Commonly known as ashwagandha in India, it is also called poison gooseberry and winter cherry, and it belongs to the Solanaceae family or the nightshade family. Ashwagandha is a combination of two different Sanskrit words, ‘Ashwa’ meaning horse and ‘Gandha’ which means smell. The combination of the two words reflects that the herb has a strong horse-like odour. Its biological species name is Withania Somnifera, and Somnifera means ‘sleep-inducing’ in Latin. Ashwagandha is known to aid in getting a good night’s sleep.

An evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East and some parts of Africa, Ashwagandha is considered the most important herb in the Ayurvedic medicine system. The Ayurvedic medicine system started more than three thousand years ago, and ashwagandha has been a part of the system since then. Widely known as ‘Rasayana,’ it is believed to help you maintain your youth physically and mentally. Historically, the roots of this herb are used to treat several ailments like stress, anxiety, constipation, insomnia, among others. It is not just the roots, even the leaves, seeds and fruits are used for various treatments.

Ashwagandha is cultivated in drier regions of India, Nepal, China, and Yemen. The plant prefers dry stony soil with the sun to partial shade. It can be grown from seed or greenwood cuttings. If you are using the seed, then you will need to sow it in early spring. Greenwood cuttings can be planted later in the spring. It is important to know that the plant is prone to several pests and diseases and needs a lot of attention.

Like the tomato, Ashwagandha belongs to the nightshade family. It is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers which bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. It is an adaptogenic herb as well as an aphrodisiac. The plant is also called the Indian ginseng for its rejuvenating properties, though botanically ashwagandha and ginseng are unrelated.

Ashwagandha benefits

Due to the poor quality of clinical research, ashwagandha benefits have not been proven yet. The root powder has been used for centuries in India, in ayurvedic medicine, but there is no high-quality evidence of its benefits. The traditional medicine offers several benefits that include the following.

1. Helps to combat the effects of stress

Ashwagandha is one of the Indian herbs with adaptogenic benefits meaning, it helps the body to adapt to various emotional and physical stress. As Ashwagandha helps to reduce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ in the body, it is considered an effective treatment to reduce stress.

2. Reduces anxiety and depression

Ashwagandha benefits aid in reducing symptoms of anxiety and anxious mood. Regular consumption of ashwagandha in its right dosage reduces severe depression in adults. Though research is limited, ashwagandha is believed to reduce depression. In addition to that, it also helps calm the central nervous system.

3. Helps to regulate blood sugar levels

The herb has the ability to lower blood sugar levels and help keep blood sugar levels in control. It also helps reduce fasting blood sugar levels.

4. Anti-cancer properties

Ashwagandha is believed to have anti-cancer properties as the herb helps to induce apoptosis- programmed death of cancer cells. Ashwagandha also delays the growth of new cancer cells.

There are no confirmed tests and clinical studies to confirm the results on human beings. But several centuries of Ashwagandha being used as medicine is encouraging.

5. Offers anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits

Ashwagandha aids in reducing inflammation by improving the immune cells that fight infection. It is also linked to decreasing markers of inflammation, which increases the risk of heart disease.

6. Helps to lower cholesterol and triglyceride

Ashwagandha is shown to improve heart health by reducing the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

7. Improves learning, memory, and reaction time

Ashwagandha promotes antioxidant activity to protect the nerve cells from harmful free radicals. It reduces oxidative stress and improves memory and brain function. Ashwagandha taken in small to medium quantities aids in improving general memory, task performance and attention.

Though there is limited research in this area, ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory in ayurvedic medicines.

8. ADHD

Ashwagandha has shown improvement when it comes to Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children, and it also aids in improving attention and impulse control.

9. Stabilizes hypothyroidism

When people have high blood levels of a hormone called TSH or thyroid-stimulating hormone, it means that they have an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. In people who have a mild form of underactive thyroid, ashwagandha helps to lower TSH and increase thyroid hormone levels. However, it is recommended that you consult with a physician before consuming ashwagandha in order to avoid its interaction with your regular drugs.

10. Helps to keep control of OCD

Some researches show that ashwagandha aids in reducing the symptoms of Obsessive compulsive disorder when it is taken with prescribed medications.

11. Cerebellar Ataxia

Ashwagandha, in combination with ayurvedic therapy, an alternative form of medicine is known to improve balance in people with cerebellar ataxia.

12. Helps to reduce the signs of ageing

Ashwagandha has properties that aid in reducing the symptoms and progression of some health problems that are associated with ageing, due to its antioxidant properties. It helps to reduce hair greying as it increases the production of melanin in the hair cells.

13. Others

Preliminary research shows that ashwagandha improves the symptoms of the following ailments. But there is no hard evidence on the effect of ashwagandha alone in treating them.

The diseases include Parkinson’s disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Tuberculosis, Ulcerations, and other conditions.

How to take ashwagandha powder?

Ashwagandha is available in the market in the form of roots, tablets and powder. While ashwagandha tablets are consumed easily like any other tablet, ashwagandha powder and roots need to be added into your daily diet. Classically, Ashwagandha is taken in its powdered form, mixed in honey or ghee. But here are some other ways you can consume ashwagandha powder.

Roast an ounce of Ashwagandha powder in ghee and mix it with a tablespoon of date sugar. Eat this at least 20 minutes before breakfast, or later during the day with a cup of milk.

Ashwagandha powder with ghee, sugar and honey is a delicious form of aphrodisiac effectively used in erectile dysfunction.

Kishirpaka method of Ashwagandha tea is the method of extracting the active principle of the herb in milk. Ashwagandha tea can be prepared by boiling the powder in milk and reducing it to half. You can add sugar to improve the taste or an equal quantity of liquorice while boiling.

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