mood.
How do reishi mushrooms work?
One study notes reishi’s “amazing health benefits” and attributes them to a huge number of active constituents found in them, including polysaccharides, peptides, and triterpenoids. As an adaptogen, it’s also useful for helping your body to combat the harm caused by mental and physical stress. As stress has a profound effect on your physical health, as well as causing premature skin ageing, using an adaptogen can help restore your overall mental and physical wellbeing and fight the signs of ageing.
When it comes to boosting your immune system, research shows that certain molecules found in reishi mushrooms have an effect on white blood cells, which are vital to your immune system. Several studies of cancer patients have found that reishi seems to increase the activity of white blood cells called natural killer cells, which roam the body fighting infections and cancer. However, as with other super-ingredients and superfoods, more research is needed to establish the full range of benefits of the mushrooms, as well as to understand more about how they work and any potential side effects.
How to get started with reishi mushrooms
You can eat reishi in food, but it doesn’t have the best taste (as we mentioned earlier, it’s bitter and woody). For that reason, you may prefer to take it in the form of a capsule supplement, or in tea, protein powder or a tincture. It’s also an increasingly popular ingredient in skincare, so look out for beauty products containing it.
It’s important to speak to a doctor before taking reishi mushrooms, particularly if you’re on any medication. Because the mushrooms naturally lower your blood pressure, you should avoid them if you have low blood pressure or if you’re taking any blood-thinning medication.
What is ashwagandha?
If you find the word ‘ashwagandha’ difficult to get your head around, you might prefer its alternative name: Indian ginseng. This ancient medicinal herb is sometimes called the ‘King of Ayurvedic herbs’ in reference to its place in traditional Indian medicine. Products containing ashwagandha most commonly use the root of the plant, which is ground into a powder.
What does ashwagandha help with?
Although more research is needed to establish its effects, ashwagandha is a powerful ingredient that many people rely on for its de-stressing, ‘antidepressant’ properties. Because it helps reduce stress, it also helps combat the harmful effects of stress on your body - such as fatigue, inflammation, irritability and weight gain - helping you restore balance and harmony to your day-to-day life and enhancing mental clarity. Not only that, but this powerful root is taken by many to help with issues as wide-ranging as insomnia and fatigue, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and a huge number of other diseases and complaints.
How does ashwagandha work?
Studies suggest that, like reishi mushrooms, ashwagandha is an adaptogen, helping you cope with stress by acting on the endocrine and central nervous systems. It seems to be capable of lowering cortisol levels, producing a significant anti-anxiety effect and resulting in a more stable mood with none of the side effects associated with traditional antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs.
How to get started with ashwagandha
As mentioned, the most commonly used ashwagandha products are derived from the plant’s root, which produces a powder that can be added to smoothies, drinks, porridge and other favourite foods. You can also get it in capsule form for taking as a supplement.
If you’re keen to try it then it’s worth booking an appointment with an Ayurvedic doctor, who’ll be able to advise on whether it’s right for you and what dosage to try. Typically, for use as an antidepressant a suggested dose is 250 to 500mg everyday for a least a month. There isn’t enough research to rule out side effects, but what we know so far suggests that it’s safe to use. According to WebMD, large doses of ashwagandha may cause stomach upsets.
What is CBD?
We’ve sworn by it ourselves for years, so we speak from experience when we say that there isn’t much CBD can’t do. Short for ‘cannabidiol’, CBD is a compound extracted from the cannabis plant - but don’t worry, it doesn’t have the same mind-altering effect that you’d get from smoking or eating cannabis. That’s because the psychoactive effects of cannabis come from a different cannabis compound, THC, which is also the component responsible for getting you addicted. CBD has none of these effects, so it won’t get you high or hooked.
What does CBD help with?
According to its huge number of fans, and to a growing body of scientific research, what CBD does do is help alleviate a range of physical and mental symptoms. In these anxiety-ridden times, it’s proving particularly popular for helping deal with the stress of everyday life, not only calming the mind and restoring mental clarity, but enabling a better night’s sleep that has you waking up feeling rested and restored.
