Latin name: Withania somnifera
Common Names: Indian Ginseng, Winter Cherry, Ajagandha
Parts used: Roots and Seeds

History & Origin
Ashwagandha is a healing and nourishing root from India that is said to be one of the most powerful in the ancient Indian medicine system, Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha quite literally translates to “horse’s smell” due to the fresh roots similar horse-like scent. The traditional belief is that ingesting the herb will
impart the consumer with the virility and stamina of a horse.  Some herbalists even call ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, since it is used in Ayurveda in a similar way that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine. (TCM).

This root works to normalize physiological function, working on the HPA axis and neuroendocrine system. The root of the ashwagandha is also used as a

  • Tonic
  • Aphrodisiac
  • Narcotic
  • Diuretic
  • Anthelmintic
  • Astringent
  • Thermogenic
  • Stimulant

In Ayurveda this plant is claimed to have potent aphrodisiac rejuvenation and life-prolonging properties.

As it's said to be one the most powerful herbs in Ayurveda it has been used as a rejuvenator for thousands of years. To better understand the meaning of this it’s best to understand the basis of Ayurveda. It is one of the world’s oldest holistic medicine systems that originated in India and remains one of the country’s traditional healthcare systems. It is defined as a balance between body, mind, and spirit. Ashwagandha is a very revered herb in this system for its high success rate through traditional use.

Plant I.D./Cultivation

When we consider Ashwagandha in the marketplace, we're typically referring to Withania somnifera. Belonging to the same nightshade family as the tomato, ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval, bell-shaped leaves and yellow flowers. It bears small reddish-orange berries and has wooly hairs throughout the stock.  

Ashwagandha is commonly known as “Indian Ginseng”, but botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated. The shrub is native to India, North Africa, the Middle East, and today it’s frequently found in the Unites States! It can even be found wild as a roadside weed.

As a commercial crop Ashwagandha cultivation is carried out mostly in India. It’s propagated from seeds and placed in nursery beds to germinate. When the plant is about a month old it can be transplanted to farming fields. It’s typically cultivated in regions with hot-humid weather and low rainfall. The shrub is tolerant of dry regions and will grow in dry soil once established. Ashwagandha is mature and ready to harvest in 150-180 days when it starts to grow flowers and berries and the lower leaves begin to dry out. The roots are then harvested by carefully digging them up while the soil still has some moisture to prevent from damage.

After the harvesting, the roots, berries, and leaves are separated. The berries are crushed to acquire seeds while the roots are cut up into small pieces to dry. This is done by leaving them in the sun, shade or using the cabinet drying method. This method is used by placing all of the roots to be dried on racks in a cabinet made specifically for drying herbs.  

There was a study conducted on the most effective way to dry ashwagandha root using the three methods mentioned.

“It was found that in cabinet drying about 49 to 52% moisture loss was observed in only 3.15 hours of drying. The drying condition does not affect much on color but the effect of temperature plays an important role in withanolides content due to which maximum withanolides was observed in shade drying and minimum in case of cabinet drying (air velocity 1.8 - 2.0 ms-1).” (Influence of Drying on the quality of Ashwagandha)

This research states that the active compound count is higher when the root is dried outside under the shade. This way they dry have airflow and are not scorched of their nutrients in the process.

Therapeutic Potential of Withania somnifera

As stated, Ashwagandha holds a wide array of therapeutic value for the consumer.

There are active constituents in plants and these are the chemicals that have a medicinal effect on the body. Ashwagandha’s active constituents are named withanolides, from its scientific name Withania somnifera. Ashwagandha’s withanolides are very similar in their behavior and appearance to the active constituents found in Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng). (Referring to its resemblance as a ginseng)

Ashwagandha is one of the most commonly used and researched adaptogen herbs. Like all adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha helps the body to maintain a state of homeostasis, especially in moments of stress, whether it is physical or emotional. It has even been proven effective in the decrease of adrenal cortisol. In a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 64 participants with a history of chronic stress had their serum cortisol levels tested. They were then randomly given either a placebo or a capsule of 300 mg high concentration full spectrum extract. They were to take this twice a day for 60 days. At the end of the study, it was shown that there was a severe reduction in serum cortisol levels, relative to the placebo group.

As well as being an effective treatment to stress it is a well-known Rasayana in Ayurvedic tradition. A rasayana is described as an herbal preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health as well as expanding happiness.

Also providing benefit as an analgesic it works to, “soothe the nervous system from pain response” “The powerful anti-arthritic properties of Ashwagandha are now widely accepted and documented; it is furthermore found to be effective as antipyretic as well as analgesic also.” (Twajj et al., 1989).

These findings indicate that the traditional use of Ashwagandha in Ayurveda has a logical and scientific basis.

Using Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha takes on many forms. There is the cut and sifted root, powdered root, and a root extract. With the forms mentioned, there are different ways to consume them.

  • Teas
  • Tinctures
  • Fluid Extract
  • Food
  • Capsules

 The cut and sifted root is brewed into a tea or distilled in a tincture. The powdered root is often added to food or filled into capsules, and the extract is normally taken by capsule as well.

How to consume: The most common traditional way of consuming ashwagandha is to boil 1-2 tsp. powder in water to make a tea. Usually, it’s mixed with milk, buttermilk, ghee, or honey. This is done twice daily.

Another way to consume ashwagandha is with a fluid extract of the root. This is prepared at a 1:1 ratio as a tincture. You can purchase our ashwagandha here.

It is also taken as a capsule or by being cooked into food via the root in vegetable stock or the powder is added to dishes.

How much to use at a time or how often can be dependent on the consumer and the result desired, but there is a general rule of thumb for almost all herbs.

Works Cited

Caldecott, Todd. "Ashwagandha Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects And More." The Ayurveda Experience Blog, 17 May 2018, www.theayurvedaexperience.com/blog/what-is-ashwagandha-benefits-usage/.

Chandrasekhar K , et al. "A Prospective, Randomized Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-concentration Full-spectrum Extract of Ashwaganda." National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798.

"Cultivation of Ashwagandha." Ashwagandha, ashwagandha.wisepooch.com/cultivation-of-ashwagandha.php.

Narendra Singh, Mohit Bhalla, Prashanti de Jager,* and Marilena Gilca**, et al. "An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda." PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/.

Ravi Agrawal1 , A. Upadhyay2 and Preeti Sagar Nayak2, et al. "Influence of Drying on the quality of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)." jfoodphamsci.com, citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.844.3847&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

SITANSU KUMAR VERMA* AND AJAY KUMAR. "THERAPEUTIC USES OF WITHANIA SOMNIFERA (ASHWAGANDHA) WITH A NOTE ON WITHANOLIDES AND ITS PHARMACOLOGICAL ACTIONS." Innovare Academic Sciences, innovareacademics.in/journal/ajpcr/Vol4Suppl1/408.pdf.

October 23, 2018 by Allyson Tovar

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