Delving into the world of natural remedies and cures? Meet Ashwagandha, a potent herb with a 3000 year old rich history in Ayurvedic medicine. From enhancing mental well-being to boosting physical health, discover why this herb has been revered for centuries.
One of the staples of ancient Indian medicine, Ashwagandha is commonly known as “Indian Winter cherry” or “Indian Ginseng”.
Ashwagandha's name comes from Sanskrit words “Ashwa”, which means horse and “Gandha”, which means odour translates to "smell of the horse". This refers to both its unique smell and its ability to increase strength, reminiscent of a horse's vigor.
Before that, let’s understand a bit about what makes Ashwagandha so special by overviewing five interesting facts about it.
So what’s the best way to reap these benefits? You may have heard about Ashwagandha churna, a finely sieved powder that can be mixed with water, ghee or honey. This powder is extremely popular for its healing effects and one of the most common ways to use Ashwagandha.
In the next section let’s explore how different parts of this shrub are used as medicine.
Historically, the roots of Ashwagandha have been used to treat arthritis, constipation, Insomnia, skin conditions, stress, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, nervous breakdowns, fevers, snake bites, memory loss and various other conditions. The leaves, seeds and even fruits have been used to treat various conditions. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. Manages Anxiety
Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen which means that it helps the body to adapt to stress. It can boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Several controlled human studies have shown that this herb can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders. In a 60-day study with people with chronic stress, those in the group that supplemented with ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.
If you experience stress in your day to day life, you can use a traditional Ayurvedic oil to massage your body with Ashwagandha as one of the key ingredients. Recommended in the ancient Ayurvedic text of Sahastrayogam, Ayurvedic Sugandhadi Oil is one such ingredient that alleviates stress, exhaustion, tension and body ache.
2. Fights Inflammation -
Inflammation is the body’s normal response to conditions such as infection, toxins, and trauma. Under normal conditions, the body will produce an anti-inflammatory response to restore balance. In cases of chronic pain, however, the body is not able to regulate the inflammatory response. The result is chronic imbalance and chronic pain.
There are many Ayurvedic herbs that address ongoing, excess inflammation. Ashwagandha is one such herb which has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation. Ashwagandha herbal tea prepared from leaves is helpful in relieving inflammation.
3. Prevents and heals acne -
Ashwagandha root has both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which protect the skin from infections or acne. It also boosts the collagen in the skin which prevents it from ageing. If you suffer from acne, you should try natural face packs with Ashwagandha powder. Kama Ayurveda’s Nimrah Face Pack has Ashwagandha as one of the key Ayurvedic key ingredients. This anti-acne treatment heals pimples and blackheads, reduces scars, improves skin tone and repairs inflammation.
4. Maintains Heart health
Ashwagandha has a variety of benefits to the heart, including providing treatment to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chest pain and various other heart diseases. Including Ashwagandha powder in your diet helps in maintaining a healthy heart.
5. Fights infections and boosts immunity
Did you know that Ashawagandha is one of the 15 ingredients of the famous Lakshadi Thailam that is popular for Did you know that Ashawagandha is one of the 15 ingredients of the famous Lakshadi Thailam that is popular for fighting infections, healing fever and boosting immunity?
Lakshadi Thailam is used as a Body Massage Oil for babies due to its numerous benefits for skin and health. Ashwangandha soothes and calms inflamed or sensitive skin. Hence, it’s ideal for the sensitive skin of the babies.
6. Prevents Cancer Growth
Certain studies have found that withaferin, which is a compound in ashwagandha, helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells.
It also prevents the growth of new cancer cells in several ways. Withaferin is believed to promote the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inside cancer cells, thereby disrupting their function.
Studies also suggest that it may help treat various types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer. In one such study, rats with ovarian tumours treated with withaferin alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug showed a significant reduction in tumor growth. The treatment is also believed to prevent the spread of cancer to other organs.
7. Treats Alzheimer's treatment
Researchers have found that Ashwagandha inhibits the production of beta-amyloid plaques. These plaques, considered lethal to brain cells, grow in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
At the National Brain Research Center (NBRC), scientists conducted tests on mice with Alzheimer’s. After a few days of treatment cognitive performance of the mice improved significantly. At the end of one month, their brain function had returned to normal and the amyloid plaques that had been present in the mice’s brains were reduced.
Studies show that rather than altering brain chemistry directly, ashwagandha boosts a protein in the liver which clears amyloid from the brain.
8. Tones the skin and strengthens muscles of new and expecting mothers
Ashwagandha is one of the key ingredients in the famous Ayurvedic Bala Oil (also known as Dhanwantaram Thailam). This classic Ayurvedic treatment is meant for expecting and new mothers to relieve pain, fatigue and boost energy and immunity. It also strengthens the muscles and improves the elasticity of the skin which helps in preventing stretch marks during pregnancy.
