Expert’s Guide to Adaptogens: Everything to Know About the Wellness “Cure-All” From Sun Potion’s Nitsa Citrine

A handy pocket guide to the wellness buzzword.

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Mcginley Ryan

At this point, the word adaptogen is so ubiquitous within the health and wellness space that a definition rarely follows. Its many purported benefits have been roundly touted, from skin-clearing abilities to restorative metabolic powers. In other words, it’s seen as a healing cure-all from the inside out. For the unacquainted, it can seem like the word adaptogen sprouted up out of nowhere, but in fact it’s been around as long as ancient Chinese medicine. For wellness guru Nitsa Citrine, who’s the creative director of the cult favorite Santa Barbara holistic herb brand Sun Potion, adaptogens have been a part of her life since her New Agey parents would use them to treat her ailments as a child.

“My father is an acupuncturist and my mom was a huge healing-through-food advocate, so I was raised with a lot of these herbs,” she says on the phone from her sunny abode in the Santa Monica mountains above Malibu. The setting frequently appears on Sun Potion’s Instagram, an account that makes it seem easy to live your best Neo-Californian, vibes-driven life. “Every time I came down with the flu as a kid, he’d give me this concoction of herbs. They were used as a form of preventative healthcare.” Later in life she turned to the same elixirs to combat anxiety and panic attacks on a trip to Asia. “I took Reishi mushrooms for my overall immunity and mental calm, and then chlorella for nutrients and chlorophyll that I could munch on,” she recalls. “I felt so great, and my anxiety was stabilized.”

Eventually, Citrine’s interest in adaptogens led her to Scott Linde, the founder of Sun Potion. “We’d geek out over all the herbs together,” she says of those early days at Sun Potion. Linde started it in 2011, but it wasn’t until Citrine came onboard that the brand began appearing in health food stores and eventually evolved into its Instagram aesthetic with a following of nearly 20,000. “We bonded over the foods and ended up falling in love,” Linde says.

Here’s her guide to falling in love with adaptogens.

Courtesy of Nitsa Citrine

So, what is an adaptogen?

A tonic herb or medicinal plant that works to bring the body into a state of balance and help it adapt to internal or environmental stressors.

What is a good age to start using adaptogens?

It really depends on the individual because everyone is going to have their own response. If someone is curious, that’s the right time to start. As far as introducing children, it depends on the discernment of the parents. The parents should take a small amount and notice the effects. If you’re working with health challenges or medical conditions, we encourage everyone to talk to their health provider first. A lot of them are really gentle so I do feel it’s safe for children.

What are the main ones?

We have over two dozen in our line. Because I travel a lot, the Reishi mushroom is great for calming the mind or immunity. I take a jar whenever I travel and put it in my tea on the plane. I very rarely get sick when I remember to take it. That’s in my purse at all times. Another go-to is Ho Shu Wu, which is fantastic as a regulative herb. It’s great for nourishing the kidneys and hair and nails. It’s wonderful for men and women. Our Ashwagandha is a cornerstone. It’s great for balancing hormones and amazing for immunity and stress relief. I feel like every herb serves a purpose. We launched a Yin powder blend, which is my favorite that I take on a daily basis. It has the Ho Shu Wu and Reishi and Ashwagandha. If I had to take one thing I would take that blend because it covers all of the bases.

Photo courtesy of Nitsa Citrine

If someone is building a starter pantry, what should they include?

Reishi, Ho Shu Wu, Ashwagandha, and Yin Powder, which is formulated to nourish feminine energy but it works for men as well because it provides a sense of calm and balances hormones. Another favorite of mine is Pine Pollen because it’s an aphrodisiac and a brain food. I make a mezcal margarita with Pine Pollen that has been really popular at parties. It’s an energizing, heart-opening mood-elevator. People can get a little wild though— it’s definitely an aphrodisiac. [Laughs.] If you’re taking more than one herb, it’s better to take smaller doses of each. Adaptogens are more effective when you take less consistently than overwhelming your system by taking large doses.

