Since ancient times, Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) has been highly revered in Ayurveda (India’s traditional medical system) as a powerful adaptogen. “Adaptogen” is an important term for herbalists and those interested in herbal medicine to understand. Adaptogens are defined as herbs that restore overall balance, and strengthen the functioning of the body as a whole. Many clinical herbalists refuse to let clients leave their clinic without an adaptogen. As well as bringing balance and harmony to the body systems, adaptogens are strengthening to the innate immune system. This is the part of the immune system that recognizes and remembers pathogens it comes across, keeping the body from contracting the same illness twice.
Ashwagandha is a sanskrit word literally translating to “the scent of a horse,” due to it’s robust aroma and it’s ability to increase stamina. It is the root of the plant that is used for medicine.
As well as being an adaptogen, ashwagandha is used to treat:
- leukoderma (whitening of the skin)
- menstrual disorders
- & chronic liver disease
It is used for mental alertness, to reduce inflammation, and for fertility problems in both men and women. In Ayurveda, this healing herb is used to reduce vata (a constitution or body type dominated by dryness, anxiety, and irregularity) and to reduce pitta (a constitution or body type dominated by heat, strong metabolism, and anger). These actions are due to ashwagandha’s calming nature and it’s tonic action on the central nervous system. It is this quality that makes ashwagandha beneficial for stress and an effective sleep-aid, without causing drowsiness.
In traditional ayurvedic medicine, a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder is stirred into hot milk and taken before bed. This is an effective way to take the root, because the active compounds are fat soluble. Almond milk is also appropriate. Otherwise, the cut and dried root can be simmered in water for 5 to 10 minutes, strained, and enjoyed. Various other extracts are available such as, tinctures (alcohol extracts), glycerites (glycerin extracts) and capsules.
* As always, consult your health care provider before taking any new herbs or supplements, especially if you take prescription medications or if you are pregnant or nursing.