Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera Dunal. is a perennial shrub, found throughout the drier and subtropical parts of India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Sindh. It is also distributed in the Mediterranean regions. In India, you may find it growing as weed along the roadside and waste lands. It is cultivated for its roots in Bikaner and Pilani areas of Rajasthan, Rajputana, Punjab and Manasa.
The literal meaning of Ashwagandha is ‘the smell (Gandha=Smell) of a horse (Ashva=Horse)’, which perhaps is due to the characteristic smell of fresh roots or may be due to its quality of vajikaran and property of giving stamina of a horse.
Ashwagandha is a medicinal plant. Every part of this plant is used medicinally. The young shoots and seeds are used as food. For reducing weight, one leaf is taken empty stomach in the morning.
The roots are extensively used in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani for promoting vitality. In Homeopathy, the mother tincture is available. There are many pharmacologically important compounds present in the roots.
The roots mainly work effectively for those who suffer from fatigue, weakness due to overwork or nervous exhaustion and stress. It also helps in anaemia and related weakness.
The roots of plant are collected in winter, washed and cut into short pieces. The roots are pulverized to get fine powder that should be used within two years as It loses its medicinal qualities within 2 years. So the fresh dried roots are preferred for medicinal uses.
The root powder has adaptogen, tonic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, anti-tumour, nervine, mild sedative, analgesic, reproductive tonic, aphrodisiac and anti-anaemic properties. In Ayurveda, this powder is known as Ashwagandhadi Churna and in Siddha as Amukkara Kizhangu Choornam. The recommended dosage of Ashwagandha root powder is 3-6 grams.
Ayurveda describes Ashwagandha as a Rasayana that increase longevity and vitality. It is used as single drug or in combination with other herbs. It is prescribed for promoting health, longevity, arresting aging process, revitalizing the body in debilitated conditions, increasing immunity, treating musculoskeletal conditions and as general tonic to increase energy.
Ashwagandha is not related botanically to Ginseng, but has similar uses as a tonic herb believed capable of generally strengthening the body. It is used traditionally to increase sexual capacity as an aphrodisiac.
It is given in few gynecological conditions. It is excellent tonic to the uterine muscles and indicated in menstrual imbalance caused by a deficient condition with an aggravation of Vata and uterine spasms, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, weakness.
Some of the Ayurvedic medicines containing Ashwagandha are Ashwagandha Pak, Ashwagandha Ghrita, Ashwagandha Churna, Ashwagandhadi Lehyam, Ayurveda: Ashwagandharishta for neurological and mental disorders etc.
Plant Description: Much branched under shrub, clothed with greenish – white hairs.
Leaves: Simple, elliptic-ovate, softly pubescent.
Flowers: Clustered in axillary, subessile, umbellate cymes; berries globose, orange – red, enclosed in 5 – angled, pubescent, apiculate, membranous over of inflated calys.
Roots: Straight, unbranched, thickness varying with age. Fibre-like secondary roots are also present. The outer surface buff to grey-yellow with longitudinal wrinkles, crown consists of 2-6 remains of stem base, stem bases variously thickened, nodes prominent only on the side from where petiole arises, cylindrical, green with longitudinal wrinkles, fracture, short and uneven. Root has characteristic odour and taste bitter and acrid.
- Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: Roots (mainly), leaves
- Plant type / Growth Habit: Shrub
- Duration: Perennial
- Distribution: Throughout India, widely cultivated in certain areas of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
- Habitat: Warm, dry areas, naturally along the road sides, waste area and open grounds.
Vernacular names / Synonyms
- Scientific name: Withania somnifera
- Arabic: Kaknaj-e-Hindi
- Assamese: Ashwagandha
- Bengali: Ashwagandha
- English: Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng
- Gujrati: Asgandha
- Hindi: Asgandh
- Kannada: Angarberu, Hiremaddina-gida,
- Kashmiri: Asagandh
- Malayalam: Amukkuram
- Marathi: Asagandha, Askagandha
- Oriya: Aswagandha
- Persian: Kaknaj-e-Hindi, Asgand Nagaori
- Punjabi: Asgandh
- Sanskrit: Hayagandha, Vajigandha
- Siddha: Amukkuramkizhangu
- Tamil: Amukkaramkizangu, Acuvakanthi, Amukkara Kizanku
- Telugu: Asvagandhi, Penneru, Pennerugadda, Dommadolu
- Urdu: Asgand
All plants are scientifically classified into main 7 levels. These levels are Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. A genus comprise of many species and botanical name consists of Genus (uppercase) followed by Species (lowercase). Genus consists of many species which are closely related and have lots of similarities. Species is the lowest level and represents the group of same plant.
