How Tulsi and Astragalus Beat the Stress-Sleep-Immune Trifecta
Tell me if this sounds familiar: After a stressful day at work, you power down your laptop as you anticipate catching up on some much-needed rest tonight (you really don’t want to catch that nasty bug that’s going around the office).
After a calming wind-down routine, you slip between the sheets and flip off the light.
“This is it!” you think. “Sweet, blissful sleep is just seconds away!”
But then it starts…
“Wait, when was that big report due?”
“Did I pay that bill on time?”
“I can’t believe I said that embarrassing thing 10 years ago!”
Suddenly, you’re in a downward spiral of stressful thoughts...and before you know it, the sun is rising and it’s time to go to work.
And then, like fate, it happens: You sniffle a bit...and then you sneeze.
If this scenario hits a little too close to home, you’re not alone. More and more, we see study after study drawing a correlation between restful sleep, stress, and immune function[*][*]. But if you’re one of the thousands out there struggling with sleeplessness and stress, you don’t need a study to tell you what you already know.
But loss of sleep isn’t just anxiety-inducing, it can affect your entire system, including immune function.
So, what can be done, naturally?
I personally believe that instead of turning to OTC medications to relieve occasional stress and sleeplessness, one should try using natural ingredients that have been trusted in herbal medicine for thousands of years to assist the body in adapting to these difficult situations.
Ingredients like adaptogens.
While you can’t really go wrong with any of the top 10 adaptogens, like reishi, rhodiola, and schisandra, today I want to highlight two amazing and under-valued adaptogens for the stress-immune connection: tulsi and astragalus.
The Stress-Fighting Power of Tulsi
Used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, tulsi has a history that dates back at least 3,000 years. You probably have heard it called by one of its common names: holy basil (yes, it’s related to the basil we all love on our pizzas).
- Help with coughs and colds
- Support digestion
- Increase energy[*]
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum) helps the body defend against – and adapt to – a variety of stressors, including chemical, biological, environmental, and physical.
But what makes tulsi so unique is that it seems to be especially effective in helping the body defend against everyday occasional stress:
“Tulsi has been found to protect … against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion … and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function...”[*]
The Immune Power of Astragalus
Where tulsi shines in its ability to support occasional stress, astragalus is a stand-out immune function supporter.
Celebrated in traditional Chinese medicine for its use to tonify the spleen and balance chi (the force which gives you life), astragalus is one of the oldest-known tonic herbs. It even received a mention in “The Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica,” which was written anonymously during the first century.
While the root (called huang qi) is very popular in China, it’s hardly known in North America.
Astragalus contains many beneficial compounds to make it an impressive adaptogen. These include polysaccharides, isoflavonoids, phytosterols, and triterpene saponins (astragolosides), which could have a positive effect in supporting immune and cardiovascular functions. It also has antioxidant properties[*] and may be anti-inflammatory[*].
In vivo studies have shown that the polysaccharides in astragalus support all kinds of immune cells during an immune response[*][*]. Natural killer cells and T cells can use all the help they can get, and astragalus is there for them! So far, there has only been one double-blind pilot study on humans that supported its immune system fighter status, but the results were very promising[*].
It may seem foreign to us in the United States, but in China, injections of astragalus (Astragaloside IV) are given to patients with chronic heart failure[*].
Safe for long-term use and good year-round, astragalus is especially helpful during times of sleeplessness due to stress and during colder months, when immune function tends to be low and office bugs are abundant.
Fun fact: Shockingly, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) belongs to the legume family (that’s right, the same family as lentils, peanuts, and chickpeas).
How to Eat Tulsi and Astragalus
Separately, tulsi and astragalus are superstar herbs...but together they’re a dream team, supporting the body in defending against the sleep-stress-immune trifecta.
Fresh tulsi has a peppery, slightly astringent flavor. When dried it tastes a bit bitter. Astragalus root, on the other hand, has a sweet taste. Try mixing up a tea of dried tulsi and astragalus, or tulsi extract and astragalus extract, to kick back and relax with.
Or make things super easy on yourself and start your day with an adaptogenic matcha: Mix 1 teaspoon of Mushroom Matcha with Lion’s Mane, which has 350mg of organic astragalus, with 1 teaspoon Adaptogen Blend, which has 200mg tulsi leaf extract, in hot water.
Of course, if you have a health condition or are pregnant or nursing, talk to your healthcare practitioner first before adding tulsi or astragalus to your daily routine.
Ready to learn more about my other 8 favorite adaptogens? Start here.