artichoke Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha | Withania somnifera

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include Indian ginseng, winter cherry, poison gooseberry. The word somnifera derives from the Latin for 'sleep inducing'. The ashwagandha part is derived from the 'smell of the horse' possibly due to the horse like aroma of the roots.

 

Ashwagandha is a small shrubby perennial plant native to India and the Asian continent, commonly grown in the Mediterranean and North Africa. It is a member of the Solanaceae family (as is the potato, tomato and deadly nightshade). The flowers are small and greenish yellow and typical of the nightshade family. The flowers are followed by small red berries, encased in a papery lantern like structure initially, which then open to reveal the bright red fruits. The berries can be used as a rennet substitute in cheese making. The whole plant grows up to around 75cm in height and is somewhat straggly and woody in appearance.

It grows best in full sun with dryish sandy soil.

 

Ashwagandha dried herb and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.


harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

The parts used medicinally include the roots and leaves. The roots are thought to have a greater concentration of active constituents than the leaves and are the most commonly used part medicinally. We will be referring to the root as the herb unless otherwise stated.
It will grow in the UK (but prefers warmer drier climates) if seeded early and grown more as an annual. Roots can be harvested after one growing season but more mature roots are generally preferred. The roots are long taproots and should be harvested in the Autumn. The entire plant is dug up and the root washed, chopped into small pieces and dried slowly on a tray or similar.
 
Ashwagandha dried herb and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.

 

 

therapeutic actions and uses

therapeutic actions and uses

Its common name in Ayurvedic medicine of 'Indian ginseng' gives a clue to its 3,000 year long medicinal use and reputation. It is classed as a rejuvenating, adaptogenic tonic herb (encourages all systems and organs to come into balance), supports the adrenal glands, stimulates vitality and immune function, is useful against allergies and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
 
The plant is rich in antioxidants, steroidal type compounds (hence immune modulating action), pain relieving and anti-inflammatory compounds and anti-cancer steroidal components.
 
Ashwagandha root is also calming and supportive to the nervous system (despite its warming and rejuvenating actions), headaches, enhances memory and concentration, amnesia, encourages growth of new dendrites (the projections from nerve cells) and synapses (the junction where nerves meet other nerves, muscles or organs), could be helpful in conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer's, bipolar disorders and psychosomatic illnesses. May be useful in spinal cord injuries as it encourages the growth of the myelin sheath (covering involved in nerve conduction) in peripheral nerves, helps to slow down and perhaps even reverse nerve degeneration. May also help slow nerve degeneration in Parkinson's disease and improve the outcome after brain injuries.
 
Promotes vitality, youthfullness, promotes longevity and mental clarity and gives support to activities such as yoga and meditation.
 
It balances the hormonal output of the thyroid gland. Traditionally, it is used in both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism as it raises levels of thyroid hormone if they are too low and lowers thyroid hormone levels if they are too high. Many recent scientific studies indicate ashwagndha root extracts cause a significant increase in thyroid hormone levels but many of these studies are carried out on animals whose thyroid hormone output had been artificially lowered. Perhaps if these animals had had their thyroid hormone output artificially increased, ashwagandha root would subsequently lower them.
 
Aswagandha is observed to have a particular affinity for conditions affecting the bones and muscles, it improves muscle strength, stamina and endurance and has been traditionally used to help with fibromyalgia, arthritis, rheumatism, to prevent and treat osteoporosis and for bone re-mineralisation, to reduce swelling and inflammation and to combat fatigue.
 
Can support the body during periods of anxiety, depression and stress, promotes mental clarity, relieves insomnia, bad dreams and nervous exhaustion. It actively protects the brain cells from the destructive effects of stress and lowers the amount of cortisol released during times of stress. This can also help in disorders such as celiac disease.
 
Used in cancer treatments, reduces tumour size and tumour cell proliferation, protects the body from the effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy whilst enhancing any therapeutic effects of these types of treatment.
 
Has been traditionally used for impotence, infertility, sexual dysfunction and has aphrodisiac qualities (enhances libido particularly in men).
 
The root is diuretic so can be used for water retention and fluid build up, also to protect the kidneys from certain environmental toxins and pharmaceutical drugs. It is commonly used a warming kidney tonic in traditional Asian medicine. It also helps to preotect the liver from toxin damage and accumulation and can help the liver in those suffering from alcoholism.
 
Reduces cholesterol and lipids in the blood, especially low and very low density lipids.
 
Ashwagandha has the ability to reduce blood sugar levels and can be useful in diabetes and hyperglycaemia. It can act as a balancer however and can also be used in cases of low blood sugar.
 
It has also been used to combat prematurely greying hair (classified as over half the hear turning grey before aged 40) by promoting the health of pigment cells, strengthening and detoxifying the kidneys and by combating the effects of stress.
 

 

An informative paper detailing up to date research on the medicinal properties of ashwagandha can be found here.
 
 
 

dosage and cautions

dosage and cautions

*Generally ashwagandha is considered a safe herb, suitable for old and young alike with few side effects. However most agree to take ashwagandha for shorter periods (up to a month) at any one time with a break of several weeks in between courses of the herb as its effects can be powerful and long lasting.

*Use ashwagandha as part of a herbal formula with ashwagandha making up no more than 25% of the herbal mixture.

*Ashwagandha has powerful effects on the thyroid and more recent research suggests it may overstimulate the thyroid leading to symptoms of hyperthyroidism. However, traditional use supports the thyroid hormone balancing action of ashwagandha and has been used for both hypo and hyperthyroidism. Caution should be advised if taking ashwagandha for thyroid conditions and pay careful attention to any side effects.

*Some sources suggest you should not use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many expereinced traditional herbalists disagree with this however.

*Discontinue use if unusual symptoms appear when taking this herb.

*Their is some specualtion that one should not use ashwagandha if taking sedatives or immune suppressing medications.

*Some suggest that ashwagndha may worsen the symptoms of so called 'autoimmune disorders' due to its immune stimulating actions but traditional use suggests the contrary.

 

Adult 

Dried root in tea form: make a decoction by simmering 1 teaspoon of root (around 1g) in a mug of water for 15minutes minimum, allow to cool a little, strain and drink. Up to 3 cups daily.

Powdered root: fill one standard empty capsule (around 1g) and take up to 3 capsules daily.

Tincture: 1 teaspoon (5ml) up to 3 times a day, before meals.
Children
Add 12 to the child’s age. Divide the child’s age by the total.
E.g. dosage for a 4 year old...... 4 {age} divided by 16 {age + 12} = . 25  or 1/4 of the adult dosage.

 

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