Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is a superb herb for cognitive functions, nervousness and debility. It can also be used for skin problems, sexual debility, insomnia, hypothyroidism, rheumatism, perimenopause and as a tonic to promote health and longevity.

FAMILY

Solanaceae (Nightshade family)

OTHER NAMES

Winter cherry, asghndh (Hindi), Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry

PARTS USED

Root (in Ayurveda also leaves and fruits)

HABITAT

Ashwagandha is native to the drier areas of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION

Height: 35-75 cm (14-30 in)

Width: 50-60 cm

Roots: long, brown and tuberous

Flowers: small, yellow and shaped like a bell

Leaves: dull green and elliptic

Fruit: orange-red

Blooms: mid summer

CULTIVATION

Hardiness: tender

Germination: Place seeds in soil about 2 cm deep and keep them at 20 C (70 F). Seeds normally germinate in 2 weeks. Transplant them to

Space: 50-60 cm

Soil: sandy and very well drained. This plant does not like wet feet.

pH: 7.5-8

Exposure: sunny

Propagation: seeds

HARVEST

Ashwagandha is ready for harvest when the berries are ripe and the leaves start to dry out. Carefully dig up the plant and separate the green parts from the root. Wash the roots carefully and cut them in small pieces 7-10 cm (3-4 in) to dry.

DRYING

I dry my roots in the dehydrator at 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) and then store them for 2 years in an air-tight container away from light.

CONSTITUENTS

Steroidal lactones (withanolides A to Y), sitoindosites, alkaloids (somniferiene, withanine, anaferine), iron

PROPERTIES

Adaptogen, tonic, rejuvenative, antioxidant, nervine, astringent, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, diuretic, immunomodulator

ENERGETICS

Warm and dry

TASTE

Bitter, sweet, astringent

ODOR

It’s supposed to have a strong smell of horse sweat. However, many people don’t seem to notice this. Ashwagandha means “smelling of horse”.

MEDICINAL USE OF ASHWAGANDHA

Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen. It enhances endocrine functions, stimulates the thyroid and regulates adrenal glands and testes.

Its nervine and adaptogenic properties make Ashwagandha an effective herb for anxiety, fatigue, nervous exhaustion (neurasthenia), nervousness, stress related cognitive problems and stress related insomnia.

It stimulates the immune system, is supposed to suppress tumors and may be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis.

Due to its iron rich content, Ashwagandha can be used to treat anemia caused by iron deficiency. In this case, the powdered root is mixed with milk and molasses.

Ashwagandha is also good for women in perimenopause as it soothes many symptoms such as muscle pain and brain fog.

Ayurveda: In ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is used to promote health and longevity (rasayana). The dried root is used for malnutrition in children, coughs, accumulation of fluids (edema), to improve cognitive function, rheumatism, infertility, fevers and gastric ulcers. The fresh root us used as a poultice for bedsores (decubitus ulcers) and ulcers. The leaves are used topically for boils and sores, hemorrhoids and internally for alcoholism, hemorrhoids, fever and to destroy worms (anthelmintic). When used externally, the fruits are good for ringworm.

Take internally for:

  • nervousness
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • nervous exhaustion
  • stress
  • immune system
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • hypothyroidism
  • perimenopause
  • cognitive function
  • health and longevity

Topic application for:

  • boils and sores (Ayurveda)
  • hemorrhoids (Ayurveda)
Daily Dosage

Decoction: 1 tsp dried root in 1 liter (2 cups) water. Decoct for 10 minutes and steep for another half hour. Take 125 ml (half a cup) three times per day.

Tincture: (1:5): 30-40 drops, 3 times per day.

HOMEMADE PREPARATIONS
  • decoction (preferably in milk)
  • powder
  • tincture
CULINARY USE

In cheese making, the berries can be used as a substitute for rennet.

SIDE EFFECTS

Ashwagandha can increase or enhance the effect of barbiturates.

CONTRA-INDICATIONS

People who are sensitive or allergic to the nightshade family, and/or have hypothyroidism should avoid using this herb. Those who have excess iron (hemochromatosis) should not use it.

Ashwagandha

References

Winston, D. Maimes, S. 2007. Adaptogens: Herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester: Healing Arts Press
Khalsa, K. Tierra, Michael. 2008. The way of Ayurvedic herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press

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