encyclopedia

Ashwagandha Root

Scientific Names:    

Withania somniferum (L.) Schott [Fam. Solanaceae]    
     

Forms:    

Ashwagandha root and root extracts.    
     

Traditional Usage:     

– Adaptogen
– Anxiety
– Anorexia
– Aphrodisiac
– Appetite Loss
– Back Pain
– Breathing Disorders
– Bronchitis
– Cellular Regeneration
– “Chi” Deficiency (Low Energy)
– Cleansing
– Constipation
– Convalescence
– Debility
– Detoxifying
– Energy
– Fatigue
– Female Health Maintenance
– Gastrointestinal Disorders
– Heart Health Maintenance
– Hormonal Imbalances
– Immune Deficiency
– Immunity Strengthening
– Infections
– Insomnia
– Liver Health Maintenance
– Male Health Maintenance
– Nervous Disorders
– Nervous Exhaustion
– Respiratory Disorders
– Rheumatism
– Senile Dementia
– Sexual Disorders
– Stress
– Swollen Glands
– Tonic
– Ulcers
– Weakness     
     
    
Overview:    

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera (L.) Schott [Fam. Solanaceae], also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, has been used medicinally in India for thousands of years. The plant's Latin name literally means, “sweat of a horse” due to the scent of the roots. In Ayurvedic medicine, its use extends back over 3000 years. It was traditionally used as a tonic herb for promoting longevity and treating emaciation in people, including babies, and for improving reproductive functions of both men and women. It was also used historically for treating inflammation, swollen glands, arthritis, rheumatism, anxiety, stress, constipation, low energy, as a liver tonic, astringent, and more recently to treat bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, insomnia, and senile dementia. This herb was also known as a potent aphrodisiac. According to an Ashwagandha Monograph published in Alternative Medicine Review (2004), clinical trials and animal research support the use of ashwagandha for treating anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation, Parkinson's disease, and as a potentially useful adjunct for patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Numerous studies on both animals and humans have attested to the anti-arthritis and mind calming properties of ashwagandha. Specific alkaloids found in ashwagandha root have noted calming, anti-convulsant and antispasmodic properties. Other constituents, namely the sitoindosides, improve immune system and white blood cell responses to pathogens by increasing phagocytosis. Crude extracts of ashwagandha root also have noted anti-tumor properties based on studies with mice and petri dish cultures. Dr. James Duke, in the book The Green Pharmacy, recommends that men suffering from impotence and poor libido take ashwagandha root occasionally as a tonic. He notes that Ayurvedic physicians recommend ashwagandha for increasing male libido and improving sexual function and alleviating erectile dysfunction, in a similar way to how the Chinese use ginseng. However, he recommends against using this particular herb daily for this purpose.     
     
    
Active Ingredients:    

Ashwagandha root contains: Alkaloids; anaferine; anahygrine; choline; cuscohygrine; dulcitol; glycowithanolides; hentriacontane; hydroxywithanolide-D; ipuranol; isopelletierine; psuedotropine; sitoindosides; withandienolide; and withenolide. [Duke 1992].    
     
    
Suggested Amount:    

Ashwagandha root can be eaten with foods or taken as a tea or decoction with the recommended dosage corresponding to 3 to 6 grams of powdered dried root daily or up to 5 to 10 grams as an occasional tonic. According to Dr. Michael Tierra, the decoction is made using 16 to 31 grams of dried root added to heated cow's milk. A tincture can also be used with the recommended dosage of 2 tbsp, 2-4 times daily. Dr. James Duke recommends making the tea using five teaspoons of dried root per cup of boiling water and drinking one to two cups daily.    
     
    
Drug Interactions:    

None known.    
     
    
Contraindications:    

Ashwagandha is contraindicated during pregnancy unless under the direction of a qualified medical doctor. Large doses may possess abortifacient properties. It is also contraindicated in conjunction with sedatives such as barbiturates or anxioletics or in cases of stomach ulcer.    
     
    
Side Effects:    

Taken at recommended dosages, ashwagandha root is considered to be relatively safe for healthy, non-pregnant, non-nursing adults. Large doses of ashwagandha have been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and vomiting.    
     
    
References:     
     
Anonymous 2004. Withania somnifera – monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun; 9(2): 211-214.
 
Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. 2000. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000 Dec; 7(6): 463-9.
 
Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World's Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. Pp.: 235; 342. Rodale Press.
 
Duke JA. 1992. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, Pp. 641.
 
Tierra, M. Ashwagandha: Wonder Herb of India. Published by PlanetHerbs.com: http://www.planetherbs.com/articles/ashwagandha.htm