Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera Dunal. (Family Solanaceae) is a perennial shrub, found throughout the drier and subtropical parts of India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Sind and is distributed in the Mediterranean regions. In India, you may find it growing as weed along the roadside and waste land. It is also cultivated for medicinal purposes in fields. Ashwagandha is widely cultivated in Bikaner and Pilani areas of Rajasthan, Rajputana, Punjab and Manasa.
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The name Ashwagandha means ‘the smell of a horse’, which perhaps is due to the fresh root smelling like a horse’s urine. Every part of the plant can be used, the young shoots and seeds used in food but the main plant part with pharmacologically important compounds is plant roots. Generally roots are collected in winter, washed and cut into short pieces.
These are pulverised 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.
Ayurveda describes Ashwagandha as 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. The recommended dosage of Ashwagandha root powder is 3-6 grams.
Some of the Ayurvedic medicines containing Ashwagandha are Ashwagandha pak, Ashwagandha ghrita, Ashwagandha Churna, Ashwagandhadi Lehyam, Ashwagandharishta etc.
Latin/Botanical name: W. somnifera (Linn.) Dunal, Withania ashwagandha Kaul (cultivated variety)
Vernacular names of Withania somnifera
Sanskrit: Hayagandha, Vajigandha, Assamese: Ashwagandha, Bengali: Ashwagandha, Gujrati: Asgandha, Hindi: Asgandh, Kannada: Angarberu, Hiremaddina-gida, Kashmiri: Asagandh, Malayalam: Amukkuram
Marathi: Asagandha, Askagandha, Oriya: Aswagandha, Punjabi: Asgandh, Tamil: Amukkaramkizangu, Telugu: Asvagandhi, Penneru, Pennerugadda, Dommadolu, Urdu: Asgand, English: Winter Cherry
Siddha: Amukkuramkizhangu, Arabic: Kaknaj-e-Hindi, Persian: Kaknaj-e-Hindi, Asgand Nagaori
Medicinal properties of Winter Cherry
The leaves of Ashwagandha plant has anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, antibacterial properties. Ashwagandha leaves are very effective for several health problems like Tumours, tuberculous gland, Swelling, Inflammation, Boils, Conjunctivitis, Blood purification. It’s leaves are also very good for weightloss. Diuretic activities are shown by fruits and seeds of plant.
The roots constitutes Alkaloids (ashwagandhine, withanine, isopelietierine, anaferine), Steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), Phytosterols (sitoindosides, B-sitosterol), Saponins and Iron.
The roots are adaptogen, tonic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, anti-tumour, nervine, mild sedative, analgesic, reproductive tonic, aphrodisiac and anti-anaemic.
Ayurvedic properties and action of roots
Rasa: Tikta, Kasaya, Guna: Laghu, Virya: Usana, Vipaka: Madhura, Karma: Rasayana, Vatakaphaja, Balya, Vajikara, Dosha effect: Vata and Kapha, Dhatu (tissue): Blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive
Srota (channel): Reproductive, nervous, respiratory
In Ayurveda Ashwagandha is described as
- Vrishya: Increases sexual potency
- Balya: Increases strength
- Medhya: Promotes the intellect
- Ojasvardhanam: Increases ojas
- Nidrajnana: Promotes sleep
- Shukrala: Increases sperm production
- Shothahara: Prevents consumption and wasting diseases
- Rasayana: Rejuvenative
- Vatakaphahara;Reduces kapha and vata
- Vedanasthapana: Reduces pain
- Shwasa Benefits breathing
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.
Ashwagandha is also given in few gynaecological 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, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea, weakness.
Ashwagandha 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.
Ashwagandha improves body immunity and strengthen body defence system. This makes this herb suitable for treating Auto-immune conditions such as neutropenia, rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, cancer and chronic connective tissue disorders.
Medicinal uses of ashwagandha gives good results in nerves related conditions such as Multiple sclerosis, Neurosis, insomnia, anxiety, and stress.