Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, is a plant valued for centuries in India. Ashwagandha churna refers to the powdered form of ashwagandha. Ayurvedic practitioners have long used its leaves, roots and berries to treat anemia, chronic inflammatory diseases, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, arthritis, and diabetes among other conditions. Ashwagandha is sometimes used as a poultice to relieve pain as well, according to a 2010 article in the journal "Central Nervous System Agents in Medical Chemistry." Consult your doctor before using this herb.
In the book, "Wilson and Kuhn's Herbal Therapy & Supplements", the authors write that ashwagandha is held in high regard in Ayurvedic medicine and is thought to be one of the great tonics. Traditional herbalists employ it to heal conditions like nervousness, bloating, depression, memory impairment and exhaustion. It is also been used to treat inflammatory conditions, low blood pressure, spasms, emaciation and anemia.
Researchers do not yet understand fully understand how ashwagandha works. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center states that saponins, steroidal lactones and withanolides may be the bio-active elements of the plant. A 2000 article in "Alternative Health Review" notes that studies show the herb has anti-stress, anti-tumor and general rejuvenating properties. It acts in a beneficial manner on the central nervous system as well as the cardiopulmonary and endocrine systems with few if any adverse effects. The National Institutes of Health is encouraging research on this remarkable plant, in light of numerous studies which demonstrate its effectiveness as a curative agent. Ashwagandha should only be used under a doctor's supervision.
According to Sloan-Kettering, laboratory studies indicate that ashwagandha possesses anti-inflammatory characteristics which may slow the progression of cartilage damage in osteoarthritis. Moreover, animal studies demonstrate that the plant may improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes. Much more research, though, is needed to confirm ashwagandha's therapeutic qualities. As with any herb, do not use aswagandha without consulting your doctor first.
Ashwagandha is widely available in health food stores and nutrition centers in the form of capsules, liquid extracts and teas. In "Winston and Kuhn's Herbal Therapy and Supplements," the authors write that while ashwagandha is generally safe, it is not to be used in pregnancy because it may cause miscarriage. Rare side effects may include diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation and abdominal pain. According to Sloan-Kettering, ashwagandha seems to increase the sedative qualities of barbiturates. Speak with a physician before using ashwagandha, as it may interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines.