Other: winter cherry, ashvagandha
Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal
Plant Family: Solanaceae
Ashwaganda is a highly revered medicinal herb used in Ayurveda for millennia and praised as a longevity and vitality tonic. It is often referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’ due to its similarity to ginseng in its action. Its herbal actions span a wide range from adaptogenic to sedative. In many Asian countries, all parts of the plant are utilized, and the tender leaves are eaten as a vegetable. As a gentle nourishing herb, it can be administered to children as well as the elderly. Many scientific studies exist regarding its manifold healing properties.
Native to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Mediteranean, 1 Withania somnifera is an undershrub with hairy branches, ovate leaves, yellow to greenish flowers, and bright red berries. 4 It is in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, and related to vegetables such as potato, tomato, and eggplant, and also to the psychoactive Jimson weed (Datura stramonium), and the medicinal bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara).5 The following species are used medicinally as well: W. coagulens, W. simonii, W. adunensis, and W. riebecki.6 The Latin species name, somnifera, means ‘sleep inducing’ and refers to its action as a sedative.
CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING
Ashwagandha is cultivated in India in regions such as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Most commercial supply is grown or wildcrafted in India. 3
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
In Ayurveda (traditional system of natural medicine recognized practiced in India primarily but also in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malaysia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), 3 the root is used, often powdered and mixed with honey and ghee (clarified butter). 5 It has been part of their repertoire for millenia. 6‘Ashwaghanda’ literally means ‘smelling like a horse’ which most likely refers to its actual scent (as many believe it smells like horse urine). 5
It is an effective sleep aid and used to balance various conditions that arise from ‘vata dosha’ (body type characterized by nervousness, dryness and feelings of cold) imbalances. 2,5 It is believed to encourage youth and vitality, and, in the elderly, to quell nervousness. 3 It is considered a ‘grounding’ and nourishing herb that helps to stabilize the mood as well, and is therefore another reason that it is supportive to female health. According to Anne McIntyre in “The Ayurvedic Bible” ashwagandha is an “exceptional nerve tonic” that is useful in cases of nervous exhaustion, worry, and overwork.
All parts of the plants have been used in traditional medicine. In India, the young leaves are eaten as a tasty vegetable sidedish. 3 The bitter leaves were administered in cases of fever, and they were also bruised and applied topically for skin ailments and various swellings. 4 Furthermore, they were combined with warm castor oil and administered in cases of worms and were also used to treat swelling. The unripe green berries were applied topically to the skin, and the root has been used externally too, as a treatment for soothing occasional sore joints. 4 Also, the red berries have been used as a substitute for rennet which is used to coagulate milk when making cheese. 6 In Africa, a tea of the bark was made to treat lung issues internally and skin issues externally. 3
FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS
Bitter, sweet, astringent in flavor and energetically warming (mildly). 5
Anxiolytic, tonic, hypolipidemic, rejuvenative, nervine, sedative, 5 and adaptogenic. 7
USES AND PREPARATIONS
Dried roots cut and sifted for tea, powdered and added to formulas, tinctured, or encapsulated
Key constituents include: ashwagandhine, cuscohygrine, anahygrine, tropine, withaferin A, withanolides*, withasomniferin, withasomidienone, withasomniferols, withanone, withaniol, sitoindosides, acylsteryl glucosides. 4
- the steroidal withanolides resemble, in both action and appearance, ginsenosides, the active constituents of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).6
Specific: Not for use in pregnancy except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed on February 18, 2015.
- Health Canada. Ashwagandha Monograph. http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=35
- Engels G, Brinckmann J. Ashwagandha. HerbalGram. 2013; Issue: 99 Page: 1-7 American Botanical Council. Austin, TX.
- Khan, I. A., & Abourashed, E. A. (2011). Leung’s encyclopedia of common natural ingredients: used in food, drugs and cosmetics. John Wiley & Sons.
- Khalsa Singh KP, Tierra M. The way of Ayurvedic herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press; 2008.
- Verma, S. K., & Kumar, A. J. A. Y. (2011). Therapeutic uses of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) with a note on withanolides and its pharmacological actions. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, 4(1), 01-04.
- Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.