Ashwagandha, literally means Smell of a Horse, the herb got the name because of the strong aroma that it’s roots emits. Botanical name is Withania Somnifera and pet names are Poison Gooseberry and Indian Ginseng (no relation what so ever with Panax Ginseng).
If you have been keeping up with health trends, I am sure you must have heard of Ashwagandha being an excellent stress reliever. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine from thousands of years. Especially in Ayurveda, it is revered as a well rounded herb that helps strengthen immune system, increases vitality and also improves memory etc. So let us really investigate what this poison gooseberry really can do!
Ashwagandha belongs to the same “nightshade” family as of Eggplants (Brinjal), Tomatoes, Potatoes etc. The fruits it bears look a lot like cherry tomatoes.
All parts of Ashwagandha tree possess different medicinal properties.  According to Ayurveda-
Leaves: The leaves are bitter and are recommended in fever, painful swellings
Flower: The flowers are astringent, depurative, diuretic and aphrodisiac.
Seed: The seeds are anthelmintic (repel worms).
Ashwagandha Roots, however are the powerhouse of most active chemicals that makes this a magic herb.
They are said to have following adaptogenic properties –
-It strengthens immune system
-It improves memory and aids learning
-Helps cope with depression and anxiety
-Helps control blood sugar
-Reduce Serum Cholesterol
-Acts as Anti-Inflammatory Agent
-Increases Vitality/ acts as an aphrodisiac
-Maintains body’s temperature
-Helps relieve constipation, flatulence, deworming etc.
-Reduces Arthritis/ general swelling
Does modern science backs up these claims? In a way, YES! Active ingredients that gives Indian Ginseng it’s medicinal properties are- steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), Saponins, Sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides. These have been proven to possess following properties –
Withaferin: Angiogenesi inhibitor (Anti-tumor), antibacterial, immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory.
Saponins: Anticancer, Cholesterol lowering
Sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides: Antistress, Immunomodulation
Sominone: Metabolite of Withanoside IV, may have antidemential effects
There are numerous studies that back up it’s usefulness in treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at any stage of the disease. Ashwagandha is found to induce a calming/ anti-anxiety effect that is comparable to the drug Lorazepam. It also exhibits antidepressant effect comparable to that of imipramine. This supports the claim that Ashwagandha could be used as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression.
Best kind of Ashwagandha?
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used as a rasayana (a metallic preparation) that helps with rejuvenation and overall health maintenance. Traditionally it was used in churna (fine powder) form, but nowadays it is also available in the form of tablets/supplements. Some people argue powdered form (churna) is more potent than the commercially available tablets nowadays, but I couldn’t find any evidence to support this claim. However, what useful bit of information I did find was that “Nagori Ashwagandha” is most potent of them all!
And thought Ashwagandha is an excellent health tonic, I personally would not recommend taking any supplements/tonics without consulting with your health-care provider first! Especially if you are pregnant or have a chronic illness. Do not ignore this point as medications and herbs tend to interact with each other. Always remember, safety first!
Check out the comprehensive list of ALL Adaptogens here.