The name Ashwagandha is a combination of two words- Ashwa- meaning horse and Gandha- meaning smell. The root of the plant smells like a horse. Thus, the plant gets the name Ashwagandha. It is also known as the Indian Ginseng. The English name for Ashwagandha is Winter Cherry. In Hindi, it is known as Asgandh.

Other Names of Ashwagandha are:

Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asan, Asana, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashagandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Cerise d’Hiver, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Withania somnifera in Latin, poison gooseberry etc. Somnifera in Latin means sleep inducing.

Description of the plant

class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-31082″ />It is a small perennial plant with white flowers. Its fruits (berries) are orange in colour when tender, and turn red when ripe with yellow seeds inside. The plant belongs to the Solanaceae or night shade family. The plant grows up to a height of 35- 75 cm. Its branches extend from the main stem. The plant is grown in drier regions such as Punjab, Gujarat, Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh, Sind and Rajasthan. It is also grown in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Congo and Jordan. Ashwagandha is easy to grow and is cultivable in one year. Ashwagandha is cultivated through cuttings, seeds or by division.


Ayurvedic uses

Ashwagandha is mentioned in ancient texts such as Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas, Astanghriday and Bhava Prakasha etc. The use of Ashwagandha is mentioned in the Ashwalayan Grihya Sutra and in Shuthpath Brahman. The use of Ashwagandha, i.e the roots, leaves and the fruits for medicinal purposes dates back to 5000 years. In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is known as the “prince of herbs” as it has wide ranging therapeutic uses. It is one of the herbs extensively used in Ayurvedic medicinal preparations. Ashwagandha is known as “Rasayana” or as a rejuvenating tonic. Ashwagandha is said to give the vitality and strength of a horse. The root and berry or fruits are used in Ayurvedic preparations.

Ashwagandha consists of the constituents: alkaloids (including withanine, somniferine, isopelietierine, anaferine, tropine, pseudotropine, anahygrine, beta-sisterol, cuscohygrine, scopoletin, somniferinine, tropanol, withananine), flavonoids, saponins, sitoindosides, iron, choline, acylsteryl glucosides, coumarins (scopoletin and aesculetin), triterpene (beta-amyrin), phytosterols (stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol), minerals, essential oils (ipuranol, withaniol), somnine, pseudowithanine, 3-a-gloyloxytropane, cuscohygrine, sopelletierine, anahydrine.

The plant is popularly known as “adaptogen” which means that it adapts to fit certain health needs within the body. It finds what is wrong and tries to fix it. Adaptogens (are a small group of botanical and mushroom species that help increase resistance to physical, chemical, and psychological stressors while enhancing balance and homeostasis in the body). Adaptogens reduce the Coristol levels in the body. Coristol, are the stress hormone secretions in the body which increase when the adrenal glands respond to the fight or the flight situation. When the Coristol levels increase, it produces a chain of negative consequences like anxiety, fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia, weight gain around the abdomen. The glycowithanolide bioactives in Ashwagandha are a type of steroidal lactones which reduces the coristol levels in the body. When the Coristol levels are maintained or balanced, it leads to a more balanced state of mind. It promotes a feeling of overall well being or positive outlook. Ashwagandha is recommended for relieving stress, Hyper tension, insomnia, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It is used to treat migraine. Ashwagandha improves the brain functions and strengthens the nerves. It is helpful in strengthening the reproductive systems.

It is effective in treating one- sided paralysis and wounds. It is also used to treat multiple sclerosis, rheumatism and hypothyroidism. It is used in the treatment of arthritis, tumors, TB, asthma, leukoderma, bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, and chronic liver diseases. It is effective in balancing kapha and vata doshas.

Thus the herb is used not to treat a specific ailment but for strengthening the overall immune system. It is recommended to improve the overall immunity or as a preventive health care tonic. Ashwagandha is also used as a general tonic to boost the energy levels and to cope with daily stress and strain.

Ashwagandha is used to treat psychological and physical ailments such as fatigue, strain, cognitive dysfunction, inflammation, reduced immune function, as well as blood sugar and cardiovascular health issues.

Roots: The roots, brown in colour have antioxidant and antifungal properties, which is effective in warding off infections.

Roots contain more than 30 Steroidal lactones and about 20 alkaloids. Roots, having the adaptogen property are used to treat physiological functions which are disturbed by chronic stress, through correction of the imbalances in the neuroendocrine and immune systems. It is an effective diuretic and aphrodisiac. It slows down the ageing process.

It is an antidote for fighting against all types of cancer.

Leaves: The leaves contain steroid lactone, commonly known as withanolides. The leaves which taste bitter are used to relax the spasms of the lungs for the treatment of asthma and emphysema.

Berries/ Fruits: Berries are used as a substitute to thicken the milk in cheese making.

The fruits and leaves are applied externally for treating tumours, tubercular glands, carbuncles, and ulcers.

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