Ashwagandha root is an adaptogenic herb that has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a rasayana. Recently, this powerful herb has become popular in the Western world, and for good reason. Ashwagandha has a number of medicinal qualities and benefits. Read on to learn about Ashwagandha in Ayurveda.
Essential Facts about Ashwagandha
- Botanical: Withania Somnifera Dunal
- Sanskrit: Ashwagandha (ashva meaning ‘horse’ and gandha meaning ‘smell’ because of its “horse-like” aroma)
- Hindi: Asgandh, Asgandha
- Other names: Winter Cherry, Indian Ginsing, Strength of 10 Horses
- Rasa (taste): Tikta (Bitter); Katu (Pungent); Madhura (Sweet)
- Guna (qualities): Laghu (Light); Snigdha (Unctuous)
- Virya (action): Ushna (Warm)
- Vipaka (post-digestive effects): Madhura (Sweet)
- Dosha (constitution): Pacifies Kapha and Vata Doshas
Ashwagandha is native to India, parts of Africa and the Mediterranean.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub from the nightshade family that grows to 1.5 meters tall. It has small yellow flowers that become red fruits.
Ashwaganha contains about 13 alkaloids, including isopelletierine, anaferine, cuseohygrine, anahygrine, and tropine as well as somniferin, which has some hypnotic activity. Ashwaganda also has steroidal lactones (withanolides, withanoferins), and iron.
Medicinal Uses of Ashwagandha
Above all, ashwaganda is best known for its adaptogen qualities. Adaptogens help to reduce stress levels and enhance adrenal function. They also work to move the sympathetic nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest.
A review of major studies revealed ashwagandha root does prove to be effective at reducing anxiety in measurable and substantial ways. Researchers measured key biological factors associated with anxiety and discovered using ashwagandha root regularly can reduce cortisol levels in the body. This is significant because cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” When a remedy reduces it in the body, that’s a clear indication the remedy is effective at treating anxiety and stress.
Because of ashwaganhda root’s ability to reduce anxiety, it has an indirect effect on improving sexual desire and function. Stress increases cortisol levels, which decreases sexual hormone production. In particular, testosterone production suffers. Testosterone plays a large role in libido and function. When using ashwagandha root for anxiety, you may notice an increase in desire and function.
Ashwagandha’s anti-stress properties make it effective in boosting strength and endurance. Hence, it’s nickname: “the strength of 10 horses.” In one study, ashwagandha-treated rats showed a significant increase in the duration of swimming time as compared to control.
Beyond stress reducing effects, ashwagandha is believed to reduce swelling (inflammation), lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and improve cognitive function.
Usage and Dosage of Ashwagandha
If you’re looking to take this powerful supplement, experiment with different dosages. Start out with 300mg a day. Take it each day for a few weeks to see if it helps. If you aren’t getting the effects you expected, you can increase your dosage to 500 or 600 mg per day. What’s most important is that you take it on a regular basis. Ashwagandha root is less of an emergency remedy and more of a long-term supplement. You may not notice effects right away when you first take it. In fact, it may take weeks before you start to notice reductions in anxiety.
Another easy way to get a healthy dose of ashwagandha root is to start consuming Chyawanprash. Chyawanprash’s ingredients include ashwagandha root as well as a number of powerful botanicals, spices, honey, ghee and sesame oil. This is also a good add-on to your Ayurvedic breakfast.
Reviewed by Dr. Jayant Lokhande, MD (Botanical Drugs), MBA (Biotechnology)