Ashwagandha is an herb scientifically known as Withania somnifera. Other common names for the plant include Indian ginseng, winter cherry and poison gooseberry. Ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions including stress, anxiety and insomnia.
Ashwagandha is a leafy and short perennial shrub that is native to the dry regions of the Indian subcontinent, but now also grows in mild regions of North America, Middle East and Africa. The plant’s oval-shaped leaves, red berries and tuberous roots are used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine.
Ashwagandha extracts are mainly derived from the roots, while the berries and leaves are used topically to apply onto burns, wounds, tumors, ulcers, carbuncles, sunburned skin and tubercular glands. The root extracts contain alkaloids and steroidal lactones similar to concentrates found in prescription antidepressants.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is considered an “adaptogenic herb,” meaning it has a combination of amino acids, vitamins and alkaloids to use as a potent stress reliever. Therefore, Ashwagandha is used as an herbal supplement to treat mood disorders, depression, anxiety, insomnia and excessive stress, in addition to traditional usage as a remedy against arthritis, bronchitis, backache, liver problems, menstrual pain, leukoderma, hiccups, inflammation, infertility, malaria, high blood sugar and ulcers.
Ashwagandha, particularly in liquid form, is known for rejuvenating properties. As a result, it’s used to treat decreased sexual drive in men and women. The plant’s Sanskrit name means “horse like,” referring to the strong horse-like smell of the root as well as the symbolic reference to a stallion’s stamina. Ashwagandha’s revitalizing properties are similar to those attributed to ginseng root, and is thus is sometimes called Indian ginseng, despite the two plants not being closely related botanically.
Ashwagandha is alternatively called winter cherry, but should not be confused with Physalis alkekengi, which is also sometimes identified as winter cherry.
Ashwagandha is also claimed to help memory retention, improve learning, reduce brain cell degeneration and to protect the immune system.
Consumption and dosage
Ashwagandha is consumed in a ground powdered form. Some suppliers sell Ashwagandha powder in capsule form in doses of 600 to 1,000 milligrams.
The dosage depends on the need and recommendations by herbalists or Ayurveda practitioners. Generally, one capsule is taken twice daily with a glass of water. Ashwagandha powder can also be taken with tea and other similar beverages.
There are no known long-term side effects for Ashwagandha capsules taken in small doses. However, large doses of Ashwagandha can possibly cause the following side effects:
Mild abdominal pain
Ashwagandha is considered to be relatively safe to be orally consumed.
Safety of topical Ashwagandha treatments, such as creams or lotions, is not known.
Ashwagandha is not a conventional medication and therefore should not be substituted for medically prescribed drugs to treat anxiety, depression or other clinically diagnosed conditions.
Do not take Ashwagandha supplements without consulting a doctor first.
Ashwagandha may cause negative side effects in reaction with other prescription medication.
Do not use Ashwagandha supplements if pregnant or breastfeeding without consulting a physician.