Ever hear of “adaptogens”? Herbalists use the word to describe an increasingly popular class of plants that, as the name suggests, help you adapt. Adapt to what?

“These plants help us to adapt to all forms of physical or mental stress,” says Chris Kilham, aka the “Medicine Hunter,” who travels to the far reaches of the planet in search of novel and indigenous botanicals. “The word ‘adaptogen’ is a natural products–insider kind of terminology, but it does give people a clue as to the activity of this category—‘I can adapt to lifestyle conditions’—and that’s beneficial.”

Medical herbalist Mary Bove, ND, who is chief formulator at Gaia Herbs, describes the totems of adaptogens. “They are nontoxic in the body,” she says. “They move the body to homeostasis, to equilibrium.”

Adaptogens have an almost magical ability to perk you up when you’re tired or relax you when you’re stressed. And although you may not have heard the word adaptogens, you might be using them. Botanicals in this class include ashwagandha, rhodiola, schisandra, holy basil and maca. These days, they’re all the rage. Stress, sleep, vitality, energy—pharmaceutical drugs can’t touch these concerns because they’re not officially diseases, but it’s not overstating to say that the growth of these modern lifestyle maladies is driving many to seek safe solutions.

“Study after study shows Americans are living more stressful lives than ever before,” says P.K. Davé, president of Nature’s Formulary, which sells Ayurvedic supplements, including adaptogens and other Indian products. “As a result, stress-related health conditions have mushroomed: hypertension, gastrointestinal diseases and metabolic diseases. People frequently experience more than one condition simultaneously.”