So prized is ashwagandha in the Ayurvedic healing system, that it has earned the status of a rasayana -- a substance that improves physical and mental health, prevents disease and arrests the aging process. Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, comes from an evergreen shrub native to the Middle East and eastern Africa. Sold as a dietary supplement in the United States, natural healrers often recommend ashwagandha to promote well-being and positive mood. Scientific research supports the anxiety-reducing and mild sedative effects of ashwagandha. Consult your doctor before taking ashwagandha.
At the Root of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha comes from Withania somnifera plant, which features oval grayish-green leaves, small greenish-yellow flowers and orange-red fruit. Although all parts of the plant may be used, it is the root that is most commonly utilized to make herbal preparations. Ashwagandha has been traditionally employed in Ayurveda to increase strength and vigor and to combat stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue. It is used to treat tumors, infectious diseases and inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
Ashwagandha is Anti-inflammatory
The pharmacologically active parts of ashwagandha are a group of chemicals called withanolides. These are structurally related to the ginsenosides found in Panax ginseng and are the reason that ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng. The herb also contains alkaloids, saponins and iron. The Drugs.com website credits ashwagandha with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antipyretic, or fever-reducing, properties in test tube and animal studies. In animal studies, ashwagandha has shown a mild depressant effect on the central nervous system, resulting in tranquilizing and relaxant effects. Ashwagandha also has adaptogenic properties, meaning that it strengthens the immune system and helps the body counteract stress.
What the Research Says
In a clinical study published in 2009 in "PLoS One," subjects with moderate to severe anxiety received 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root twice a day for three months as part of a program of naturopathic care; other subjects in the study received standardized psychotherapy. When results were compared, researchers found that the group that received ashwagandha exhibited greater clinical benefit, as measured by the Beck Anxiety Inventory; anxiety was reduced by 50 percent. Researchers called for further study, including closer examination of the individual components. In an animal study published in 2000 in "Phytomedicine," ashwagandha induced a calming effect on rats that was comparable to that produced by the anti-anxiety medication, lorazepam. The herb also had an antidepressant effect. This research seems to indicate that ashwagandha can act as a mood stabilizer and could conceivably help with sleeplessness that arises from anxiety and depression.
Ashwagandha dosage usually ranges from 450 to 2,000 milligrams per day, according to Drugs.com. Brew the herb as a tea by boiling between 3/4 and 1-1/4 teaspoon of ashwagandha root in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes, instructs the Blue Shield website; you may drink three cups a day. Few adverse reactions have been reported with ashwagandha. Do not use it, however, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before using ashwagandha.