WHO would they be, if they were WHOs?

(A lighthearted look into a few herbs classed as Adaptogens – supporting us through stress)

Korean Red Ginseng – Your friend in fun

It’s Friday night, you’re feeling exhausted from a hard week and you’re sitting in your pyjamas watching a movie and eating ice cream. Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door and your friend KR breezes in. He sees you on the couch all cozy in your jamjams and says, “What are you doing? Is this how you want to spend your life?” And as soon as he says it you realize the answer is “no, you’re right, I do want to do more with my life.” And before you even say it out loud he’s stuffing swimsuits into your carry-on you realize you didn’t even know you had it in you until KR showed up.

But KR is a tricky friend, he has a lot of energy. Although you love being around him because it’s so exciting, you’ve learned from your last weekend adventure together, which was great, no regrets, that although he wakes up Monday morning and happily goes to his job as an adventure tour leader, you were left feeling happy but exhausted and had to call in a personal day.

He feels good to be around, but too much will wear you out.

Rhodiola rosea – The Mountaineer

You’ve never done an eight-day trek through the mountains before, but it’s been on your life’s list as long as you remember. Now is the time, you’ve decided to go for it. You’ve got your gear packed, broken in your new pair of boots with some warm-up hikes and you’re feeling ready. Fresh mountain air and freedom beckon your soul.

Day one is mostly up, a little steeper than you expected, but you make it, eat some soup over a camp stove then collapse into your tent. It will take a few days to get used to sleeping on a thin foam pad on the ground. Day two, more up, possibly even steeper and you can’t be certain but it sure feels like the air is getting thinner. A few extra rest stops and you’re eating more powerbars than you’d rationed for this early in the trip. You make a quick dinner of dehydrated peas and once again collapse.

It’s well past dawn as you’re rolling up your sleeping bag on morning three. The trail seems to lead in only one direction, up, and you can’t fathom where the top might be. The fresh mountain air is invigorating, but your soul seems to be still curled up in bed.

Around the first bend is a hut, nothing much but it looks durable. The smell of a better breakfast than you’ve got planned wafts from a pot through the window. You slow. A woman peers through the window and smiles. She comes out to greet you, looks you up and down, and says, “I’m Rose, have you got time for breakfast?”

It’s like your pack takes itself off and you sit down on a log in the open summer morning. Rose goes into her hut and comes back with a steaming bowl of hearty soup, roots she’s gathered herself in the mountains and tasty chunks of what are probably wild animals you decide not to ask about. You notice a floral and astringent undertone.

Before you finish your first bowl, Rose has brought you a second, “You can do this,” she says, “One foot in front of the other and keep breathing, that’s all you need to do.” You’re feeling strengthened, invigorated, and capable. You feel your capacity to handle what’s ahead increase. “I can do this,” you repeat, believing it. “Thank-you for the soup.” Rose nods and smiles. She brings out a small pouch of pink roots and hands it to you, “Mix a little of this into your food while you’re on the trail, it will keep you going for the rest of your hike.”

Withania somnifera

“I don’t know how you do it, Ash, you always seem so balanced.”

“The great ways are simple, but difficult to follow. The truth is often bland.” Ash says, revealing nothing, he gazes wistfully into the distance like he’s some kind of yogic sage.

“But seriously,” you ask, “What’s it like being you?”

Ash sighs and comes down from his position of floating a few feet off the ground. He puts a hand on your shoulder and smiles.

“Actually, it really isn’t complicated. Being me is like how you feel when you eat breakfast every day. Being me is like how you feel when you go to bed at 10 every night and sleep well because your mind and heart are clear. It’s like when you exercise at least a little bit every day and intensely a few times a week. And it’s like when you learn to meditate. And when you know how to laugh. Being me is like having something in your life you care about. And have people in your life you like spending time with. Drink enough water and eat well. Rest when it’s time to rest and work hard when you’re not resting. Don’t fill your mind with entertainments or idle gossip and chatter. Love someone. Make what you do each day meaningful; you traded one day of your life for it. Everything matters, everything counts.

“So you’re saying that if I take this herb everyday I can feel like that and not have to do all that work you’re talking about.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Except not at all.” Ash smiles, closes his eyes, and levitates once more, this time even higher, “There are no shortcuts, friend, only the work and its outcomes. You must build the things you want.”

Rehmannia – Rehmommia

“Why don’t you just stay in tonight, sweetie, I’m baking us some banana bread.”

“Mom, I don’t want to, I’ve got so much to do and I can’t slow down to eat sweets!”

Rehmommia frowns and makes a disapproving mmmnnn noise.

“Where’s all this running around getting you though, hmmm? I can see by those dark circles under your eyes that you need a break. And you’re not sleeping at night and you’re sweating all the time. Let’s watch a movie instead, maybe a romcom, don’t think about anything for awhile and let yourself laugh and cry. It’s good for your heart.”

“I don’t know,” you say, considering it. A rest does sound good, but, “I’m supposed to meet KR and Ephie at six and we’re going to drink a bunch of espressos and plan out our new start-up and then later we’re meeting Coca and Caff and we’re going to stay up all night dancing before going back for more espressos and planning.

“Is this really how you want to live?” Rehmommia asks.

“Yeah, big time. Doesn’t everybody?”

Rehmommia frowns and makes that noise again as she takes the banana bread out of the oven. You can’t help smell the sweetness, it calls you like a warm hug you know you need. Your mouth waters and so do your eyes, it would be so nourishing to give in, maybe you could take just one night off…

“No promises,” you say, sitting down at the counter, “but cut me a slice.” Resting feels good and you realize for the first time in a week you’re truly hungry. “And maybe I could use a bowl of soup, too?”

“I’ll make us some,” smiles Rehmommia, “Bone broth,” she says. “It will take a while. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable. Take off those tight jeans and sink into some sweatpants while we wait. And tell me about your day.”