You feel tired, drink a cup of coffee, and a few hours later you feel even more tired than when you started. Sound familiar? Blame the caffeine. Coffee increases your stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) and can leave you with low blood sugar. That combination can have the opposite effect that you intended it to. The good news? Coffee isn’t the only way to boost energy. In fact, some energizing herbs can give you a more natural and sustainable boost, helping you cope with stress and feel better in the long run.
There are some super-star adaptogens and special herbs that can be helpful for improving your focus, performance, and stamina. In fact, they’ve been used for thousands of years to help the body stay balanced and resilient to stress. If you’re looking for an extra boost, have normal fatigue levels, and have been cleared by a doctor, these could be the natural energy solution you’re looking for.
According to Parsley Health Los Angeles physician Svetlana Stivi, MD , some fatigue during the day and the evening is normal. “A certain amount of natural fatigue is needed to regulate our sleep and wake cycle. When fatigue becomes a disabling part of life and prevents them from taking on the day and doing their normal tasks, then they should see a doctor,” Dr. Stivi says. She also adds that if a patient comes to her with a noticeable change in energy levels, and reports that no matter how much they sleep , they still feel tired all the time, then that often prompts her to dig deeper into what might be underlying unrelenting fatigue.
“Anywhere else in the world (but not in this country) there is something called siesta. Siesta means that there’s a natural rest or relaxation in the middle of the day,” says Dr. Stivi. Usually this involves a nap or some time to lay down and rest, but in the U.S., this just isn’t the norm. “There is a misperception that if somebody feels like they have to take a nap in the middle of the day, that there is something wrong with them.”
That said, while a dip in energy or focus in the middle of the day can be considered normal, it’s not always the case and is unique for everyone. If you find yourself with fatigue that’s preventing you from doing your normal activities, or notice that your energy levels are noticeably lower than before, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and get cleared of any underlying issues. If you’re cleared by your doctor and want to try natural ways to support your energy levels and stamina, keep reading to learn about natural herbs for energy.
The energy-boosting benefits of maca are mainly attributed to its high nutrient density and ability to help you adapt to various environmental stressors. Studies have shown evidence that it can help improve endurance , mood, and help improve libido . This energizing herb’s natural properties make it a common supplement for athletes looking for a temporary boost in performance. One promising study found that maca supplementation improved cyclists’ performance compared to their baseline time, but more research among larger samples is needed to draw more concrete conclusions. “Maca seems to be very good at helping with energy levels and libido,” says Dr. Stivi. One thing to keep in mind with maca (and most other adaptogens) is that it’s not for long term use. According to Dr. Stivi, it’s safe to use up to 3 grams a day for 3 months.
“I have not seen side-effects or adverse reactions with it, making it a safe herb,” she explains. However, if you have a thyroid disorder , you should be cautious with maca and consult your doctor since it contains goitrogens , which can affect iodine levels if consumed raw (for that reason, it’s best to opt for gelatinized maca over raw maca). And although Maca can be helpful for stress and fatigue, if you have depression, anxiety , or another type of psychiatric disorder you will want to make sure your doctor says it’s ok to use maca before you try it.
Holy basil (also known as tulsi) is another one of the herbs for energy that we recommend given its ability to increase endurance and help your mind and body cope with stress . It’s used in a variety of forms, from tea to extracts, and it’s often added in supplements for stress and anxiety thanks to its adaptogenic properties that promote mental balance and help your body recover from stress. It’s been shown to protect your body from environmental stressors like pollutants and heavy metals, as well as physical stressors like prolonged exertion. Research has shown that 500mg of holy basil extract reduced anxiety, depression, and stress in subjects by normalizing blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and lipid levels, and introducing positive cognitive functioning.
Holy basil is also known for having anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities, which is great news for your immune system and overall health. A 2017 review of 24 clinical studies of holy basil found that several of the studies reinforced its effectiveness in promoting immunity and fighting infection. For that reason, in addition to its contribution to keeping your body strong, healthy, and energized, holy basil is commonly used as a natural way to heal wounds and infections. Overall, it is a generally safe herb to use, but you should always check with your doctor before implementing it into your routine.
Ginseng has been used for centuries and has a variety of benefits for improving energy and mental focus. There are actually a few different types of ginseng, but the most common are American ginseng and Asian ginseng (or panax ginseng). These two forms of ginseng also have distinctly different benefits, with the American ginseng being the most stimulating. “American ginseng enhances the adrenal glands , so it’s kind of like an adrenal adaptogen,” explains Dr Stivi. “It improves resilience, increases resistance to environmental stress, and it’s a good stimulant. It can also help with concentration, mental fatigue, and slows down the effects of aging,” she notes. Studies suggest that this effect may be due to a few of ginseng’s components, namely polysaccharides and oligopeptides , that are known to increase energy production in the cells.
Although ginseng is a great herb for energy, and Dr. Stivi recommends taking ginseng for up to four months, it’s not meant for long-term use. While ginseng is relatively safe, it can worsen insomnia due to its stimulating effects. It is also not recommended for use with certain drugs and health issues that are affected by estrogen, since ginseng has compounds with estrogenic properties.
