Ashwagandha: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Botanical name

Withania somnifera

Ashwagandha is an evergreen small shrub with velvety leaves, bell-shaped flowers, and small orange coloured berries (after-ripening) that look like tomatoes. It is also known as ‘Indian winter cherry.’ There is a mention of Ashwagandha in ancient scripture, and the meaning of this is ‘horse odour,’ and the roots of shrub smells like the urine of a horse. From the name of this herb, the synonyms resemble a horse as it is aphrodisiac. Therefore, it provides horse-like stamina.

It is a perennial herb that can grow up to a height of 1.5 meters. If we look at its name, i.e., Withania somnifera by the botanical angle, the word ‘somnifera’ means sleep inducive. That is why it is used to make sedative drugs that can treat sleep disorders and insomnia. 

Sources of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha mostly grows in dry places where the humidity is lower and majorly grown in subtropical regions. The states in India, such as Gujarat, Punjab Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, cultivate Ashwagandha cash crops. Other than India, some parts of North America grow Ashwagandha.

Other Names for Ashwagandha

  • In Sanskrit, it is known as Ashwagandha, Vajini, Kamrupini, Balada, Gandhpatri.
  • In Hindi, it is known as Asgandha.
  • In Marathi, it is known as Doragunj, Asandh.
  • In English, it is known as Winter cherry.
  • In Kannada, it is known as Ashvagandhi.
  • In Tamil, it is known as Askulang, Amukura.
  • In Telugu, it is known as Penneru gaddha.
  • In Malayalam, it is known as Amukkura.

Important chemical constituents of Ashwagandha

The major bioactive constituent of Ashwagandha is alkaloids composed of anahygrine, anaferine, isopelletierine, and cuseohygrine. Ashwagandha also contains steroidal lactones such as withanolides, withaferins, and saponins. Ashwagandha is rich in anti-stress agents like acylsterylglucosides and Sitoindosides. 

Benefits and Traditional uses of Ashwagandha

  • The root of Ashwagandha is used as an excellent tonic, and it possesses properties like a stimulant, anthelmintic, and thermogenic.
  • In-home remedies Ashwagandha is given to the weak or abnormal child for their well-being as it is a perfect tonic for them.
  • The components of Ashwagandha possess aphrodisiac rejuvenative-like properties which can help in life-prolonging. 
  • There are herbal massage oils made using Ashwagandha extracts, and it is beneficial in treating sleeplessness, paralysis, and epilepsy.
  • The leaves of Ashwagandha are crushed to prepare the paste. Due to its anti-inflammatory property, it is used for application on local inflammation.
  • The syrup of Ashwagandha prepared using the mixture of honey, ghee, and root extract has strong aphrodisiac properties, and this is very useful for improving the sperm count, semen quantity, and sperm mobility.
  • Ashwagandha is a commonly used remedy to treat Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
  • Ashwagandha helps to improve the vigor and energy in the body.
  • The regular use of Ashwagandha churna has been effective in conditions like rheumatism, senile debility, nervous exhaustion, low memory, and lower muscular energy.
  • The decoction prepared using Ashwagandha roots is used to treat miscarriages and improve uterus and cold tone.
  • The dried roots and bark of Ashwagandha are used to prepare the infusion, which can be further used for treating asthmatic patients.
  • The powder prepared using Ashwagandha roots and leaves along with the oil is very useful for skin diseases. 
  • Ashwagandha due to its galactagogue property, helps in improving the milk quality of lactating mothers.
  • Ashwagandha is rich in antioxidants, and this helps in improving the immune system.
  • Ashwagandha is an excellent tonic for the nervous system. This helps to deal with problems like depression, stress, and anxiety. 
  • Ashwagandha is useful in maintaining heart health, and it helps to strengthen the heart muscles by improving the blood flow. This could also help in lowering the cholesterol level in the body.
  • There is scientific literature that claims that the use of Ashwagandha in diet can improve the respiratory system.
  • Ashwagandha is used in treating thyroid-related problems.

Ashwagandha parts and its health benefits

1: The berries

The berries of Ashwagandha contain milk coagulating components. Therefore it can be used as an excellent alternative for rennet (Enzyme) to make cheese in the dairy industry.

2: Leaf

Both fresh and dried leaves of Ashwagandha is used in making the herbal formulations as it is rich in antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective components. 

3: Roots

The dried roots of Ashwagandha contain an anti-inflammatory component. Therefore it is used for treating rheumatism, tumor, and swellings.

Read more about: Ashwagandha – The Natural Anti-Stress Herb!

Ashwagandha and Diabetes mellitus

Ashwagandha helps the liver release more insulin in the blood in diabetic patients, and it improves insulin sensitivity; this will further help regulate the blood sugar level. Ashwagandha plays an important role in protecting the insulin-producing cells and for increasing insulin levels. The synergy of both helps in reducing diabetes risk.

Ashwagandha and Parkinson’s disease

Ashwagandha is beneficial in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is related to damage of the nerve cells in the brain. This has a direct impact on muscle control and body balance. Due to Ashwagandha, it prevents damage of nerve cells due to its strong antioxidant potential. It thereby reduces the risk of Parkinson related problems.

Recommended Dosage of Ashwagandha

The ayurvedic dosage of Ashwagandha varies according to its variants. Different forms of Ashwagandha products are:

FormPreparationRecommended dosage/ day
Powder (churna)The 1/2 teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder (churna) is taken with 1 glass of milk with some honey.2 times
Capsule1 capsule of Ashwagandha is taken with lukewarm milk or water.2 times
Tablet1 capsule of Ashwagandha is taken with lukewarm milk or water.2 times

There are also different Ashwagandha products available in local supermarkets: Ashwagandha Tea, Ashwagandha Milkshake, Ashwagandha Ladoo, and Ashwagandha Shrikhand.

Side effects and Precautions while using Ashwagandha

  • The excessive dosage of ashwagandha-containing products can cause uterus contractions, premature baby birth, and miscarriages. Therefore, it must be taken with a proper prescription from a medical practitioner. 
  • The excessive dosage of ashwagandha can lead to abortions.
  • There are chances of causing stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea when ashwagandha is taken along with anti-anxiety medicines.
  • The intake of Ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is better not to take Ashwagandha when suffering from low blood pressure.
  • The intake of Ashwagandha can irritate when a patient suffering from a stomach ulcer.
  • Ashwagandha should not be taken when the patient is supposed to go for surgery since it interferes with the central nervous system.

FAQs

Can Ashwagandha help in losing bodyweight?

Yes, the cortisol levels are lowered with a regular intake of Ashwagandha products, lowering body weight. The adrenal gland releases cortisol in the body during stress conditions. When cortisol level increases, the hunger for fancy foods like fried food, sweets, and soft drink increases.  Therefore, loss of control in managing body weight and, thus, lowering the body’s cortisol level for better weight management.  

Is Ashwagandha helpful in curing cancer?

Yes, there is scientific literature that showed that cancer could be treated using Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha retards the growth of cancer cells, which will reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

Can Ashwagandha cure the thyroid problem?

Yes, Ashwagandha can help in curing thyroid-related problems. Ashwagandha is composed of essential steroidal, alkaloids, and saponin, which helps in balancing thyroid hormones. Ashwagandha has powerful antioxidant potential. This will help reduce the oxidative stress of the thyroid gland and thereby enhance thyroid activity.

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