Are adaptogens better consumed in food dishes?

I think there’s a time and place for capsules, but in powder forms you can blend adaptogens into smoothies and elixirs and the body recognizes it as food so it’s more easily absorbed. When you taste it, that begins the digestive process.

How much heavy lifting can an adaptogen do without formulating the rest of your lifestyle around healthy choices?

I think every little bit helps. I tend to eat really, really healthy. I’m not the most normal person as an example. [Laughs.] But Scott comes from a standard American diet. We have people who eat meat and potatoes but they’re putting a little bit of Reishi in their coffee every morning, and it turns out that they do feel a difference and feel better. Of course, you can go extreme in one direction and the plants work to bring you into a state of balance. But adaptogens are really inclusive—they work with every diet.

Photo courtesy of Nitsa Citrine

What is an average day of meals for you?

I like to do a tea ceremony first thing in the morning with Living Tea. Throughout the week, I’m constantly making nut milk or seed milk. I make a big batch and then use it as a base to create blended potions. I created this hashtag called #APotionADay and I use it to chronicle all the potions I make. I’ll blend up whatever herbs I gravitate towards that day. If it’s cold out, I make a warm potion. If it’s hot, I throw in roots or berries and make it into a shake. That usually carries me over into the afternoon. On a workday, I’ll have a lighter lunch like a light salad or nori avocado wrap and munch on seeds. Dinner tends to be my main food event, which will be tons of veggies. Sometimes I make a sprouted grain dish or local sustainable seafood. Generally, I’ll always be munching on raw chocolates and little treats throughout the day. I have a raw chocolate addiction.

How much time a day do you spend on your food and elixir preparation?

I could easily spend four or five hours on making recipes or potions as part of my job. For myself, I probably spend at least two hours. It really depends on who I’m feeding. Some things can be really quick. I feel very grateful to have nourishment be a part of my work.

What health concerns can adaptogens help with?

Skin health—whether it’s inflammation or breakouts or wanting to improve elasticity—as well as detox, weight balancing, hormone and thyroid balancing, and stress. Scott likes to say, “The herbs are an easy way to feel better.”

Photo courtesy of Nitsa Citrine

When does Western medicine come into play with adaptogens?

My hope is that everyone can work with amazing doctors when they need to, because I think Western medicine is great and there’s a time and place for it. Herbs are great but you need to make sure that it’s not in conflict with any medicines you’re on. I think adaptogens and Western medicine can work together synergistically. Adaptogens create a platform for preventative medicine. Most of us are exposed to toxicity left and right in this modern world, so it’s important to take the herbs when you are healthy. Adaptogens can be supportive in the healing process as well, which Elissa Goodman talks about in the book Cancer Hacks. Again, you have to consult your healthcare provider first.

Photo courtesy of Nitsa Citrine

Eastern medicine has been at the forefront of health trends that are often packaged as “new” for quite some time now. What do you think has been the catalyst for it?

There’s so much polarity in the world right now—medically, socially, and environmentally it’s an intense time on the planet. With the spread of information facilitated through the internet, people are able to educate themselves so much better. So it’s a matter of more people talking about herbs and supported by this world wide web of information, which has brought the dialogue more into the mainstream. I think there’s a genuine curiosity in people. There is also a trendiness factor right now that I have to acknowledge, but I hope it’s here for a long time. It’s been so fascinating to see all of the health trends that have emerged. People are so creative now with their approach to food.

The explosion of health and wellness has dovetailed with the rise of Instagram. Do you think there’s a correlation?

Yes, because Instagram has created this platform where people from all over the world can share their experiences, recipes, and engage with each other. It has this visual but emotional component, which really engages people. There’s an authenticity to Instagram that I think is really hopeful. That sharing of ideas has been a major part of the wellness expansion. I’m curious to see where it all leads.