Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It literally translates to "odor of horse" because of the distinct smell it emits, which is similar to horse sweat. Some accounts also say that it was named as such because it gives you the endurance and strength of a horse. In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha herb is classified as "Rasayana," a type of essence that helps in the healing of the body and the lengthening of life.1
The ashwagandha plant comes from the Solanaceae family, the same as tomatoes and eggplants. It's a small shrub with distinct red berries and five-petal flowers. However, the most important part of the plant is the root because it's where the powder used for tonics and tinctures is extracted from. But what is ashwagandha good or used for? Besides helping your body function better, it can impact your immune system, your ability to deal with stress and your cognitive responses as well.
Ashwagandha's Many Uses
As an Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha offers numerous benefits when ingested or used as a medicine. Ashwagandha for children is usually in the form of a tonic, whereas ashwagandha for adults is in supplement or capsule form. The different parts of the ashwagandha plant have various medicinal purposes. The ashwagandha leaves are used to help treat fever, swelling and opthalmia, or inflammation of the eye. You can also use ashwagandha root to help treat ulcers.
Other ashwagandha root benefits include acting as a diuretic and as a remedy for constipation and insomnia. Ashwagandha seeds, on the other hand, are used in India to coagulate milk.
Ashwagandha root extract, together with the berries of the plant, is used for the production of tonics and capsules. It can be used to make tea, a refreshing drink and at the same time provide you with countless health uses.2 Ashwagandha can also help treat the following disorders and imbalances:3
How to Use Ashwagandha
Ashwaganda comes in various forms. While there is no standard dose, it is usually recommended that you ingest only 3 to 6 grams of this powder daily. It should also be noted that to get the maximum health benefits that the plant offers, you should make sure to use fresh ashwagandha. Ideally, you should buy organic ashwagandha to avoid ingesting pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in conventional farming.4
Ashwagandha root powder can be used topically as a poultice to help treat wounds. Mix the powder with water to make a smooth paste, and apply to the wound. It will help fight off bacteria, alleviate pain and speed up the healing process. You can also use this paste as a skin toner and as a treatment for keratosis. It will help keep your skin healthy and glowing.5 If you want to consume ashwagandha powder to maximize its healing uses, here is a recipe for ashwagandha tea with milk and cardamom.
Ashwagandha Tea With Milk and Cardamom6
• 1/2 cup raw organic milk
• 1 teaspoon Ashwagandha powder
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 1/2 cup water
• Boil milk, ashwagandha and honey over low heat.
• Wait for it until the mixture is reduced to about 1/2 cup.
• Add cardamom and drink while it's lukewarm. Consume this drink twice daily.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha can help improve your immunity and support your digestive system. Ashwagandha benefits for women include relieving menopausal symptoms, helping solve female infertility and eliminating leucorrhea.7 For men, ashwagandha benefits include increasing fertility and sexual drive, improving testosterone levels, helping with erectile dysfunction and helping increase low sperm count.8 Ashwagandha also:
• Helps in cardiovascular health
Ashwagandha helps maintain your heart health through its regulation of blood circulation. It helps prevent blood clots, stabilizes blood sugar and controls the cholesterol levels in your body. It also helps keep blood pressure levels within the normal range, which prevents the stress from burdening your heart.9
• Treats insomnia
Ashwagandha helps in treating insomnia because of its naturally relaxing components. It helps the body reduce cortisol (stress hormone) production by as much as 28 percent.10 It also helps the body become more active and may induce sleep at the end of the day.11
• Wards off infections
This herb boosts your immune system and allows the body to produce more white blood cells, which filter out viruses and bacteria, preventing infections from occurring.12
• Helps maintain your skin's youthful appearance
Ashwagandha increases your estrogen levels, which in turn triggers the production of collagen. This allows the skin to keep its youthful appearance and helps in the production of natural oils.
It also fights off free radicals that cause wrinkles, dark spots and blemishes,13 and may even help reduce your risk of skin cancer.14
• Improves memory and cognitive function
Ashwagandha helps slow down the deterioration of brain cells in patients with dementia. It was found to repair brain cell damage and rebuild neuronal networks and synapses. This herb may also help deal with depression because of its ability to combat mental and emotional stress.15
Try Ashwagandha Oil, Too
Ashwagandha oil is another form of ashwagandha that offers a wide variety of medicinal and practical uses. It's usually mixed with other essential oils (or diluted in a safe carrier oil) to assist with illnesses and diseases. The following are the benefits of ashwagandha oil:16
- Combats cancer-causing free radicals. Ashwagandha oil has been credited with having antitumor and antioxidant properties that help in preventing cancer cells from developing. It has also been observed that ashwagandha oil helps in a faster recovery with patients that have undergone chemotherapy.
- Helps deal with arthritis and rheumatism. The oil deeply penetrates in the skin, allowing the muscles and blood vessels to relax. It also alleviates pain, strengthens the bones and nourishes the tissues.
- Enhances immunity. It boosts the immune system and helps you fight off infections and viruses more efficiently. The oil itself function like a tonic, and has shown to increase white blood cell count.
- Fights stress. When the body is stressed, it produces high amounts of cortisol that triggers your fight-or-flight reflex. When you take ashwagandha, it reduces cortisol production, which then minimizes the occurrence of stress.
If using ashwagandha topically, make sure to dilute it in a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil. You should do a skin patch test to see if any allergic reactions occur. Consult your physician before ingesting ashwagandha oil as well.
Do You Want to Plant Ashwagandha?
The ashwagandha plant typically grows in hot and humid climates like India's where it originates. But it is quite tolerant to dry soil once the plant is established. To grow your own ashwagandha, make sure that you follow these requirements:17
- Your soil should be sandy and well-draining. It's best to plant your seeds in a sunny part of your garden. It is nearly impossible to grow ashwagandha in a waterlogged environment that doesn't drain.
- The plant should not be watered all the time, and should be watered only when it seems "thirsty."
- The ideal growing temperature is between 70 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is lower, expect the plant to grow at a much slower pace. The ashwagandha plant should be fully grown in about 150 to 180 days.
Is Ashwagandha Safe?
Most people don't show any negative effects when they consume ashwagandha for a few days. However, it should not be taken for a continuous period of time because studies on the long-term effect of ashwagandha have not yet been done. Therefore, the intake and usage of ashwagandha should be done in moderation.18 If you're suffering from any health problems, consult with your physician before taking ashwagandha orally.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha and Other Contraindications
Side effects could occur after ingesting ashwagandha, such as diarrhea, stomach upset, nausea and vomiting. Ashwagandha herb side effects also include excessive sedation when taken with a mild sedative.
Ingesting ashwagandha during pregnancy or when breast-feeding should also be avoided because it could have an effect on the unborn or breast-feeding child. It could also cause a miscarriage because studies suggest that when taken in excess, ashwagandha can cause spasmolytic activity in the uterus, which can result in a premature birth.19
Like other herbs and spices, ashwagandha offers a broad variety of benefits and uses. But it should always be used in moderation. Remember, everything in excess, even something as health-giving as ashwagandha, may have negative effects on your body, which is totally against your initial goal.