9. Treating Insomnia
Do you lie awake in bed late at night unable to sleep? Does this happen often? If so don’t worry, ashwagandha is the cure for your insomnia. Ashwagandha is known to possess sleep-inducing properties that might seem beneficial to those suffering from sleeplessness. Try a warm cup of ashwagandha powder mixed with milk before you sleep to help to unwind and sleep better.
10. Treats Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory disorder that may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest congestion. If you are suffering from asthma, Ashwagandha can prove to be a natural cure for your condition. There may be many factors that may trigger asthma such as dust, pollen, stress, anxiety, pollution, etc.
Various ayurvedic texts have mentioned various cures for asthma in children and in adults. It involves using ayurvedic medicines and herbs and also a significant change in lifestyle. Ashwagandha roots when consumed regularly, reduce stress which in turn helps with respiratory diseases such as this.
11. Treats ulcers
Various studies propose that ashwagandha could be a natural remedy for ulcers. Gastric ulcers are ulcers that can develop from damage to the stomach lining. Stress-both psychological and physical, can also increase the risk of ulcers.
Ashwagandha can not only treat but also reduce the risk of ulcers. The studies also indicate that Ashwagandha by itself, or in combination with other herbs can reduce the levels of gastric acid in the stomach, thereby preventing the formation of painful ulcers.
12. Increases stamina
In our fast-paced modern lives, it is natural to feel drained out and tired. An unhealthy lifestyle and diet can decrease your stamina and make you feel exhausted. If you are having trouble in coping with your daily tasks or feel like you lack stamina, then ashwagandha must be your go-to solution.
Ashwagandha facilitates the body to reserve and sustain vital energy throughout the day to promote sound and peaceful sleep at night. It also increases your overall ability to exercise and work.
13. Cures Vitiligo
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches. It occurs when the pigment-producing cells either die or stop functioning. Medical treatment can help reduce the symptoms, but this condition cannot entirely be cured. Ashwagandha can diminish the condition to a great extent when consumed regularly.
14. Battling diabetes
Battling diabetes is tough as you need to transform your lifestyle and incorporate a new regime of medicines into your everyday routine. The most acute part of it is the side-effects of all the tablets you take in. But, the Ayurvedic medicines are supposed to cure without leaving behind any side effects of their own. They are known to treat the disease completely and give you a healthier body and mind.
In the case of diabetes control, Ashwagandha works by regulating the body’s production of insulin. It stimulates the secretion of insulin in the bloodstream by improving the break down of sugars in the blood. This ensures that the relatively less harmful sugars are being stored on your body. Thus, the blood sugar levels remain low when you consume Ashwagandha extracts over a significant period of time. Ashwagandha can also affect the overall metabolism of the body for enabling better removal of waste and all-round health. It has proven to be especially effective for people suffering from Type 2 diabetes.
15. Improves thyroid health
The thyroid is an organ located at the back of your neck. Before talking about how ashwagandha can cure thyroid, it is important to understand the different types of thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism is a thyroid disorder characterized by low levels of thyroid hormone, whereas on the contrary, hyperthyroidism is linked to high levels.
By boosting T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels, Ashwagandha may play a role in managing hypothyroidism but worsen symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Hence, it is advised to consult a doctor before taking ashwagandha for treating thyroid-related disorders.
16. Helps in weight loss
Are you constantly worried about gaining weight? Ashwagandha can help you in reducing and maintaining your weight. While ashwagandha is also available in capsule form, it’s advised to consume it in powder form made from dried ashwagandha leaves.
You can mix one teaspoon of ashwagandha powder in a glass of milk and add some honey to it. You can also add cardamom to improve taste, boost metabolism and promote better digestion.
This list covered some of the well-known benefits of adding Ashwagandha to your diet and to your daily cosmetics. While we’ve talked about many benefits, this list isn’t exhaustive. Next, let’s briefly discuss how Ashwagandha benefits your hair, skin and why it’s useful for men and women alike.
We mentioned how every part of Ashwagandha shrub is extremely useful. So, let’s start with the most well-known use of Ashwagandha as churna. Did you know that this famous Ashwagandha churna (also used as paste by combining with water, ghee or honey) is prepared from the roots of the shrub?
The list of benefits of this powder is endless. The most common uses of the powder are for relieving conditions such as leucoderma, constipation, insomnia, rheumatism, nervous breakdown, goiter etc. The paste prepared from the powder is also applied to the joints to get relief from inflammation and pain.
Although there are various different types of Ashwagandha, the Nagori Ashwagandha is the supreme among all Ashwagandha varieties. For maximum benefits, only fresh ashwagandha powder must be used.
