Indian Wonder Herb, Ashwagandha: An Antidote for Stressful Living
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) has become one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbs in use in the Western world. And it is no wonder, with all the benefits that Ashwagandha has to offer! Ashwagandha has been used by Ayurveda for thousands of years as a rasāyana (rejuvenative) and an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it is used to help the body resist physiological and psychological stress.1 The name Ashwagandha translates into “smell of a horse”; this is a reference to both the unique smell of the herb, as well as the virility of a horse, an inference to the traditional use of Ashwagandha to support a healthy male reproductive system.2
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is used to tone, support, and revitalize bodily functions.1 It has been revered over time for its ironic dual capacity to energize and calm at the same time. Stress can cause fatigue, often manifesting as “hyper” signs like agitation and difficulty sleeping. By providing a nourishing, energizing effect, you can support a healthy nervous system. When the stress doesn’t impact the nervous system as strongly, the “hyper” signs will naturally resolve over time,2 allowing for a calming effect. This quality of Ashwagandha makes it a prime supplement to use in the toning and rejuvenation process.3 In addition to its dual energizing/calming effect, Ashwagandha offers a number of benefits:
- Supports a healthy immune system2, 3
- Calms mental processes3
- Fosters healthy sleep patterns2
- Benefits a healthy reproductive system in both males and females4, 5
- Sustains energy levels, strength, and vitality, including with physical activity
- Supports healthy back and joints4
Ashwagandha and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata and Kapha;2 in excess, because of its heating, unctuous, building nature, it can imbalance Pitta, and also worsen ama (toxic build-up).6 Ayurveda recognizes Ashwagandha particularly for its building, strengthening, and nourishing nature. It is used for the same reasons as listed in the Benefits section above, particularly to support healthy muscles and reproductive systems, and to balance Vata.
How to Use Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is available in both powder and tablet forms. The traditional use is as a powder, mixed with warm milk and honey, and taken before bed,3 calming vata and fostering healthy sleep patterns, reproductive system, and strength. A general dose can be 1-6 grams daily.1, 2 It can also be used with ghee and sugar to support the female reproductive system and joints.4 For a more convenient method of taking Ashwagandha, you can also find the herb in tablet form. This can be an easier method, especially for those that travel a lot, have a shortage of time, or do not like the taste of Ashwagandha tea. Banyan Botanicals prefers tablets over capsules as there is still some mild tasting of the herb that occurs. Taste starts the digestive process, and sends signals to the body as to what to expect, already initiating your body’s own inner pharmacy.
Ashwagandha has become of interest to a number of researchers, particularly as it grows in popularity.
- It has been the subject of studies to see benefit on the immune system, including possible support of the immune system which must undergo radiation and chemotherapy.3
- Used in combination with Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Safed musli (Chlorophytum borivillanum), and Sesame seeds (seeds of Sesamum indicum), Ashwagandha has shown support of healthy cholesterol levels and antioxidant properties.7
- Other studies done on Ashwagandha can be reviewed on PubMed.
Though the herb is traditionally used in India during pregnancy, it is recommended that Ashwagandha be avoided in pregnancy in the West; this is because of its spasmolytic activity on the uterus, and its induction of abortions in animals when given in very large doses.2, 3 When used with other respiratory depressants, ashwagandha can be problematic.1 From an Ayurvedic perspective, use Ashwagandha with caution in cases of excess pitta and ama.
Ashwagandha is most commonly purchased as a bulk powder or as a tablet. The advantage of buying it in bulk is that it is significantly cheaper on a per use basis and it allows one to take the herbs in the most traditional way. Tablets are considered by many to be a quicker, more convenient method of taking the herbs along with providing the option of not having to taste the herbs. Many Ayurvedic practitioners feel that their clients are more likely to take the herbs if they are provided in tablet form. In addition to powder and tablets of Ashwagandha, Banyan Botanicals also uses organic Ashwagandha in several of its products:
- Mental Clarity
- Tranquil Mind
- Stress Ease
- Men’s Support
- Joint Support
- I Sleep Soundly
- Healthy Vata
- Ashwagandha/Bala Oil
- Mahanarayan Oil
- Vata Massage Oil
When choosing a supplier of Ashwagandha there are a variety of questions to consider relating to quality of the herbs, the values of the company, and the impact on the environment.
Is the supplier able to trace the herbs back to the field they were grown in?
Traceability of the herbs from field to shelf allows the supplier to know where and how the herbs were grown and when they were harvested. Banyan works with suppliers that keep a record of the journey of the herb, tracing it back right to the actual farm.
Are the plants sustainably harvested?
The Ashwagandha plant is a tall, straight plant with green or purple flowers and reddish fruit (winter cherry);4 they are relatively abundant in many parts of India. All herbal companies have a choice in gathering Ashwagandha, like most other herbs: they can be harvested on private farms where sustainability can be managed, or they may be wild-harvested legally from their natural habitats, and sometimes they are taken illegally, threatening long-term sustainability. To ensure sustainability, Banyan sources Ashwagandha that has been cultivated on privately owned farms.
Are the farmers looked after for their labor?
Banyan strongly believes in making sure the farmers are cared for as a part of the supply chain. The farms we source from are inspected to make sure they are following fair-trade principles.
Are the herbs organic?
As Banyan sources from private farms, it is able to ensure that organic farming methods are followed, and you can therefore rest assured that your herbs have not been treated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Banyan’s Ashwagandha is USDA certified organic.
2 Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston; 2006. 133-134.
3 Simon, David and Deepak Chopra. The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook. Three Rivers Press, New York; 2000. 200-202.
4 Acharya Balkrishna. Secrets of Indian Herbs for Good Health. Divya Prakshan, Hardwar; 2008. 100-102.
5 Mahdi, AA et al. Withania somnifera improves semen quality in stress-related male fertility. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Med. Sept 29, 2009.
6 Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin; 2001. 160-161.
7 Visavadiya, NP. Ameliorative effects of herbal combinations in hyperlipidemia. Oxid Med Cell Longev. Sept 15, 2011:160408.