Used for centuries to promote balance in the body, ashwagandha (withania somnifera) is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India. A nerve tonic, it aids both the central nervous system and resistance to stress, as well as promotes improved memory.
Ashwagandha is considered the adaptogenic ginseng of India. In Ayurvedic medicine it is used to treat weakness. It helps bring oxygen to red blood cells and strengthen the immune system.
There are a variety of health benefits attributed to ashwagandha.
- Immune system support
- Increases memory
- May help normalize high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity
- Sexual enhancing
- Reduces adrenal fatigue
The active ingredients in ashwagandha are Alkaloids and steroidal lactones, which include tropine and cuscohygrine. The leaves contain the steroidal lactones, with anolides, notably withaferin A, which was the first to be isolated from the plant.
About the Plant
The ashwagandha plant (withania somnifera) is a small shrub that grows to 1.5 meters tall. Related to the tomato, it has small yellow flowers that turn to red fruits about the size of a raisin.Despite its powerful healing properties, it is a fairly plain, nondescript plant, except for the bright red fruit.
It is a member of the Solanaceae family and natively is found from Africa to the Mediterranean and east into India. Because of its geographic range, there are a wide variety of variations of the species.
The fruit is harvested in the late fall and the bright yellow seeds are dried for planting in the following spring. The primary alkaloids of both the wild as well as the cultivated species are the same.
Aswagandha is often compared to Asian ginseng which contains molecules like withanoloids, called ginsenosides. For this reason Aswagandha is occasionally called “Indian ginseng.”
History and Traditional Uses
The traditional use of ashwagandha dates back over 3,000 to 4,000 years in its native India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In Ayurvedic medicine, it extends back to the teachings of an esteemed rishi (sage) Punarvasu Atriya.
It has been described in the sacred texts of Ayurveda, including the Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas. There it is widely extolled as a tonic, especially for emaciation in people of all ages including babies and for enhancing the reproductive function of both men and women. It has also been used for inflammations, especially for arthritic and rheumatic conditions, and as a major tonic to counteract the ravages of aging and promote youthful longevity.
Some of its other traditional uses have been as a mild purgative for chronic constipation and for the treatment of swollen glands. The herb is known as the “promotor of learning and memory retrieval” and has also been used for inflammations, psoriasis, asthma, rheumatic pains, wasting, senile debility, and to promote conception.
Use in Ayurvedic Medicine
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata and Kapha; in excess, because of its heating, unctuous, building nature, it can imbalance Pitta, and also worsen ama (toxic build-up). Ayurveda recognizes Ashwagandha particularly for its building, strengthening, and nourishing nature. It is used for the same reasons as listed in the Benefits section above, particularly to support healthy muscles and reproductive systems, and to balance Vata.
The Ayurvedic properties of ashwagandha include…
- Vajikara – Increases sexual desire
- Rasayani – Rejuvenates the body
- Balya – Increases strength
- Ati shukrala – Improves quality and quantity of semen
- Shwitrapaha – Useful in management of white discoloration of the skin
- Shothahara – Useful in managing edematous conditions, clears impurities (Ama) from various channels of the body
- Kshayapaha – Useful in treating emaciation and under-nutritive conditions
Disclaimer: Despite the references provided, the information on this site is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. Please refer for advise and treatment by a licensed physician.
Related Reputable Studies
- Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study
- Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review
- A comparative pharmacological investigation of Ashwagandha and Ginseng
- Treatment of age-related cognitive decline with a herbal formulation: a double-blind study
- Double blind comparative trial of Abana and methyldopa for monotherapy of hypertension in Indian patients
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera
- Selected herbals and human exercise performance
- Natural products as a gold mine for arthritis treatment
- Herbal and dietary supplements for treatment of anxiety disorders
- Herbal medicines for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review