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
Ashwagandha is used to tone, support, and revitalize bodily functions.1 It has been revered over time for its 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 system*2, 3
- Calms mental processes*3
- Fosters healthy sleep patterns*2
- Benefits a healthy reproductive system in both males and females*4, 5
- Supports sustained energy levels, strength, and vitality, including with physical activity*
- Supports healthy back and joints*4
Ashwagandha and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda to balance vata and kapha;2 in excess, and 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 powder and tablet forms, and as a liquid extract. 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 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon once or twice daily.1, 2 Traditionally ashwagandha is taken with ghee and honey (equal parts) anupans for overall nourishment and rejuvenation. Adding sugar (cane or sugar candy) adds a cooling effect and can even be substituted for the honey, particularly in the summer months. 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. Liquid extract is also available and provides an alternative method of taking ashwagandha. It's convenient, easy to assimilate, and has a long shelf life.
Ashwagandha has become of interest to a number of researchers, particularly as it grows in popularity.
- It has been the subject of studies looking at the benefit on the immune system, including possible support of the immune system during 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 to support 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
- Healthy Bones
- Women's Natural Transition
- I Travel Well liquid extract
- 7 Herb Energy liquid extract
- Beauty Balm
- Joint Balm
- 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.
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.