How does it feel?
The initial taste of the root is slightly acrid, then bitterness creeps in along with an earthy slightly sweet middle taste, and then a lingering bitter aftertaste.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of ashwagandha’s key qualities below to learn more:
The taste of the root is complex, as is appropriate for the traditional experience of an adaptogen or rasayana. This is a remedy with a reputation for having broad supportive effects on the whole body, mind and spirit.
What can I use it for?
Ashwagandha is a prime remedy for managing stress and the anxiety that it often generates. It will improve cognitive and mental performance when under pressure. It is particularly helpful where sustained stress leads to fatigue and depleted immune functions. The term ‘adrenal exhaustion’ sums up a situation where turning to ashwagandha is likely to be most helpful.
These properties make ashwagandha useful for chronic insomnia, constant infections and immune weakness, and long-term hot flushes in the menopause, all conditions emerging from a depleted state.
It is most widely used for upset, weak or deficient digestion, particularly in countering nausea and vomiting.
There are likely to be hormonal benefits: as well as to the adrenal cortex, Ashwagandha has long been used for thyroid problems (both hypo and hyper). One of its most persistent reputations now supported by clinical research is in increasing male fertility and there are also some evidence to show it can increase libido in both sexes.
Athletes and body builders may find ashwagandha helpful in their healthy regimes as well.
Into the heart of ashwagandha
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is known as a ‘rasayana’, meaning a rejuvenative. Rasayanas enhance both the quality and quantity of life, nourish the mind and enhance vigour, making them perfect for weak, debilitated or exhausted conditions. Due to its ability to support the function of both body and mind, ashwagandha is one of Ayurveda’s most prized rejuvenative herbs. Ashwagandha is a modern-day adaptogen, supporting our body’s resistance to physical and emotional stress by strengthening the endocrine and nervous systems.However, this herb is unusual in that it is also a tonic with adaptogenic actions. This means it will strengthen an exhausted or agitated nervous system whilst at the same time calming it.
Ashwagandha’s botanical name, Withania somnifera, gives us further clues as to its properties; ‘somnifera’ is translated as ‘sleep-inducing’, reflecting the relaxing and restful actions that bring us energy through supporting deeper sleep.
Ashwagandha is among the most widespread traditional remedies in the Indian subcontinent and is very widely consumed as a food supplement around the world. In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is described as a medhya rasayan or promoter of learning and memory retrieval. It is given with pungent or heating herbs such as ginger and long pepper to increase its tonic effects. The roots are said to have tonic and anti-inflammatory properties, and to provide support in skin and respiratory conditions, to build strength in sick children and in the elderly and particularly to help sleep.
Ashwagandha is used to promote lactation in Ayurvedic medicine and the traditional medicine of South-East Asia. One teaspoon (0.5 g) of ashwagandha powder is recommended twice daily with milk for insufficient lactation in a 1990 WHO manual.
What practitioners say
Stress response: Ashwagandha is considered a primary herb for supporting ‘generalised adaptation syndrome’ as described by the stress pioneer Hans Selye. It will improve mental capacity and resilience during the stress and help with the recovery phase afterwards.
Muscle Tissue: Ashwagandha both reduces inflammation and strengthens muscle tone. It is traditionally applied to muscle weakness, low body weight, emaciation, anaemia, post-convalescent weakness and athletic exertion, and for slow developing children and the elderly. It is used to support smooth muscle organs as well, as a heart tonic, and uterine tonic.
Immunity: Ashwagandha can strengthen a weakened immune system and protect it from becoming depleted from immunosuppressive drugs or lifestyle. It also improves white blood cell counts. Ashwagandha has for long been used for chronic inflammatory and arthritic conditions, and as a support in cancer.
Reproductive: Ashwagandha improves sperm motility, sperm count and poor sexual performance in men. For the female reproductive system, ashwagandha is used in menstrual imbalances caused by a deficient condition with an aggravation of vata and uterine spasms including dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea and weakness.
Endocrine: Ashwagandha is used to regulate thyroid activity, helping both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
Did you know?
The Sanskrit name for this plant, ‘ashwagandha’, means ‘essence of a horse’, bringing stamina, strength and grace.
Winter Tonic Elixir
This is a fun and easy-to-make ‘winter tonic elixir’ with a mix of herbs that raise your energy and warm you to the core.
- Brandy 700ml/25fl oz
- Amaretto 300ml/10fl oz
- Ginseng root 20g/3/4oz
- Astragalus 10g/1/3oz
- Cinnamon bark 10g (about 2 quills)
- Ashwagandha 5g
- Ginger root powder 5g
- Rosemary 2 sprigs
- Orange peel 5g
This makes 1 litre/35fl oz of tasty tincture.
- Blend the liquids and soak the herbs in it for 1 month and then strain. Bottle half for you and half for a friend.
- Sip on cold winter nights to raise your spirits and keep you strong.
Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
Ashwagandha is safe in everyday doses.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) Bitter, astringent, sweet.
- Virya (action) Heating.
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
- Guna (quality) Light, unctuous.
- Dosha effect reduces excessive vata and kapha.
- Dhatu (tissue) Blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive.
- Srota (channel) Reproductive, nervous, respiratory.
There is much pre-clinical literature, and some clinical trials, that reinforce the traditional use and benefits of ashwagandha in anxiety and stress-related symptoms. One systematic review of these studies concluded that subject to methodological heterogeneity, ashwagandha interventions resulted in significantly greater score improvements than placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales.
In a placebo-controlled studies alongside SSRI antidepressant medication, ashwagandha demonstrated significant additional anxiety reducing effects, and in reducing symptom measures obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety reduction has also been seen in other controlled studies, including in schizophrenic patients.
In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study ashwagandha supplementation was associated with significant reduction in morning cortisol levels as well as anxiety scales. Subject to further research these findings suggested that ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Other controlled clinical trials have demonstrated the benefits of ashwagandha
- improving memory and cognitive functioning in adults with mild cognitive impairment
- as an adjuvant in conjunction with anti-TB drugs on symptoms and immunological parameters in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis
- improving sperm counts, volume and motility in infertile male patients, and at levels comparable to standard treatment pentoxifylline
- normalizing thyroid indices in subclinical hypothyroid patients
- managing body weight problems in stressed adults
- in two trials demonstrating improved muscle strength and body mass distribution in athletic men.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
3 to 8 g/day of dried root by decoction, or equivalent preparation
- Steroidal compounds including lactones (withaferin A, sitoindoside IX, X) and acylsteryl glucosides (sitoindosides VII, VIII).
- Alkaloids tropane-type (tropine, pseudotropine), other alkaloids (including isopelletierine, anaferine).