What Is Ashwagandha {Withania somnifera}?

Also, Known As:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Indian Ginseng
  • Withania

The herb known as the ashwagandha is a small plant in the same plant family as the common garden tomato. This plant is a stout shrub which can grow to a height of about five feet-170 centimeters when fully matured. The ashwagandha is similar to the tomato, in that it too bears yellow flowers and has a red colored fruit, the fruit is, however, berrylike in size and shape and the resemblance to the berry of tomato is not very easy to recognize. This herb is endemic to South Asia, and the ashwagandha grows abundantly in the wild in countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka-all of which are in South Asia and share a similar climate. Herbal remedies make use of all the parts of this particular herb and many different herbal medicines are prepared from this herb.

The meaning of the name ashwagandha, which is a Hindi word, is “horse’s smell”. The Hindi word not only reflects the idea of the smell of a horse exuded by the plant but also connotes the properties of the plant to the strength of a horse. The use of the ashwagandha is immense in the Indian, Ayurvedic system of medicine and for this reason, certain herbalists have called the ashwagandha, the Indian ginseng. This is very appropriate as the variety of uses this herb is put to in the Ayurvedic medicine is as great if not greater than the use of ginseng in the traditional Chinese medicine- TCM -system.

Plant Parts Used

Whole herb.

Herbal Use

The role of the herbal ashwagandha preparation in traditional herbal medicine systems for more than 2,500 years has been as a “vitalizer” or energizer of the human body. These days, this herbal remedy is placed in the category of remedies known as the adaptogens. The herb has powers of rejuvenating the body; it can help in balancing and strengthening the body, and aids in calming the nervous system of an affected individual. The herbal remedies made from the Ashwagandha are also very useful in bringing effective relief from physical fatigue; it can aid in alleviating nervous exhaustion, and improve the chances of recovery from memory loss suffered by a person. At the same time, the remedial properties attributed to the herb also include an aphrodisiac action; it has a great reputation in this regard and is believed to be capable of preventing the onset of sterility in males and also possibly aiding in the treatment of various sexual ailments. The herbal remedies made from the ashwagandha also acts as a mild sedative and it reduces mental turmoil and promotes a calm sleep in a person with an agitated or stressed mind. The ashwagandha is also believed to promote rapid tissue regeneration and is believed to slow down the aging process in individuals using the remedy for long periods of time.

The ashwagandha is considered to be an excellent aid in bodybuilding and for enhancing performance in all types of sports which are physically challenging. This is because the ashwagandha gives the user an instant charge of very long lasting energy increases, precluding the need to use other chemical stimulants by the athlete.

The beneficial effects of the ashwagandha have been successfully used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and in the correction of certain disorders with the memory and mental functions. Any loss in memory suffered by the patients is corrected by the ashwagandha through its ability to modify the way in which the brain utilizes a chemical neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine; this chemical messenger is the agent responsible for transmitting messages from one nerve cell to the other nerve cell within the brain. The brain sometimes gets the acetylcholine it needs, by the destruction of its own cells especially in situations when the oxygen levels in the brain become very low. The transmission of nervous signals is blocked in areas where these cell remnants form neurofibrillary tangles and the consequence is that the person displays symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. The consumption of ashwagandha by a person will reduce the likelihood of this cannibalization process in the brain. The persistent continuation of such an action will result in a lowering the cognitive deficit and memory loss which come with memory diseases like the Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.

Ashwagandha has also been used in the treatment of arthritis and the carpal tunnel syndrome. Studies conducted on animal test subjects indicate that many of the naturally occurring steroids in the ashwagandha herb have greater potency in the treatment of arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome than the synthetic steroid hydrocortisone usually used to control the inflammation in such disorders. Furthermore, the natural steroidal compounds present in the ashwagandha also help to reduce the pain evident during arthritis as effectively as other compounds and medications including aspirin and the compound phenylbutazone – especially when they are taken in small amounts. At the same time, these compounds bring on these effects without the immune depressing side effects associated with the other medications.

Herbal remedies made from the Ashwagandha are also effective against many autoimmune disorders of the human body. During the course of treatment for a common autoimmune disorder like lupus, taking the ashwagandha remedy can lead to an increase in the counts of both red and white blood cells following initial treatment of the affected patient using drugs such as azathioprine-Imuran, drugs like cyclophosphamide – generic names, Cytoxan, Neosar, or prednisone which are normally used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Remedies made from the herb are also used in the treatment of cancer. The herbal extracts of the ashwagandha herb increase the platelet count, and the total red blood cell counts, along with the total white blood cell count which tends to dip during the chemotherapy treatment with cyclophosphamide-Cytoxan, Neosar-used in the treatment of cancer. The ability of the ashwagandha to sensitize cancer cells against radiation treatment has also been demonstrated in several animal studies undertaken in the country of India, in fact, the use of the ashwagandha during the radiation treatment made the treatments approximately fifty percent more effective than normal. The ability of the ashwagandha and its effectiveness in putting cancer tumors into a state of regression has also been observed in certain studies.

Ashwagandha has also been used as a remedy in the treatment of people with diminished or reduced sex drives. The herbal properties of the ashwagandha and its power as a sexual “grounding” herb helps in reducing the frequency of premature ejaculation and increases the sexual stamina of patients. The herb is also known to be capable of enhancing longevity, and also possesses sexual stimulating abilities; these beneficial effects are due to the ashwagandha’s active ingredients, such as the alkaloids and anoloids.

Ashwagandha remedies are also used to relieve stress in patients. The Ayurvedic system of Indian medicine has utilized the ashwagandha herb in the form of a general tonic for centuries as a stimulant for long-term endurance and strength. The resistance of the body may be increased because of the high content of steroid-like compounds in Ashwagandha.

The herbal remedies made from the ashwagandha are available in the form of a capsule. The ideal herbal product of choice is the ones that are standardized for their content of the withanolides. During the course of dosage for the bolstering of faltering sexual drives, the ashwagandha herbal remedy must not be taken in cases of acute sexual anxiety, as the full physical effects will take hold of the person, only after about a week of daily use of the remedy. The product called the ashwagandha oil must not be used as a remedy in the treatment process for the conditions given above. The function of the oil is a remedial facial toner and it is made up of a combination of the ashwagandha with some almond oil and rose water it is not to be consumed. Severe gastric pains can result from consuming ashwagandha berries, and the consumption of these berries must be strictly avoided at all times. Loss of muscular coordination and drowsiness can result when taking ashwagandha along with tranquilizers or other sedative compounds. The use of any ashwagandha herbal remedy must also be avoided when taking prescription medications which are meant to treat anxiety, cases of insomnia or a seizure disorder as there could be side effects.

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