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Ashwagandha root is one of the most valuable adaptogens

Ashwagandha

Withania somnifera Solanaceae

Ashwagandha root as an ‘adaptogen’ can help us to adapt to stress and pressures and the fatigue and depletion that can often follow.

  • 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.

    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.

  • Traditional uses

    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 (1). One teaspoon (0.5 g) of ashwagandha powder is recommended twice daily with milk for insufficient lactation in a 1990 WHO manual (2).

  • Traditional actions

    • Adaptogenic
    • Antioxidant
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Aphrodisiac
    • Immunomodulant
    • Nervine
    • Relaxant
  • 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.

  • Research

    There is much pre-clinical literature, and some clinical trials, that reinforce the traditional use and benefits of Ashwagandha in anxiety (3, 4, 5) and stress-related symptoms (6). 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 (7).

    In a placebo-controlled studies alongside SSRI antidepressant medication, ashwagandha demonstrated significant additional anxiety reducing effects (8), and reduced symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (9). Anxiety reduction has also been seen in other controlled studies, including in schizophrenic patients (10).

    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 (11).

    Other controlled clinical trials have demonstrated the benefits of ashwagandha;

    • Improving memory and cognitive functioning in adults with mild cognitive impairment (12).
    • As an adjuvant in conjunction with anti-TB drugs on symptoms and immunological parameters in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis (13).
    • Improving sperm counts, volume and motility in infertile male patients,xiv and at levels comparable to standard treatment pentoxifylline (15).
    • Normalising thyroid indices in subclinical hypothyroid patients (16).
    • Managing body weight problems in stressed adults (17).
    • In two trials demonstrating improved muscle strength and body mass distribution in athletic men (18, 19).
  • Did you know?

    The Sanskrit name for this plant, ‘ashwagandha’, means ‘essence of a horse’, bringing stamina, strength and grace.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Ashwagandha is safe in everyday doses

  • Interactions

    No drug-herb interactions are known. However there are some theoretical interactions between immunosuppressant, thyroid and some sedative medications and ashwagandha. These interactions have not been proven in clinic and are hypothetical, but pharmacovigilance is needed (21). Also do not take with any pharmaceutical anxiolytics.

  • Contraindications

    Caution in pregnancy: although ashwagandha is traditionally used during pregnancy to support baby and mother and as a uterine tonic, certain quarters of western phythotherapy restrict the use of this herb during pregnancy, due to its spasmolytic activity on the uterus (21).

    Ayurvedic: Caution in excess pita and ama with congestion (21).

  • Preparation

    • Decoction
    • Powdered herb
    • Dried herb
    • Tincture
    • Traditionally infused in milk/ ghee/ honey
  • Dosage

    Tincture: 6- 15ml per day (1:3 @ 45%).

    Decoction: 3 to 8 g/day of dried root by decoction, or equivalent preparation.

  • Plant parts used

    Root

  • Constituents

    • 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)
  • Traditional energetics

    • 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.
  • Habitat

    Ashwagandha grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Predominantly found in dappled shade of woodland edges, on wastelands, grassland and wetlands.

  • Sustainability

    Due to the over exploitation from natural resources for medicinal purposes the plant has been listed in parts of India as endangered hence IUNC has placed it in the ‘red data’ book (22, 23). 

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status, Ashwagandha was last assessed in 2013 in Europe and is currently classed as ‘data deficient’. The IUCN however also states ‘it appears to be very rare and scattered across its distribution, though no specific information on population size or trend is available’. 

    It is important to source medicinal plants from a reputable source, particularly where sustainability is concerned, the more popular a medicinal plant becomes the more attention must be paid towards ensuring we are choosing sustainable suppliers – one can find information on the certified producers and registered processors and traders operating in the FairWild trading system. Also find certificate holders in the Union for Ethical BioTrade Programme.

  • Quality control

    An investigation into the adulteration of Ashwagandha products in the international herbal products industry found that there was a high incidence of adulteration with aerial plant parts in ashwagandha root products. The end product is not necessarily unsafe, however will be less effective for the user (24). Another study identified that powdered preparations of market samples contained plant material that is not related to Ashwagandha, which warrants strict quality control measures and market surveillance (25). 

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers states clearly the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    • Plant ashwagandha in a dry and sunny location of your garden.
    •  Sandy and well-draining soil in a way that water will drain out quickly, pH level should be around 7.5 – 8, neutral to slightly alkaline (Ashwagandha will not grow successfully in soil that retains moisture and remains waterlogged.
    • Plant seeds 2 cm deep and 10 cm apart when the temperature is around 70 F (20 C). 
    • Seeds will germinate in two weeks. Water the seedlings well while they are establishing. 
    • Thin out the weak plants after a month of growing, leaving the space around 50 – 60 cm between plants.
    •  If the soil is poor, add manure to enrich each spring
  • Recipe

    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.

    Ingredients:

    • 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.

    Method:

    • 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.

    Joint protector tea

    It’s almost an inevitable human condition that we will suffer from some sort of joint pain as we get older. All that wear-and-tear through our life can catch up with us but we have a herbal tea recipe that will help keep the red-hot inflammation of arthritis and gout at bay.

