Herb Profile: Codonopsis
Let’s talk about energy. Not the “woo woo” kind of energy, but the kind that helps you get sh*t done type of energy. A good handful of us have discovered Rasa Koffee as a means to wean from coffee or kick a caffeine habit to the curb. But if there is no caffeine in Rasa at all...how does it actually energize us?
Cue codonopsis (and eleuthero, and rhodiola, and ashwagandha, and he shou wu...but right now we are focusing on codonopsis since that's the title of this blog post ;). This powerful root helps restore our body’s natural energy reserve both short and long-term. In addition to helping build our blood, tonify our Qi (aka energy), strengthen our immune system, and promote digestion. Now that’s a LOT of action in one root! Thank goodness for adaptogens.
Nourishing & Energizing Adaptogen
It’s not so common that you find the words “nourishing” and “energizing” used together. Typically “depleting,” “draining,” or “crashing” are used instead when it comes to all the energy-boosting things out there. Believe it or not: you actually can be nourished and energized at the same time, and even from the same herb. For some, this might sound too good to be true. But actually, this is a 100% natural phenomenon found in codonopsis.
When we feel super drained day in and day out, it’s likely that our nervous system has become thrown out of whack. After weeks or even years of chronic stress (which includes both the traumatic situations and the daily BS), there becomes less stimulation of our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and less inhibition of our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system (Kharrazian, 2013). And the more stressed we are, the more our adrenals are stimulated to send out hormonal mediators to balance things out. Think of these hormones as our stress-response “workhorses,” (Sapolsky, 1994).
One thing that codonopsis helps to do is slow these workhorses down big time. In science-speak this is called adrenal cortex activity inhibition (Hong, 2015). So when our workhorses aren’t primed to work overtime every day all day, we can finally start to feel like our stress levels are balancing out again. This means we can start responding to stress instead of reacting. Hence why we LOVE adaptogens like codonopsis which help our body effectively adapt to stressors around us.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), supplementation looks a bit different than other systems. Unlike modern Western methods which rely on capsules and pills to get those extra nutrients in, supplementation in TCM focuses on combining nourishing and tonifying herbs and foods together. The belief is that since food kickstarts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, this boosts the effect of tonic herbs. So drinking your Rasa with your morning breakfast is a great way to make the most of the herbs in your koffee!
Many of us are already familiar (or maybe too familiar) with gin & tonics. This popular cocktail used to be a favorite of Lopa's when she used to drink more, because of all the botanics in gin! It uses tonic water, which carries a distinctly bitter flavor (when undiluted with sweeteners) which then creates tonifying, or rejuvenating, properties in the body. Well, tonifying herbs like codonopsis can help boost vitality in the same ways without the side effects of real tonic water (and without the gin of course…). PLUS most herbs tonify with a focus. For instance, codonopsis specializes in tonifying the Qi and blood.
Herbal teas, including codonopsis, can be snuck into our cooking as well. In fact, for traditional Chinese families, it’s quite common to buy codonopsis by the pound to cook with food for deficiencies and Qi tonification (Tierra, 1988). Codonopsis tea can be brewed in a broth, cooked in your morning oats or grains, blended into soups...the possibilities are quite vast. It’s time for herbalists and home tea-makers alike to start thinking outside the teacup! (We do feel pretty proud here at Rasa that we at least expanded to the coffee cup!)
In theory, we need to eat food for energy and vitality to sustain us through our day. Imagine if you combine those inherent properties on your plate with a vitality-booster like codonopsis. See what we’re getting at? A quick, easy, and supercharged way take your herbs to the next level. Now maybe it’s time to start experimenting with Rasa in cooking, too...recipes, anyone?! We've so far heard of Rasa in chia pudding and Rasa ice cream...what else can we come up with?
Codonopsis is kind of like the ultimate vitality generator. Not only does it help boost up our short-term energy, it also helps restore our long-term energy reserves. Most of us are familiar with the fatigue and burnt-out feelings associated with having low energy reserves, aka “running on empty,” but did you know what having a stocked up energy reserve and boosted vitality can do for you?
When our vitality is boosted, not only do we feel the sustained energy with fewer crashes and more motivation overall...We can also experience a bolstered immune system, improved digestion, and that natural vitality *glow* which happens to attract the best of those around you… Essentially when our vitality is amped and our energy reserves are stocked up, our entire body starts to function at its prime, which is actually how nature intended!
