Ashwagandha, one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient
times for a wide variety of conditions, but is most well known for its restorative benefits. In
Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor
and strength of a stallion, and it has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their
immune system after an illness. In fact, it’s frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of
its rejuvenating properties (although botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated). In
addition, ashwagandha is also used to enhance sexual potency for both men and women.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, ashwagandha (or Withania somnifera in Latin) is a
plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The
herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, but today is also
grown in more mild climates, including in the United States.
Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides, (steroidal
lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves
and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most
commonly used in Western herbal remedies.
Medical researchers have been studying ashwagandha with great interest and as of this date
have carried out 216 studies of its healing benefits, summarized below:
confers immune system protection
combats the effects of stress
improves learning, memory, and reaction time
reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
stabilizes blood sugar
reduces braincell degeneration
contains antimalarial properties
offers antiinflammatory benefits
Some studies have also found that ashwagandha inhibits the growth of cancer cells in small
animals, but further research is needed to determine whether the herb prevents the development
of tumors in human beings.
Practical Uses and Precautions:
The usual recommended dose is 600 to 1000 mg, twice daily. For people who suffer from
insomnia and anxiety, having a cup of hot milk that contains a teaspoon of powdered
ashwagandha before bedtime is beneficial. In extremely large doses, ashwagandha has been
reported to induce abortions in animals. Although no similar studies have been carried out on
humans, women should avoid the herb during pregnancy.