Getting to Know Herbs: Ashwagandha
An important plant in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is used s an adaptogen to treat stress-related issues like insomnia and nervous fatigue. The roots are harvested int he fall and used to make an herbal extract.
Photo by @krnel
The scientific botanical name is Withania somnifera, and also commonly called Indian ginseng. Other names are Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asan, Asana, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashagandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Asvagandha, Aswagandha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Cerise d'Hiver, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Ginseng Ayurvédique, Ginseng Indien, Hayahvaya, Indian Ginseng, Kanaje Hindi, Kuthmithi, Orovale, Peyette, Physalis somnifera, Samm Al Ferakh, Samm Al Rerakh, Sogade-Beru, Strychnos, Turangi-Ghanda, Vajigandha, Winter Cherry, Withania.
Photo by @krnel
wikimedia/Wowbobwow12 - CC BY-SA 3.0
- long traditional Indian Ayurvedic medical use
- used for a wide variety of treatments, most notably for stress and sleep-inducing
- found in much of Asia, Europe and Africa
- not edible for food
The second part of the scientific name, the Latin somnifera, means "sleep-inducing". The name ashwagandha is from ashwa meaning horse, and gandha meaning smell, as the root has a strong horse-like smell.
Where is it found?
Cultivated in drier regions of India, it's also found in Nepal, China and Yemen, into Mediterranean Europe and most of Africa. It grows in open and disturbed area, and as an undershrub in stony places.
It was never introduced to North America, but you can grow it here nonetheless, as the herb garden did where I took the pictures.
What's it used for?
The root has long been turned into a powder and used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda. The berry is also used. There are many uses, but not proven scientifically to be effective yet.
Ashwagandha is used for arthritis, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), balance, obsessive-compulsive dirorder (OCD), trouble sleeping (insomnia), tumors, tuberculosis, asthma, a skin condition marked by white patchiness (leukoderma), bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, hiccups, Parkinson's disease, and chronic liver disease.
Medication side effect are said to be reduced with ashwagandha, like those to treat cancer and schizophrenia. Some people have used it to improve thinking, calm the brain, lowerblood pressure, decrease pain and inflammation, and prevent aging. It's said to increase sexual desire and aid with fertility problems in men and women.
The fruits are rich in saponins which can be used as a soap. The leaves are insect repellent. The seeds can be used as a curdling agent for making vegetarian cheeses from plant milks.
Are there any risks?
Short-term use is possibly safe, and large doses might cause upset stomach, diarrhea or vomiting.
Pregnant women should avoid, as it might cause miscarriages. Breast-feeing women should probably avoid it to be on the safe side.
Since it might lower blood sugar levels, diabetics should be cautious in using in order to avoid blood sugar levels going too low. Blood pressure might be affected, so those who take medications for high blood pressure might have blood pressure that becomes too low. Since it can irritate the stomach, those with ulcers should avoid it too.
Ashwagandha might increase activity of the immune system, leading to an increase of symptoms for those with autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions.
It might also slow down the central nervous system and affect anesthesia, so avoid it 2 weeks prior to surgery. Those with thyroid disorders should avoid as well since it might increase thyroid hormone levels.
Medications that affect the thyroid, sedative that cause sleepiness, or decrease the immune system can be affected by using ashwagandha. Some sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and others. Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.
Previous posts on Getting to Know Herbs:
- Gotu Kola | Common Verbana/Vervain | Holy Basil | Sweet Annie | Globe Artichoke | Butterfly Weed / Pleurisy Root | Joe-Pye Weed / Gravel Root | Valerian | Malva/Mallow | Boneset | Elecampane | Lungwort | Cramp Bark | Motherwort | Common Plantain | Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) | Black Cohosh | Common Bearberry | Mahonia Mountain Grape (Oregon Grape) | Blue Cohosh | Goldenseal
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