Ashwagandha -- known as Withania somnifera or Indian winter cherry -- is a traditional “rasayana,” or tonic herb, in the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine. Considered the “Indian ginseng,” ashwagandha is an adaptogen -- an herb that helps the body cope with various forms of stress. Ashwagandha has been used medicinally in India since at least 6,000 B.C., making it one of the oldest known medicinal herbs, according to an article published in 2011 in the “African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines.” As with any supplement, consult with your healthcare professional before taking ashwagandha.
Exhaustion and Stress
Ashwagandha has traditionally been used by those recovering from long-term illness, in a state of chronic exhaustion or who are feeling agitated under stress, according to master herbalist and naturopathic doctor Sharol Tilgner in her book, "Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth," which also notes that preparations of ashwagandha root are also specific for nervous exhaustion and impotence from stress or aging. Scientific studies have shown ashwagandha root to increase physical stamina and decrease stress-induced gastric ulcers. A study published in the April 2000 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” shows that rats given an aqueous extract of ashwagandha root experienced greater endurance during swimming tests and also showed specific cardio-protective markers, indicating that ashwagandha may be an effective tonic as well as being potentially beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
Immune-Stimulating and Anti-Aging Effects
Ashwagandha has been well-researched for its ability to support healthy aging and strengthen the immune system. One study published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine” in April 2009 demonstrated that after just 96 hours of use, subjects given ashwagandha had a significant increase in T cells and NK, or natural killer, cells compared to the control group. A number of studies have demonstrated ashwagandha's anti-cancer effect in animals, including its ability to prevent and slow ovarian and lung cancers in rodents. While the research is promising, more human studies are needed concerning ashwagandha and human cancer outcomes. Ashwagandha also shows promise in treating cognitive disorders including age-related dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and mental impairment following head trauma, according to the 2011 article published in the “African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines;” however, more human studies are needed.
In her book, “Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth,” Tilgner suggests that adults can take 10 to 60 drops of liquid extract three to four times per day in a little water or drink 1 cup of tea as many times daily. The recommended dose is 600 to 1000 milligrams twice daily, according to the Chopra Center website. The traditional Ayurvedic preparation of ashwagandha is to simmer the root in milk instead of water, with a bit of honey added at the end. This can be particularly helpful for emaciated children, the elderly and those who are recovering from chronic illness. Taking ashwagandha in a warm milk decoction before bed may support healthy sleep in those suffering from insomnia.
While ashwagandha is generally considered safe, it may cause vaginal bleeding when taken in large doses and, therefore, should be avoided in pregnancy. You should also avoid ashwagandha if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade, or Solanaceae, family like tomatoes, potatoes or peppers. The powdered root is easy to take stirred into warm water or milk or added to smoothies. You can make a decoction of the cut and sifted roots by simmering 1 tablespoon of ashwagandha to 1 cup of water for 15 to 30 minutes.
- African Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine: An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda
- Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth; Sharol Tilgner, ND
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Adaptogenic and Cardioprotective Action of Ashwagandha in Rats and Frogs
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: In Vivo Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) Extract on the Activation of Lymphocytes
- The Chopra Center: Ashwagandha