The botanical name of Ashwagandha is Withania somnifera. It belongs to plant Potato Family, Solanaceae. Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.
- Kingdom: Plantae (comprising all living or extinct plants)
- Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (have lignified tissues or xylem for conducting water and minerals)
- Superdivision: Spermatophyta (produce seeds)
- Class: Magnoliopsida (flowering plant producing an embryo with paired cotyledons)
- Subclass: Asteridae
- Order: Solanales
- Family: Solanaceae – Potato family
- Genus: Withania Pauquy – withania
- Species: Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal – withania
- Physalis somnifera L.
- Withania ashwagandha Kauf.
Constituents of Withania somnifera
- Alkaloids: About 13 alkaloids are known as Isopelletierine, Anaferine, Cuseohygrine, Anahygrine, Tropine etc.
- Somniferin: It is a bitter alkaloid with some hypnotic activity.
- Steroidal Lactones: Withanolides, Withanoferins.
Saponins, resin, Iron, fat, coloring matters, a reducing sugar, phytosterol, Ipuranol and a mixture of saturated and unsaturated acids.
The leaves and stems contain in addition tannin, potassium nitrate, somnirol, somnitol and withanic acid.
Medicinal properties of Winter Cherry
The leaves of Ashwagandha plant has anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective and antibacterial properties and used for treating several health problems like tumours, tuberculous gland, Swelling, Inflammation, Boils, Conjunctivitis, Blood purification. Its leaves are also very good for weight loss. Diuretic activities are shown by fruits and seeds of plant.
The roots, possess numerable pharmalogical properties and below is listed some of them:
- Adaptogen: Substance considered to help the body adapt to stress.
- Analgesic: Relieve pain.
- Antianaemic: Treat or to prevent anemia.
- Antidepressant: Prevent or treat depression.
- Anti-inflammatory: Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms.
- Antioxidant: Neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.
- Antitumour: Inhibiting the growth of a tumour or tumours.
- Aphrodisiac: Stimulates sexual desire.
- Immunomodulatory: Modifies the immune response or the functioning of the immune system.
- Reproductive tonic: Tonic for reproductive organs.
- Sedative: Promoting calm or inducing sleep
- Tonic: Restore or improve health or well-being.
- Phytoestrogen: Plant-derived estrogens not generated within the endocrine system but consumed by eating phytoestrogenic plants.
Health Benefits of Ashvagandha
- It is natural antioxidant.
- It helps to reduce level of stress and tension.
- It improves energy level.
- It supports better sleep.
- It helps to lower blood pressure and is highly effective in stopping the formation of stress induced ulcers.
- It increases hemoglobin (red blood count) and hair melanin.
- It stabilizes blood sugar and lowers cholesterol.
- Ashwagandha is anabolic in effect and mainly considered to help in weight gain.
- BUT IT MAY HELP IN WEIGHT LOSS when used in combination with other weight loss enhancing supplements in stress related weight gain. When a person is stressed more Cortisol hormone is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol stimulates glucose production and triggers a hunger response in the brain. Ashwagandha can naturally lower cortisol levels up to 26%. It also helps to lose weight by reducing swelling in body and improving hemoglobin level.
- It is a tonic that nourishes whole body. In weakness, low body weight, emaciation, deficient haemoglobin, anaemia, post convalescent weakness and such other condition, its use gives good result.
- It is useful for any imbalance in the muscles as it reduces inflammation and strengthens muscles. It is a specific rasayana for Mamsa Dhatu and an anabolic muscle builder. As it benefits all muscle tissue it is used as a heart tonic, uterine tonic, and lung tonic.
- It improves body immunity and strengthen body defense system. This makes this herb suitable for treating Auto-immune conditions such as neutropenia, rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, cancer and chronic connective tissue disorders.
