Latin name: Withania somnifera
Common Names: Ashwagandha, Indian Ginseng, and Winter Cherry
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 of 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 impact the consumer with the virility and stamina of a horse. Some herbalists even refer to Ashwagandha as Indian ginseng because it is used in Ayurveda in a similar way that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine. (TCM).
As it's said to be one the most powerful herbs in Ayurveda it has been used as a rejuvenator for thousands of years, claimed to have potent aphrodisiac rejuvenation as well as life-prolonging properties. To better understand the history of these claims 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 an extremely revered herb in this system due to its high success rates through traditional use.
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. It's 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 United States and can even be found growing 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 then 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 or when it starts to grow flowers, 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 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 conducted by placing all of the cut roots to be dried on racks in a cabinet made specifically for drying herbs. The cabinet drying method has even been studied and shown to conserve the most content of active compounds. This could be important to note when buying Ashwagandha for medicinal potential. Finally, after the roots are all dried, they can be sold whole or further processed into a powder for production use.
Therapeutic Potential of Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha holds a wide array of therapeutic value for the consumer and protecting the adrenals is its strong suit. As an adaptogen, this root works to normalize physiological functions by working on the HPA axis and neuroendocrine system. There are active constituents in all 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. 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 ginseng)
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 stress-induced adrenal cortisol levels. 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. These findings indicate that the long traditional use of Ashwagandha in Ayurveda has a logical and scientific basis by using withanolides to improve an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improve self-assessed quality of life.
Ashwagandha takes on many forms. There is the cut and sifted root, powdered root, and a root extract. Taking the forms mentioned there are also a few different ways to consume them. They can be consumed as a:
- Fluid Extract
- In food
The cut and sifted root are 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.
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 Ashwagandha." 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.