The other parts of the shrub are also extremely useful.
For instance, Ashwagandha leaves, though bitter in taste, are rich in iron and can be consumed as herbal tea. They help in relieving conditions like anemia and blood loss due to heavy periods. Herbal tea prepared from Ashwagandha leaves also serves as an energy tonic and relieves fever and painful swellings.
The flowers are astringent, depurative, diuretic and aphrodisiac. The seeds are anthelmintic (helps in destroying parasitic worms) and combined with astringent and rock salt to remove
white spots from the cornea. Ashwagandharishta (an Ashwagandha health tonic) prepared from its seeds is used to treat hysteria, anxiety, memory loss, syncope, etc.
Now, let’s look at the many health benefits of Ashwagandha. We’ll also talk about how you can use Ashwagandha to treat specific conditions. Let’s begin.
Ashwagandha possesses powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help in keeping the scalp healthy. Ashwagandha powder is a rich source of flavonoids that also possesses fatty acids, glucose, potassium, tannins, and nitrate. Tyrosine, an amino acid present in Ashwagandha stimulates the production of melanin and restrains the loss of melanin in the hair.
It has also been reported to stop postpartum hair loss and often used in shampoos to help improve scalp circulation and provide strength to the hair. The stimulation of the production of sebum encourages healthy hair growth through its stimulation of DHEA.
There are various ways to consume ashwagandha to benefit your hair. These include the following -
Ashwagandha is a superfood that promises beautiful, glowing skin and healthy nails. Ashwagandha has high levels of antioxidants that fight signs of ageing such as wrinkles, dark spots, fine lines, and blemishes. It also contains alkaloids that act on the nervous system to ease anxiety and stress, which in turn have a direct impact on the health of our skin and hair.
This is how Ashwagandha works -
For healthy and glowing skin, mix 2 teaspoons of Ashwagandha powder with 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and one teaspoon of dried lemon peel. Boil the mixture together in 1 cup of water and apply the mixture when it is slightly cooled. So there you have it- the secret to healthy skin right under your nose.
Another way to reap the benefits of Ashwagandha for your skin is to use a face pack with Ashwagandha powder. You can use Kama Ayurveda’s Nimrah Anti-Acne pack to heal pimples and blackheads, reduce scars, improve skin tone and repair inflammation.
Ashwagandha, a revered herb in traditional medicine, offers a myriad of health advantages for men:
Central to male health, testosterone plays a crucial role. Ashwagandha not only stimulates its production but also aids in its regulation, mitigating conditions like Andropause or the “mid-life crisis.”
In studies, men with low sperm counts witnessed a remarkable 167% increase in sperm count after consuming Ashwagandha, attributed to the Withanolides present in it. There was a notable improvement in sperm quality and a surge in antioxidant levels.
For those grappling with stress-induced infertility, Ashwagandha showcased potential benefits. In a study involving men aged 22-45, many reported reduced stress levels, with some even successfully conceiving.
Research indicates that Withaferin-A, found in Ashwagandha leaves, may hinder the growth of prostate cancer cells. Although not a definitive cure, combining Ashwagandha with mainstream medical treatments, under a specialist's guidance, could enhance recovery outcomes.
Note: Before turning to Ashwagandha for fertility or any health issues, it's paramount to consult a doctor. Identifying the root cause is pivotal for selecting the right treatment.
Ashwagandha, a cornerstone in traditional medicine, has shown promising benefits tailored to women's health:
Stress can adversely affect fertility, libido, and menstrual health due to its impact on reproductive hormones. Ashwagandha’s renowned stress-reducing properties thus offer support and augmentation to women's reproductive health.
The herb fosters communication within the endocrine system. It fortifies the adrenal glands, curtails cortisol, and promotes blood production. This, in turn, positively affects libido, menstrual health, and can potentially boost fertility.
Menopause brings with it hormonal imbalances that can trigger hot flashes, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and more. By working on the endocrine system, Ashwagandha mitigates these symptoms, making it an invaluable herb for those approaching or experiencing menopause.
Ashwagandha is credited for elevating mood, reducing mental stress, and enhancing blood flow, which collectively act as sexual stimulants. Its aphrodisiac properties are not only highlighted in the ancient text "Kamasutra" but have also been corroborated by contemporary research.
Incorporating Ashwagandha into one's routine could be beneficial, but as always, it's recommended to consult a health professional before doing so.
Ashwagandha, often regarded as a wonder herb, holds a trove of benefits for young ones:
Ashwagandha's properties as an immunomodulator mean it can bolster the immune system, benefiting both children and adults.
Research shows it enhances white blood cell and platelet counts, aiding in antibody development. This boosts the body's defense mechanisms. In Indian tradition, children often consume Chawanprash, an Ayurvedic tonic enriched with Ashwagandha among its ingredients.