- It gives good results in nerves related conditions such as Multiple sclerosis, Neurosis, insomnia, anxiety, and stress.
- It is used to enhance memory and lesson age-related cognitive deficits.
- It may help prevent tolerance and dependence with morphine.
- It although acts as a sedative has got no depressant action on the heart at the same time.
Benefits for Men
- For males, Ashwagandha promotes sexual health by uplifting the mood, reducing anxiety, improving energy levels and fertility, thus supporting sexual performance.
- It has direct spermatogenic effect and helps to improve sperm count.
- It helps to alleviate asthenospermia (increasing sperm motility), oligospermia (increasing sperm count) and other sperm disorders.
- It exerts testosterone like effect influencing the seminiferous tubules.
- It promotes better sexual performance.
- It reduces impotence and promotes potency.
Benefits for Women
- It contains phytoestrogen.
- It is excellent tonic for uterus muscles.
- It gives relief in menstrual imbalance accompanied with excessive Vata and Kapha.
- It has galactagogue effect and stimulates secretion of breast milk in lactating mothers.
- It gives strength and cures debility when consumed post – delivery.
- It supports female reproductive system, and increases ovarian weight and folliculogenesis.
Ayurvedic Properties and Action of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha consists of dried mature roots of Withania somnifera Dunal. It is astringent, bitter, sweet in taste (Rasa), sweet after digestion (Vipaka), and is hot in effect (Virya). It is an Ushna Virya herb. Ushna Virya or hot potency herb, subdues Vata (Wind) and Kapha (Mucus) and increases Pitta (Bile). Ashwagandha is energising-warming tonic.
Ashwagandha nourishes Majja (Bone marrow and nerve tissues) and Shukra Dhatu (Reproductive tissue). For males, Ashwagandha promotes sexual health by uplifting the mood, reducing anxiety, improving energy levels and fertility, thus supporting sexual performance.
It has direct spermatogenic effect and helps to improve sperm count. It exerts testosterone like effect influencing the seminiferous tubules.
- Rasa (taste on tongue): Kashaya (Astringent), Madhura (Sweet), Tikta (Bitter)
- Guna (Pharmacological Action): Guru (Heavy)
- Virya (Action): Ushna (Heating)
- Vipaka (transformed state after digestion): Madhura (Sweet)
- Dosha effect: Vata and Kapha Reducing, Pitta increasing
- Dhatu (tissue): Blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive
- Srota (channel): Reproductive, nervous, respiratory
Ayurvedic Action / Karma
- Balya: Increases strength
- Brimhaniya: Strength-promoting
- Hridaya: Heart tonic.
- Medhya: Promotes the intellect
- Nidrajnana: Promotes sleep
- Ojasvardhanam: Increases ojas
- Rasayana: Rejuvenative
- Shothahara: Prevents consumption and wasting diseases
- Shukral: Increases semen and give force of ejaculation.
- Shwasa: Benefits breathing
- Vajikarana: Increases sexual desire and gives strength to reproductive organs.
- Vatakaphahara: Reduces Kapha and Vata
- Vedanasthapana: Reduces pain
- Vrishya: Increases sexual potency
Ayurvedic therapeutic uses of Ashwagandha roots
- Rasayana or rejuvenative tonic
- Relieves general debility, especially during convalescence or old age
- Promotes sound sleep
- Balances aggravated Vata (nervine tonic, sedative) and improves memory
- Ashwagandha root powder is a good rejuvenating tonic for reproductive system, especially for males. It is also known as Indian Ginseng. It improves sperm motility. It is also useful in oligospermia (increasing sperm count), poor sexual performance and helps to reduce infertility. Ashwagandha improves sexual potency and sperm production.
Medicinal Uses of Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha is regarded as tonic, alterative, and aphrodisiac, and is used in cough, asthma, consumption, emaciation, haemothermia, hyperacidity, cardiac affections, anxiety neurosis, mental and neurological disorders, muscular atrophy, oedema, gout, arthritis, spermaturia, diseases of the female genital tract, menstrual disorders and sterility.