Codonopsis is considered such a fabulous vitality booster that it is commonly substituted for ginseng (which is also an adaptogen and premier vitality booster but sadly endangered now). In fact, it is even referred to as “the other ginseng” by some (Tierra, n.d.). Part of being an ethical tea-drinker means you need to look at the bigger sustainability factors, not just the health trends of the moment for immediate results.
Circling back to herbal synergy again (if you read our previous herb profiles, you must know we are a fan of this by now!): since codonopsis works SO efficiently to get our Qi to start moving again, all this rising energy can easily become stuck if things are not functioning properly throughout the body. Here is where the herbal allies in the Rasa formula come in to help! Carminative, or digestive-focused herbs like cinnamon and chicory help clear the common tummy troubles that result from aggravated Qi stagnation. Other herbs like burdock and dandelion root promote proper flow and clearance of all that newfound energy throughout the body.
In our opinion: blood building is kind of like the new bodybuilding. Well, not for the outer layers of muscle, tendons, and ligaments...but instead for the inner layers with all our organs, blood, and other juices. Codonopsis is one of those special herbs that can help build up the blood.
What exactly does this look like? Well, blood building does not mean that your blood cells all grow 6-packs or bench weights, lol. But, once you start building your blood, you begin to regain a sense of energy, vitality, and inner “strength,” that is comparable to how you might feel during the process of building that 6-pack as well… Many of the tell-tale symptoms of blood deficiency tend to fall in line with those of anemia. However, these two conditions are not one and the same, just commonly connected.
In TCM, our Qi is known to give movement and life to our blood, while our blood returns the favor by nourishing the organs which make the Qi. Codonopsis works from both ends by promoting the production of body fluids in general, including Qi and blood, through tonification (Tierra, n.d.). Essentially this means that codonopsis helps promote a strong and healthy blood flow which nourishes the inner star players throughout the rest of the body. For all the humans with vaginas who bleed every month, codonopsis is your new friend.
Other signs that we may need to build our inner body first before focusing on our outer bodybuilding include general deficiencies, weakness and fatigue, and chronic illness. So if you’re driving yourself to the ground to make it to the gym every morning but making no “progress,” look a layer deeper first. Using herbs like codonopsis regularly can help build you up from the inside-out.
When Things Don’t Feel More Vital…
Although we wish codonopsis could offer unlimited lifetime guaranteed vitality for everyone, there are a few cases and situations where codonopsis does not do the trick. Since codonopsis is more likely to aggravate Qi stagnation, it is beneficial to combine it with other herbs that have a carminative or digestive focus (to keep that energy moving!). If not balanced with other herbs or practices, stuck liver Qi symptoms such as migraines, mood swings, digestive issues, and premenstrual irritability, among others, could worsen (Tierra, 1988).
In general, codonopsis is considered a low toxicity herb, but in extremely high doses it could cause irregular heartbeat and chest discomfort. So stay mindful with your dosing strategy when using codonopsis. Unfortunately taking more of the herb at once does not mean that you become even more vital than the recommended dosage (Skenderi, 2003).
Energy for Life
In the search for that long-term, sustained, and balanced daily vital energy, codonopsis offers support from more angles than we talked about today. Some of these roles include supporting lactation, regulating hyperacidity and diabetes, strengthening the respiratory system, and even offering support for teething babies (Tierra & Tierra, n.d.)!
So beyond the immediate energizing effects of codonopsis, this root lays an inner foundation to cultivate energy for life. Yes, for ALL of life! Even in those moments when you traditionally would feel burnt out, fatigued, and dragging at best. Cheers for long-term vitality boosters, blood builders, and adaptogens like codonopsis! After all, since life is only so long...why not live every day with your energy to the freaking fullest?
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Hong, D. Y. (2015). A monograph of codonopsis and allied genera (Campanulaceae). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Kharrazian, D. (2013). Why isn’t my brain working? Carlsbad, CA: Elephant Press.
Sapolsky, R. (1994). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.
Skenderi, G. (2003). Herbal vade mecum. Rutherford, NJ: Herbacy Press.
Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Tierra, M. & Tierra L. (n.d.). Codonopsis: The “other” ginseng. [Online Article] Retrieved from: https://planetherbs.com/blogs/lesleys-blog/codonopsis-the-other-ginseng/.