Ashwagandha is celebrated for boosting cognitive abilities in children. Ancient Ayurvedic practitioners acknowledged its prowess in enhancing memory and retention. It enriches a child's capability to absorb and retain knowledge.
Ashwagandha can play a pivotal role in amplifying strength and stamina in kids. By stimulating appetite and furnishing nourishment, coupled with its stress-reducing attributes, it fosters a robust and resilient mindset in children.
Including Ashwagandha in a child's regimen can offer these advantages. However, it's essential to seek a pediatrician's guidance before introducing any supplements.
According to Ayurveda, it’s best to consume Ashwagandha with milk. Why?
In Ayurveda, an Anupama (vehicle) is the way medicine is administered. It is the vehicle that serves the action of the herb. It forms an indispensable part of Ayurvedic treatment. The herb or oushadhi becomes more effective when given with a suitable vehicle after considering the stage and strength of the patient and of course the disease.
According to Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, milk is beneficial to the mind and body. It is sweet in taste and has cool energy and a sweet post-digestive effect. Its overall effect is pleasing to the mind and body.
Ayurveda considers milk to be the best vehicle (Anupama) for the body’s seven tissue systems. Milk is especially good for the blood, bone, plasma and the reproductive system.
According to Ayurveda, milk has different effects on the body based on the time at which it’s consumed during the day. Milk consumed in the morning increases power, body mass and appetite. Milk taken in the afternoon increases appetite and may even help in reducing the size of kidney stones. Milk taken at night relieves various aches and pains.
Ashwagandha and milk possess similar properties, both are considered rejuvenators and hence are an optimal combination. Taking ashwagandha with milk can give more solid results in cases of starvation and tuberculosis. It is helpful in gaining muscular strength, managing weight and curbing malnutrition.
The scholar Sushruta also indicated that Ashwagandha served with milk serves as a medicated clyster in Vata disorders and anorectal bleeding.
How to prepare Ashwagandha with milk?
Add 4 cups of milk and 10 grams of ashwagandha powder to a pan. Boil the mixture until its appearance turns to a thick paste. Then extract it from the heat. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. You may add 1 tsp of sugar to this. This ashwagandha milk recipe is beneficial if consumed on an empty stomach as an empty stomach condition provides better absorption of the active substances of ashwagandha. Just ensure that you are not lactose intolerant or milk doesn’t result in acidity on an empty stomach.
Dosage and how to consume Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha root powder can generally be used at daily dosages of 120 mg to 2g in combination with other preparations. However, it is advised to consult a doctor before starting with the consumption of this herb. Pregnant and lactating women are advised not to consume Ashwagandha as abortifacient properties have been reported for ashwagandha.
Isn’t it interesting to know how a single shrub can be so useful. Let’s quickly look at the science behind this to get a better perspective.
The key chemical structures of Ashwagandha endow it with its unique medicinal properties. It works like this - All plants possess an array of special compounds known as phytochemicals. In simple words, because plants cannot move around, these phytochemicals exist to perform specific tasks.
Some phytochemicals act as an immune system, responding to attacking antibodies. Some exist to deter insects from eating them as the plant cannot move around to defend itself. Some phytochemicals simply help the plant to grow fast and strong.
When consumed, these chemicals can overlap with ones that activate pathways in our bodies and can have a very meaningful effect on our bodies. What makes ashwagandha so special is that it has a large quantity of these phytochemicals, which makes it extremely beneficial and positively affects various systems in our bodies.
Although Ashwagandha is considered safe for consumption, pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as people with diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, may need to avoid it.
Ashwagandha may also interact with thyroid, blood sugar and blood pressure medications.
People taking these types of medication should consult with their doctor before supplementing with the medicinal herb.
Ashwagandha is considered well-tolerated in small to medium doses. But there haven't been enough long-term studies to examine possible side effects.
Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it can cause early delivery. Although ashwagandha supplements are generally well-tolerated when taken short-term in typical dosages, mild to moderate side effects such as headache, sleepiness, and stomach upset have been reported. Rarely, allergic reactions and rapid heartbeat have been reported.
Be aware, however, that ashwagandha can potentially lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and increase thyroid hormone levels.
Hope that this article provided you with useful insights into the benefits and uses of the magical herb - Ashwagandha. You can start using Ashwagandha topically as oil or face pack to get all its benefits for your skin. However, do remember to consult a doctor before consuming this ancient ayurvedic medicine. Keep in mind the safety note and side effects as well.
Shreya Dalela is a certified Yoga instructor and a professional dancer trained at The Danceworx. She’s passionate about Ayurveda and holistic living with over 6 years of experience in doing extensive research and content creation in the domain.