Ashwagandha root Powder is given in dose of 3-6 grams with milk or jaggery or Ghee, as a nourishing, rejuvenating and restorative tonic and in following conditions:
- promoting virility in men and fertility in women
- Acid reflux
- Cardiovascular diseases
- For immunity boosting
- Impaired glucose tolerance
- Joint inflammation
- Male sexual dysfunction
- Nervine tonic
- Skin disorders
- Vata Roga
Chronic headache : Root powder dissolved in hot milk is given for three months.
Fever : Leaf decoction is used.
Poisonous bites : Root paste is applied.
Rheumatoid arthritis : Root and leaf paste with ginger is applied.
Bacterial infection of skin : Paste of root or stem of Withania somnifera is applied on the skin to treat bacterial infection.
Carbuncles, ulcers, and painful swellings : The ground root and bruised leaves are applied topically.
Ringworm (Dermatophytosis) : The green berries are rubbed on affected area.
Syphilitic sores : Paste of the leaf is applied.
Toning erectile tissue : Paste of the root is applied to penis for toning up erectile tissue.
Other Uses : The plant has milk-coagulating properties and can be used for cheese-making.
It is also an insecticide.
Dosage of Withania somnifera
How to take Ashwagandha?
- Ashwagandha is taken with milk due to its pitta reducing property. Moreover, milk also improves nourishing effect of Ashwagandha.
- Ashwagandha Powder is taken in dose of 3-6 grams, depending on health condition, constitution, digestion, environment and many other factors.
Symptoms of anxiety and stress improve within 2 months’ continual use and male fertility may improve after 4 months. It is not known when other effects start to develop.
Contraindications, Interactions, Side-effects and Warnings Withania somnifera
- It has qualities of being heavy, hard and solid. Excessive intake can result in obstructions to the cavities of the head with excessive earwax, nasal secretions, eye secretions etc.
- It is Pitta increasing in high dosage.
- Excessive doses of ashwagandha should not be taken during pregnancy. Though traditionally used during pregnancy to strengthen the uterus and health of the mother and child. BUT Some western studies contraindicate use of Ashwagandha (spasmolytic activity on the uterus) during pregnancy.
- Do not take this herb with other sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs.
- Large doses can cause diarrhea, stomach upset and Ashwagandha may have blood-glucose-lowering effects, these seem to be mild, and would not generally be expected to affect the control of diabetes with conventional medicines.
- Ashwagandha may affect the reliability of digoxin assays, and interfere with the control of hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
- Limited evidence suggests that Ashwagandha increases thyroid hormone levels and therefore interferes with the control of hypo and hyperthyroidism.
- High dosages of alkaloids from Withania exhibit prolonged hypotensive, bradycardiac and respiratory stimulant actions, may also have depressant effect on higher cerebral centers; sedative effects have also been demonstrated.
- It increases Ama Dosha.
- Use with caution in peptic ulcer disease as it may cause gastrointestinal irritation. People who are sensitive to the Solanaceae family should use this herb with caution.
- It appears to be well tolerated according to clinical research. No significant adverse toxicity or adverse reactions reported
Medicinal Use Of Ashwagandha
Take three Ashwagandha leaves thrice a day with water for 3 to 7 days. Then give gap of 15 days and again do the same.
Mix equal amount of misri and Ashwagandha churna and take one spoon of this twice a day.
Mix 3gm Ashwagandha with 3gm ghee and 1gm misri and take twice a day.
Take 1 tbsp Ashwagandha churna mix in glass of milk an drink.
Mix equal quantities of ashwagandha and jaggery. Take this 3 hrs before meal with milk.
For treating thyroid take 200-1200 mg Ashwagandha powder with tea.
Take ashwagandha leaves and castor plant leaves, warm and apply at swelling.
Ashwagandha Leaf Tea For weight loss
How to prepare Ashwagandha tea
- Take Ashwagandha root powder (3-6 gms) in half litre of water.
- Bring this to boil.
- Cook for 15 mins.
- Filter and drink in lukewarm state.
- In a day up to three cup of Ashwagandha tea can be drink.
Health benefits of Ashwagandha tea
- Gives relief in stress, tension, depression
- Improves energy level of body, learning
Who should not drink Ashwagandha tea
- Pregnant women
- Persons suffering from high blood pressure.