Even though it’s one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs for energy in the wellness space at the moment, ashwagandha has been used for around 3,000 years as a medicinal herb. In addition to its energy enhancing effects, it can also help keep cortisol levels in check and reduce inflammation , among other benefits. Ashwagandha has also been found to increase muscle mass and strength in some individuals, particularly in those already on resistance training programs, contributing to an energy boost you may get from this herb.
“Ashwagandha increases resilience to physical and mental stress, which means you’re less likely to break down under stress,” explains Dr. Stivi. Research suggests that it works by regulating the chemical signaling within your nervous system, cutting off the pathway that recognizes stress and reducing your body’s perception of fatigue. This is helpful because you can be physically tired (say, from a tough workout) but the adaptogen reduces how you experience fatigue, making you feel less tired. However, it can interact with some medications and conditions, so (as with all supplements ) consult your doctor or health coach before proceeding to take it.
Rhodiola is a plant that’s root is helpful for boosting energy and relieving fatigue for a variety of reasons. It’s actually able to help calm your body’s stress response, so you don’t waste precious energy on stress or anxiety that may pop up throughout the day. Like other adaptogenic herbs for energy, it actually decreases cortisol (the “stress hormone”) response which can be helpful for people who are chronically stressed or have high cortisol levels throughout the day. In addition, it has been found to decrease both mental and physical fatigue , helping with things like physical performance, feelings of exhaustion, brain fog , and difficulty concentrating. However, it’s important to note that research on the effectiveness of rhodiola is still relatively new, and while predominantly promising, some contradictory evidence underlines the importance for more research to be conducted in order for broader conclusions to be drawn.
Another interesting recent study found rhodiola helpful for those experiencing burnout related symptoms, including emotional exhaustion, decreased performance in work or life tasks, mood disorders, and overall fatigue. According to Dr. Stivi, this could be due to one of the beneficial effects of rhodiola—it enhances alpha waves in your brain, making you feel calm and less stressed. It’s not an instant fix however and you should expect to take it for 2-3 months before seeing benefits, she says. Rhodiola is also particularly helpful for fatigue related to mild depression, says Dr. Stivi.
Schisandra (which is technically a berry) has energy-boosting and stress-fighting benefits thanks to a compound called lignans. Lignans are found in a variety of plants and have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties . In addition to the health benefits you get from lignans, schisandra is also a known adaptogen and can help improve stress resilience, energy levels, and concentration. Several studies show it may be helpful for brain health, particularly in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease through its ability to block the build-up of amyloid plaque, a substance commonly found in those with Alzheimer’s, but also in improving overall cognitive function and speed of thinking . So if you’re looking for a mental boost from your energizing herb, schisandra is a great place to start.
While schisandra is a great herb for energy, it has a lot of potential drug interactions, so if you are taking medications you’ll want to consult your doctor first, says Dr. Stivi.
Cordyceps fall under the family of adaptogenic herbs for energy that have served as remedies for thousands of years. Cordyceps is unique in that it is a fungus that grows on caterpillars (although it is also grown synthetically). That may sound a bit gross, but it has impressive benefits for boosting energy and reducing fatigue that may outweigh the ew-factor. According to Dr. Stivi, it boosts energy on a cellular level through adenosine triphosphate or ATP—the molecule that carries energy from your broken-down food to your cells. ATP is important for helping your physical energy and endurance, and cordyceps essentially increase your body’s production of ATP, allowing energy to be delivered to your cells faster.
Cordyceps benefits also include boosting immunity through its antioxidant properties, decreasing bad cholesterol by regulating lipid levels, and fighting inflammation , among others. Dr. Stivi notes that it is pretty safe, with little known adverse reactions or side effects but it can interact with immunosuppressant medications.
Shilajit is a substance that grows on rocks and forms from slow plant decomposition, but as a supplement, it’s commonly used to boost energy and restore vitality. It’s very rich in minerals and nutrients, which is part of the reason why it’s considered such a great supplement for overall health and boosting energy . “It’s almost like a brewery of this very rich, nutrient-dense food,” says Dr. Stivi. “The main ingredient is fulvic acid, which is a very strong antioxidant. It enhances physical performance and relieves fatigue,” she explains.
Shilajit is specifically known to relieve chronic fatigue syndrome, which typically results in extreme tiredness and fatigue. Researchers believe that shilajit helps prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, a probable underlying cause of chronic fatigue. Other potential benefits of this energizing herb include promoting heart health and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease . Dr. Stivi says it’s typically safe to use in 500mg daily doses for about 8 weeks.
For dosing that’s personalized to you and ongoing monitoring of your energy levels and other symptoms, consider working with a doctor trained in holistic medicine, like those at Parsley Health .
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She is passionate about translating expert and science-based wellness advice into accessible and engaging content. Her work is featured on Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading, trying out new recipes, and going to new workout classes all over New York City.