Benefits of Ashwagandha
12th October, 2021
Withania somnifera is a popular herb which is commonly known as Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, Poison gooseberry, Winter cherry or simply, Withania. Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae (nightshade) plant family and grows as a small, woody evergreen shrub that reaches lengths of two metres in height. It is a branching shrub that has large dull green ovate leaves, sprouts green-yellow flowers and during harvesting season, bright orange-red berries with yellow seeds as they start to mature. Being naturally hard and resistant to drought, the plant has a preference for dry, sub-tropical regions and has been found throughout diverse landscapes including the Mediterranean areas, Middle East, Africa, Asia and Himalayas, although it is most widely cultivated and distributed throughout parts of India.
As a result of this wide diversity in growing environments, there tends to be variations within the species, however the active constituents found in the plant appear to be consistent. The main constituents found include steroidal lactones, alkaloids and flavonoids with the addition of phenolic acids, fatty acids, tocopherols, amino acids, iron and more. Withanolides are a specific type of steroidal lactones which are unique to the Solanaceae family, they’re biologically active and the majority of Ashwagandha’s health benefits are attributed to the withanolides.
The root is the main plant part used therapeutically, however the leaves and berries also contain medicinal properties with health benefits. The energetics and taste of Ashwagandha is described as warm, sweet, bitter, dry and pungent. The root is known to have an earthy smell, similar to that of a horse and the name Ashwagandha is actually is derived from the Sanskrit language where ‘ashwa’ means horse and ‘ghanda’ means smell, and this was once interpreted as ‘the essence of a horse’.
Ashwagandha is often confused with plants of the ginseng family including Panax (Korean) and American ginseng, however the two plant families are not related and although they do share some of the health benefits, they have their own composition of constituents which provide different effects. Withania somnifera has been historically used in Ayurvedic, Unani and Middle Eastern traditional medicine systems for thousands of years. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine has been traced back to 6000BC where for most of these years, Ashwagandha has been one of the most highly valued and widely used herbs, particularly as a ‘rasayana’ which is a rejuvenative tonic for the mind and body.
Stemming from the ancient uses in traditional medicine systems, Ashwagandha has been the focus of various clinical trials and scientific studies in recent years, where many of the traditional uses and actions have now been validated and can support the therapeutic use of Ashwagandha for health.
To learn more about the health benefits of Withania somnifera, continue reading...
Ashwagandha is indicated for a wide range of conditions and symptoms, however most are in relation to the nervous system. This entails parameters such as healthy mood balance, vitality, the body’s ability to adapt to stress, healthy sleep patterns and cognition, but it also helps to maintain general wellbeing with its antioxidant properties working to reduce the formation of free radicals and the damage they cause. Traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been used as a tonic for longevity.
Ashwagandha helps to maintain overall mental wellbeing, including support for emotional wellbeing and a healthy mood balance. It helps to soothe the nerves and calm the mind.
Ashwagandha supports general mental functions but also improves cognitive performance. It can help to maintain concentration, focus and mental clarity which supports information processing and learning. Additionally, it enhances the attention span and promotes memory recall plus increases mental alertness and wakefulness, helping to reduce cognitive fatigue. Traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha was used as a ‘medhya’, or brain tonic.
Stress & Anxiety
Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen, which is a herbal action that essentially means helping the body to adapt to stress. Ashwagandha helps to support a healthy stress response, assists the body to cope with environmental stressors and also supports healthy stress recovery in the body. It enhances the body's adaptation to stress but can also be useful in relieving symptoms of mild anxiety, such as irritability, nervous tension, restlessness and reducing excess nervous energy. It has also been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to support healthy adrenal gland function.
Ashwagandha can help to establish and/or restore the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. It promotes healthy sleeping patterns and improves overall sleep quality by reducing the duration of time required to fall asleep and decreasing sleeplessness. It enhances a deep, refreshing sleep leaving you well-rested upon rising.
Ashwagandha increases vitality and helps to enhance endurance, stamina and physical capacity. This helps to combat general debility or malaise and relieve feelings of weariness, tiredness and weakness that may be associated with fatigue.
In addition to physical capacity, Ashwagandha also helps to improve exercise performance. It enhances muscle endurance, stamina and strength but also aids in post-exercise recovery, helping to improve muscle recovery time after exercising. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been acclaimed as a ‘Balya’, which means to improve body strength.
Traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been used for the maintenance of immune system health. It was indicated to improve immunity, promote immune defence, stimulate a healthy immune response and aid with convalescence, the recovery from illness.
So what are they ways that Ashwagandha can be consumed to reap these health benefits? Well, usages are many: traditionally it was consumed as a warm drink using heated milk, ghee and honey but today a more modern approach could be a tea infusion using the dry root or supplement form.
An important note to keep in mind is that Ashwagandha is not suitable for use during pregnancy and/or lactation, these women should always consult with a qualified health practitioner before use.
If you’re looking to maintain healthy cognitive function, enhance sleep quality, increase vitality, improve exercise performance, balance your mood or relieve symptoms of stress and mild anxiety, try Ashwagandha today!
References upon request