Herbal Profile: Ashwagandha

An excerpt from Sebastian Pole's new book, 
Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice: 

"The irony of ashwagandha is that it is a tonic and a sedative all in one. It strengthens an exhausted nervous system that can manifest with hyper signs such as emotional instability, agitation or feeling stressed out. It has the dual action of energizing while calming. Its name ashwagandha meaning "the smell of a horse", comes from the smell of the fresh root (like horse's urine), and also perhaps because it is renowned for imparting the sexual stamina of a horse."



Rasa (taste): Bitter, astringent, sweet

Virya (energy): Heating

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Sweet

Guna (quality): Light, unctuous

Dosa Effect: VK-

Dhatu (tissue): Blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive

Srotas (channel): Reproductive, nervous, respiratory


  • Alkaloids: Ashwagandhine, withanine, isopelietierine, anaferine
  • Steroidal lactones: Withanolides, withaferins 
  • Phytosterols: Sitoindosides, beta-sitosterol Saponins Iron  


Ayurvedic Action 

Visaya: Increases sexual potency

Balya: Increases strength

Medhya: Promotes the intellect

Ojas Vardhana: Increase ojas

Nidrajanana: Promotes sleep

Sukrala: Increases sperm production

Sothahara: Prevents consumption and wasting diseases

Rasayana: Rejuvenative

Vatakaphahara: Reduces kapha and vata

Vendanasthapana: Reduces pain

Svasa: Benefits breathing  


Biomedical Action

Adaptogen, tonic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, anti-tumor, nervine, mild sedative, analgesic, reproductive tonic, aphrodisiac, antianaemic  




Debility, low body weight, emaciation, deficient hemoglobin, anemia, post-convalescent weakness, athletic exertion and with caution in pregnancy. It is useful for any imbalance in the muscles as it both reduces inflammation and strengthens muscle tone. It is a specific rasayana for mamsa dhatu and it is an anabolic muscle builder. As it benefits all muscle tissue, it is used as a heart tonic, uterine tonic and a lung tonic, as well as for increasing muscle weight and tone in convalescents, slow-developing children and the elderly.  



Autoimmune conditions, neutropenia, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, cancer, and chronic connective tissue disorders. As a painkiller and anti-inflammatory it is commonly used in swollen or painful arthritic conditions. It can strengthen a weakened immune system and protect it from becoming depleted due to immunosuppressive drugs or lifestyle. Improves white blood cell counts. It appears to have both immunosuppressive and immunotonic abilities and is therefore a "true" adaptogen.  



Neurosis, insomnia, anxiety, excessive thinking, 'hyper' symptoms, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Very useful in all conditions caused by "stress" as it has specific affinity for the majja dhatu and helps to regulate the movement of vyana vayu in the heart. Its tropism for the nervous system benefits multiple sclerosis. It both relaxes frayed nerves and tonifies the central nervous system to enhance tolerance to stress. It is a nourishing nervine as opposed to a heavy sedative.  



Its rejuvenating effect on sukra dhatu helps to alleviate asthenospermia (increasing sperm motility), oligospermia (increasing sperm count), poor sexual performance and helps to reduce impotence. Its unique action or prabhava is to promote sexual potency and sperm production. External application of ashwagandha oil is used for impotence.  



Excellent tonic to the uterine muscles. Used in menstrual imbalance caused by a deficient condition with an aggravation of vata and uterine spasms, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea and weakness.  



Very useful in hypothyroid disorders to regulate thyroid activity.  



  • Pippali for enhancing tonic effect; useful in asthma and coughs
  • Bala, licorice and shatavari for use in reproductive disorders
  • Brahmi, bacopa and calamus for use in nerve disorders
  • Guggulu, boswellia  and turmeric for arthritic and congestive disorders  



  • Caution in excess pitta and ama with congestion.
  • Caution in pregnancy, although traditionally used in India during pregnancy to strengthen the uterus and health of the mother and child. Its spasmolytic activity on the uterus has led certain quarters of western phytotherapy to restrict its use in pregnancy.  



No drug-herb interactions are known. There are some theoretical interactions between ashwagandha and immunosuppressant, thyroid and some sedative medications, but those are not evidence based. As ashwagandha appears to have some hypogycaemic activity in humans, it is advisable to monitor blood glucose in susceptible individuals.



3-9g dried root per day or 6-15ml per day of a 1:3 of 45% tincture  



The above information is just one of the over eighty herbs profiled in Ayurvedic Medicine. This book offers a clear, accessible and yet detailed guide to Ayurvedic herbalism. It encompasses a brief history of the growth of Ayurveda, a discussion of its fundamental principles, treatment strategies as well as the energetic approach of traditional Ayurvedic herbal pharmacy and pharmacology.        


Please note: Articles appearing in the Banyan Vine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Banyan Botanicals. This information is intended to apprise qualified health practitioners of possible Ayurvedic approaches. It is not intended as medical advice.