Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha And Its Plant Characteristics, Systematics And Uses

Ashwagandha benefits and uses of the Indian healing plant

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as sleeping berry or Indian ginseng, is a traditional medicinal plant in Ayurvedic medicine. It is mainly used as a medicinal plant against stress or sleep disorders and to strengthen mental abilities or the immune system. In our latitudes, people mainly use the root extracts and, in some cases, its leaf extracts as superfood.

Origin and occurrence of Ashwagandha

The plant originally comes from the South Asian region and mainly inhabits dry and sandy to gravelly soils. It specializes primarily in drier locations. Larger natural occurrences happen in India, Nepal, Yemen and western China, among others. We can also find further stocks in many African countries today.

Due to its increasing popularity, there are also large populations of Ashwagandha in many private gardens.

Systematics of Withania somnifera

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) belongs to the large nightshade family (Solonaceae) and is related to well-known crops such as tomatoes, potatoes or peppers, as well as well-known medicinal plants such as the bitter-sweet nightshade. In the closer assignment, Ashwagandha classifies as the genus Withania, of which we know about 20 species.

The plant is also known in our latitudes under the name sleep berry, Indian ginseng or winter cherry.

Where does the name Ashwagandha come from?

The original name is actually Asvagandha. This comes originally from Sanskrit, a language change from Old Indian. Asvagandha can be translated symbolically as the smell of the horse, which is probably due to the sometimes intense smell of the roots.

Characteristics of Withania Somnifera

Ashwagandha or sleeping berry is a perennial herbaceous plant. The plant is usually between 25 and 80 cm high, but can reach heights of up to 160 cm if the site conditions are good. In the soil, it mostly forms thicker, whitish to slightly brownish and tapering roots that lignify with age. This plant usually doesn’t develop fine roots.

The leaves of Ashwagandha show an ovoid to elongated shape. It is noticeable that the leaf stalks themselves have a distance of up to 2 centimeters to the stem axis. The surface of the leaves shows a semicircular leaf veins pointing to the tip. The underside of the leaves and the stems are covered with fine leaf hairs. Both the shoot axis and the leaves usually show a mint green to olive green color.

During the flowering period, the plant forms bell-shaped, relatively inconspicuous flowers; usually greenish-yellow, white or light yellow in color. The flowers sit on a 4 to 6 mm long peduncle. The stamens strike with their yellow stamens, which are clearly visible from the center of the flowers. In our latitudes we can expect the sleeping berries to bloom between mid-July and mid-September.

Ashwagandha then produces strikingly bright red berries as fruits. Each flower develops a berry that can reach a diameter of up to 8 millimeters. The berries are quite soft and contain several whitish-yellow seeds. The berries are not edible!

Use of Ashwagandha in the kitchen

The plant is practically not used in the kitchen. It is simply not a typical kitchen plant. The leaves have a rather bitter and astringent taste. The berries of the plant may look tempting, but they are also inedible. They also have a distinctly bitter taste and contain substances which, if used excessively, cause symptoms of poisoning. The sleeping berry is, therefore, used exclusively for medicinal purposes or as a dietary supplement.

There are only two exceptions: drinking Ashwagandha in a tea or smoothies, which mostly contain ingredients from so-called super foods. Here, however, we mostly only use Ashwagandha powder mixed with other ingredients such as Brahmi or Gotu Kola.

To make an Ashwagandha smoothie, you mix the powder of these plants with a milk base or substitute milk base (e.g. almond milk, oat milk, rice milk). In order to wash out the mostly bitter taste, most vitamin-rich fruit is processed or juiced. In India, they occasionally substitute the seeds of Withania Somnifera for rennet for making cheese.

Ashwagandha as a medicinal herb

The plant has a long tradition in Ayurvedic medicine in India. There, they primarily use the sleeping berry to strengthen the immune system and inhibit the aging process. In addition, the plant should reduce damage caused by harsh environmental influences.

Ashwagandha was already known as the sleeping berry in the early herbal books of the Middle Ages. However, one can assume that the plant was given little importance at that time. The sleep-promoting effect of the plant and the type of preparation were already known to some doctors and healers.

P. A. Mattioli already wrote that the bark of the roots in connection with wine brings sleep. Interestingly, Mattioli also points out that the effect is gentler than opium and that this information comes from Dioscurides. Dioscurides was a Roman military doctor in the 1st century AD. The sleeping berry and its main effects are probably known in the ancient world for more than 2000 years.

In today’s naturopathy as well as in scientific medicine, Ashwagandha meets with great and broad interest. The roots in particular contain phytochemicals that can interact with our body. Above all, the contained withanolides, also known as steroid lactones, play a major role as representatives of the alkaloids.

Today we know about more than 300 different withanolides. The main substances are the two amorphous alkaloids withanolide A, withaferin A and withanolide D. In addition, the plant contains other ingredients such as flavonoids, tannins and some saponins.

Withanolides mainly cause the effect of Ashwagandha.

The main benefits on our organism are:

anti-inflammatory
antioxidant
anxiety-relieving
slightly aphrodisiac
immunomodulating (strengthening the immune system)
stress relieving
sleep-inducing
presumably anti-carcinogenic

Today it has been proven that the withanolides they contain can have a direct effect on our central nervous system. For example, withaferin A can inhibit proteins that bind DNA, so-called transcription factors. Both withaferin A and withanolide D can also influence the receptors (molecules that can dock on certain points in a cell) of certain neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are certain messenger substances that can initiate excitation in our nerve cells. Such neurotransmitters are particularly active in stressful and fearful situations. Withaferin A and Withanolide D can prevent certain neurotransmitters from spreading, causing an anxiety-relieving and, in some cases, stress-relieving effect.