    Ingredients:

    • Turmeric root powder 3g
    • Boswellia resin 2g
    • Ginger root powder 2g
    • Celery seed 2g
    • Ashwagandha root 1g
    • Licorice root 1g
    • Meadowsweet leaf 1g
    • Honey to taste

    This will serve 2–3 cups of ache-free tea.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients (except for the meadowsweet leaf and honey) in a saucepan with 600ml (21fl oz) cold filtered water. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes.
    • Take off the heat and add the meadowsweet leaf.
    • Leave to steep for 10 minutes, strain and add some honey to taste.

    Aphrodite’s aphrodisiac tea

    This tea reaches deep into the reproductive system, nourishing our procreative and sexual energy. Use it when preparing for a family or for nurturing your love life. For men and women, this elixir feeds sex hormone release, improves egg/sperm quality and enhances orgasmic experiences.

    Ingredients:

    • Shatavari root 4g
    • Ashwagandha root 2g
    • Licorice root 2g
    • Cinnamon bark 2g
    • Milk (any type) 250ml/9fl oz
    • Damiana leaf 2g
    • Cacao powder 1 tsp per cup
    • Maca root 1 tsp per cup
    • Flower pollen ½ tsp per cup
    • Vanilla essence a dash per cup
    • Honey (or Amaretto) a drop per cup

    Makes 2 cups of the most amorous elixir.

    Method:

    • Put the shatavari, ashwagandha, licorice and cinnamon in a saucepan with the milk and 250ml/9fl oz cold filtered water.
    • Cover, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and add the damiana leaf.
    • Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
    • To each cup, add the cacao, maca, flower pollen, vanilla essence and honey. Then top with the tea and stir.

    Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Kapoor LD.(1990) CRC Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants. Boca Raton, CRC Press, 337-338.
    2. World Health Organization (1990) The Use of Traditional Medicine in Primary Health Care: A Manual for Health Workers in South-East Asia, New Delhi, WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi.
    3. Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D et al (2009) Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PLoS One. vol 4, no 8, p 6628.
    4. Andrade C, Aswath A, Chaturvedi SK, et al. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy
    5. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. (2012) A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. vol 34, no 3, pp 255–262.
    6. Auddy B, Hazra J, Mitra A, et al. (2008). A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. J Am Nutracetical Association vol 11, pp 50-56
    7. Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. vol 20, no 12, pp 901- 908.
    8. Fuladi S, Emami SA, Mohammadpour AH, et al. (2020) Assessment of Withania somnifera root extract efficacy in patients with generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 13]. Curr Clin Pharmacol.
    9. Jahanbakhsh SP, Manteghi AA, Emami SA, et al. (2016) Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) Med. 27: 25‐29
    10. Chengappa KNR, Brar JS, Gannon JM, Schlicht PJ. (2018) Adjunctive Use of a Standardized Extract of Withania Study. J Clin Psychiatry. 79(5): 17m11826
    11. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. (2019) An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore).
    12. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. (2017) Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal)Jahanbakhsh SP, Manteghi AA, Emami SA, et al. (2016) Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) Med. 27: 25‐29.
    13. Kumar R, Rai J, Kajal NC, Devi P. (2018) Comparative study of effect of Withania somnifera as an adjuvant to DOTS in patients of newly diagnosed sputum smear positive pulmonary tuberculosis. Indian J Tuberc. 65(3): 246‐251.
    14. Gupta A, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK, et al. (2013) Efficacy of Withania somnifera on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males: a proton NMR study at 800 MHz. J Ethnopharmacol. 149(1): 208‐214.
    15. Nasimi Doost Azgomi R, Nazemiyeh H, Sadeghi Bazargani H, et al. (2018) Comparative evaluation of the effects of Withania somnifera with pentoxifylline on the sperm parameters in idiopathic male infertility: A triple-blind randomised clinical trial. Andrologia. 50(7): e13041
    16. Sharma AK, Basu I, Singh S. (2018) Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 24(3): 243‐248.
    17. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Joshi K. (2017) Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 22(1): 96‐106. 
    18. Ziegenfuss TN, Kedia AW, Sandrock JE, et al. (2018) Effects of an Aqueous Extract of Withania somnifera on Strength Training Adaptations and Recovery: The STAR Trial. Nutrients. 10(11): 1807.
    19. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, et al. (2015) Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 12: 43.
    20. Patel SB, Rao NJ, Hingorani LL (2016) Safety assessment of Withania somnifera extract standardized for Withaferin A. Acute and sub-acute toxicity study. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 7, 1, 30-37
    21. Pole, S. (2013). Ayurvedic medicine : the principles of traditional practice. London: Singing Dragon.
    22. Aslam, S., Raja, N.I., Hussain, M., Iqbal, M., Ejaz, M., Ashfaq, D., Fatima, H., Shah, M.A., Abd-Ur-Rehman and Ehsan, M. (2017). Current Status of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal: An Endangered Medicinal Plant from Himalaya. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 08(05), pp.1159–1169. doi:10.4236/ajps.2017.85076.
    23. Kumari, V. and Mishra, P. (2020). Issue 4 www.jetir.org (ISSN-2349-5162). JETIR2004234 Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research, [online] 7. Available at: https://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR2004234.pdf [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].
    24. Vineet, K. S. Et al. 2019. Adulteration of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Roots, and Extracts. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343862896_Adulteration_of_Ashwagandha_Withania_somnifera_Roots_and_Extracts. Published 2022. Accessed September 17, 2022.
    25. Amritha, N., Bhooma, V. and Parani, M. (2020). Authentication of the market samples of Ashwagandha by DNA barcoding reveals that powders are significantly more adulterated than roots. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 256, p.112725. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2020.112725.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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