But many people also swear by CBD to help find relief from the symptoms of physical problems. Many of us turn to CBD seeking natural pain relief for everything from period pain to chronic pain, while many women are incorporating CBD creams into their skincare routines to help fight acne and achieve flawless skin. There’s even a place for CBD in the bedroom, helping you achieve greater intimacy with your partner by setting the scene for stress-free seduction.
How does CBD work?
CBD achieves its seemingly miraculous effects because the human body has a built-in mechanism for responding to cannabinoids. Your body’s natural endocannabinoid system keeps numerous bodily systems in check, such as your appetite and temperature. It’s made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are designed to interact with natural endocannabinoids in your body. These also engage with CBD when you take it, so your body is already pre-programmed to receive its numerous benefits.
It’s also worth noting that CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which is why it’s so effective at helping problems caused by inflammation, such as spots and psoriasis. This makes it a powerful ally in your skincare ritual, which we’ve talked about more in our article on CBD for skincare.
How to get started with CBD
From a practical point of view, one of the benefits of CBD is that you can take it in a range of different formats, from vaping it to more discreet methods such as putting drops under your tongue or putting it into your favourite drink. It’s also available in a huge range of products that you can eat, vape, smoke, put in your bath, apply to your skin and a whole lot more, so it’s easy for beginners to get in on the act. Each different method has its own pros and cons - some take longer to take effect than others, for example - so it’s about experimenting and finding what works best for you.
There are no set rules as far as CBD dosage is concerned, as there are lots of factors at play, meaning everyone responds differently to it. The best approach is to read the packaging carefully and start on the minimum dose, gradually increasing the amount and recording the results until you find your personal ‘sweet spot’.
What is turmeric?
If you thought turmeric was just that bright yellow spice you add to curries, you might be surprised to learn that it’s a superfood in its own right. That’s reflected in the fact that the turmeric latte is increasingly a sight you’ll see in your average high street coffee shop. Healthline says, it “may be the most effective nutritional supplement in existence”, and there’s a growing amount of scientific research to back up what’s long been known in Indian medicine: that it has a raft of medicinal benefits. It comes from the root of the turmeric plant, which is related to ginger.
What does turmeric help with?
Like ashwagandha, turmeric has long been an important ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s traditionally used for all sorts of problems, from fatigue to rheumatism to breathing difficulties. These days, it’s a common supplement to support healthy digestion, reduce inflammation and help alleviate the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, such as arthritis, hay fever, high cholesterol and depression. It’s possible that it helps with many more conditions, but there’s not yet enough scientific evidence to back this up.
How does turmeric work?
Turmeric’s main ‘active ingredient’ is curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. However, it’s not present in significant quantities in turmeric (it only makes up about 3%), and while there aren’t many scientific studies to back up its anti-inflammatory abilities, what we do know from research so far is that studies into specific uses - outlined here - have found that it’s has helped control heart attacks in bypass patients, dealt as effectively with osteoarthritic knee pain as ibuprofen, and reduced skin irritation in breast cancer radiation therapy patients.
How to get started with turmeric
Because its main active ingredient - curcumin - is only found in very small quantities, you won’t get the full benefit of turmeric just by eating the spice in your curry or by sipping a turmeric latte. Instead, it’s best to choose a proper supplement, which will have higher levels of curcumin. You can enjoy its benefits in a range of formats, such as in tablets and capsules, tea, and mixed into balms.
Interestingly, curcumin doesn’t naturally absorb well into your bloodstream, but a study has shown that taking it with piperine - found in black pepper - can increase its absorption by 2,000%. That’s why you’ll find that the best supplements also contain this ingredient. Another option is to try something that combines more than one super-ingredient, like this turmeric CBD oil or this turmeric CBD salve.
Have you tried any of the plant-based super-ingredients we’ve discussed in today’s post? Or perhaps you’re a fan of some other natural superfoods we haven’t covered? Which is your favourite, and how has it helped you? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!
The Chillery and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. The information and products presented on this site are not intended for medical use nor do they make any medical claims. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program.