Today they use Ashwagandha in naturopathy and science-based medicine for the following diseases and ailments:

Anxiety disorders
Exhaustion
Stress
Sleep disorders
Type 2 diabetes
Hair loss
Strengthening the immune system
Stabilization of blood lipid levels
supportive with cancer

Ashwagandha effective for stress and anxiety relief

Ashwagandha or sleeping berry is mainly used as what is known as an adaptogen. In naturopathy, this refers to substances that can reduce acute and chronic stress. They use it in a relatively similar way to the taiga root (Eleutherococcus sentiosus). In science-based medicine, hope prevails that they soon can use extracts and isolated individual substances from the root against neurodegenerative diseases as well as against some types of cancer.

Withania somnifera root extracts most likely have a positive impact on the quality of sleep, which can alleviate sleep disorders. The fact that the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is increasingly formed explains this, which among other things inhibits signals that trigger stress reactions.

In current studies, researchers found previously unknown proteins in the roots of the sleeping berry, which could cause certain cell types to die in breast cancer. We currently know these proteins as WSPF (Withania Somnifera Protein Fraction). The WSPF could stimulate the mitochondria of the tumor cells, which ultimately led to apoptosis (cell death). However, it requires a need for further studies and laboratory tests to establish therapeutic potential.

Beneficial for brain health

In Ayurvedic medicine in India, they traditionally use Ashwagandha as an adaptogen against stress, as a rejuvenating agent, and as a learning and concentration aid. In India, along with Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) and Asian ginseng (Panax Ginseng), they often use it as a component of Medhya Rasayanas –  a type of drug used to promote memory and to prevent mental disorders .

The main dosage form is the ingestion of root extracts, which one usually takes either as pure ashwagandha powder or in capsule form. For the best possible absorption, i.e. the absorption of the substances in certain cells, naturopaths advise to consume appropriate ashwagandha preparations 20 to 30 minutes after a meal.

The recommended daily amount of powder or dry extract lies between 300 and 500 mg. This corresponds to about 2 to 3 capsules, depending on the capsule weight. The duration of use should exceed more than 12 weeks.

Side effects

Ashwagandha is a well-tolerated medicinal plant when used for a short period of time. However, you should not take the plant extracts or powder during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Ashwagandha can also lower blood pressure, which can lead to unwanted symptoms such as dizziness, tiredness, increased heart rate, or fainting for people who already have low blood pressure. In addition, people with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatism or systemic lupus should definitely avoid taking it.

Since ashwagandha increases the activity of the immune system, it can lead to undesirable side effects in autoimmune diseases. Some scientific research also suggests that ashwagandha can increase the production of thyroid hormones. You should first discuss the use of Ashwagandha preparations in hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), Graves’ disease and sometimes in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis with a doctor.

Buying Ashwagandha – what you should considered?

In recent years, Ashwagandha has become something of a fashion plant. In addition to fresh plants and seeds, more and more well-stocked shops sell ashwagandha powder or capsules. Today we can find it in many superfood recipes, which is why the need or consumption increases more and more.

One can find fresh plants at well-stocked herb dealers, on perennial markets and in larger plant centers. In addition, numerous online shops now offer plants of different sizes. I also suggest to look out for the botanical name Withania somnifera, as sometimes they sell other species of the genus Withania as Ashwagandha.

If you have the opportunity to examine the plants, you should make sure that neither downy mildew nor discolored leaf margins show up.  Should you wish to use the plant for medicinal purposes or as a general superfood, you can purchase Ashwagandha in powder or capsule form. If you opt for capsules, the withanolide content should not fall below 5 percent, otherwise it will not have a  therapeutic effect.

Dear co-creators

I hope this post about Ashwagandha and its great benefits for our health was useful for you. I personally can say that a cup of Ashwagandha tea or the Genius Joy Nootropics / Vitamins (linked below) helped me find better sleep after a stressful day, back in those days when my anxiety levels were still high before bed time (I am a panic attack “survivor”).

Please note:

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Need advice, guidance or simply someone to listen to you?

Then go ahead and book a 20 minutes free consulting call with me if you need help with letting go of your negative thoughts or don’t know how to stop identifying yourself with your mind.

As a panic attack and agoraphobia “survivor” myself, I am also here for you if you are in desperate search for relief from panic disorder, moderate depression or just could use someone to listen to you.

Feel free to either send me an email or give me a call. Then we will find out together what you really need help with, and how I can be of service to you.

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Never forget, you are spiritual beings and here to collect worldly experiences in order to expand, not vice versa. You are highly appreciated, unique and endlessly loved.

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Need advice, guidance or simply someone to listen to you?

Then go ahead and book a 20 minutes free consulting call with me if you need help with letting go of your negative thoughts or don’t know how to stop identifying yourself with your mind.

As a panic attack and agoraphobia “survivor” myself, I am also here for you if you are in desperate search for relief from panic disorder, moderate depression or just could use someone to listen to you.

Feel free to either send me an email or give me a call. Then we will find out together what you really need help with, and how I can be of service to you.

My goal is to help you to re-discover who you truly are and reclaim your life. I’m also guiding you through by supporting you in letting go of your limiting beliefs. Only this way you can tap into your powerful resources and create the life you desire and deserve.

Never forget, you are spiritual beings and here to collect worldly experiences in order to expand, not vice versa. You are highly appreciated, unique and endlessly loved.

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