Introducing Ashwagandha: an age-old ingredient known to improve well-being and quality of life. If you haven't yet heard of Ashwagandha, you've come to the right place. In this article, I'm going to give you the inside scoop on its origins, benefits, and more.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an ancient medicinal herb that can be traced back to about 6,000 BC. It was utilized in the Indian healing system of Ayurveda, and later, in Chinese healing traditions.
Here, we will learn all about the history of this powerful herb and all of its tremendous benefits that are sure to pique your interest!
Glad you asked.
Time for a mini Sanskrit lesson!
Ayurvedic Medicine deems ashwagandha as one of the most essential herbs within its healing practice. Many of the healing abilities of ashwagandha correlate to this ancient healing practice. Treating the whole person (mind, body, and spirit), creating a balance between our various bodily systems/organs, and more.
The Sanskrit word 'Ayurveda' can be broken down to Ayur, meaning 'life, and Veda, meaning 'knowing'. The word as a whole can be translated to 'science of life.
As for 'ashwagandha': Ashwa translates to 'horse,' and gandha translates to 'smell.' In Sanskrit, the word essentially means 'smell of the horse,' referring to a horse's strength, power… and unique smell.3
Interestingly, in grounding the herb for personal use, it is said that it gives a distinct horse-like aroma! In application, the benefits also resemble that of a horse's stature and ability, which the ancients experienced as healthy libido and increased vitality.3
Pretty cool, huh?
This evergreen shrub was initially found in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and northern Africa. Over the years, we have cultivated the ashwagandha plant in more temperate climates right here in America.
Ashwagandha, amazingly, can grow in conditions that not many other herbs and plants can grow in, let alone thrive! This powerful herb can not only withstand but flourishes in arid conditions and alkaline soils. It can endure droughts too, which makes it the perfect shrub to plant in places that may be difficult to irrigate.
This is a remarkable fact in that ashwagandha's high potency in our bodies reflects its own incredible abilities in growing and developing under challenging climates. The environmental stress it adapts to in the wild correlates to how, as a medicinal herb, it helps us adapt to our own stressors.
More on that to come!
Although different parts of the shrub were utilized simultaneously, the root of ashwagandha is concentrated on most of its medicinal properties.6
Back then, the root of ashwagandha was renowned for being a powerful health tonic. It improved the lifespan of people and helped in the rejuvenation of our bodily systems1. For thousands of years, it enhanced the performance of the "neurological, immune, energy-production, endocrinal, and reproductive systems".
In Ayurveda, it was used as a Rasayana, described as an herbal preparation that "promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness." Children were given them as tonics, and they were also utilized by adults and the elderly to enhance longevity.
The EarlyBird Morning Cocktail
So far, we are getting a glimpse of all the fantastic attributes of ashwagandha. Here, we are going to take a closer look at all the benefits ashwagandha has to offer.
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is classified as an adaptogen. This means that this herb is famous for its incredible ability to safely and effectively help the human mind and body handle stress, with no withdrawal symptoms.
Count me in!
Cortisol, the stress hormone most of us are well-acquainted with, is released by our adrenal glands in stressful situations. Evidently, we live in a very stressed and caffeinated society where our cortisol levels are at an all-time high. Suppose these levels are elevated for too long. In that case, it can cause high blood sugar, chronic anxiety, sleep problems, cognitive issues, weight gain, and more.
Thankfully, ashwagandha has proven to help our body regulate cortisol levels in healthier ways, thus helping to decrease our anxiousness and high-stress levels.
Overall, the ashwagandha root is linked to improving an individual's resistance to anxiety with no adverse effects.
Who doesn't want a good memory and strong concentration skills? We now have studies that validate Ayurvedic uses for ashwagandha as a memory enhancer!
The roots of this herb have been shown to protect nerve cells from oxidative stress by promoting antioxidant activity. The damaging effects that free radicals can potentially have on our brain (memory and concentration) can be dramatically reduced through the use of ashwagandha.
One study showed that in randomizing 20 healthy male participants, some received 250mg 2 times daily. They had significantly better reaction times, cognitive performance, and memory (through various tests).
It has been shown that ashwagandha "slows, stops, reverses, or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss". This means that, besides having beneficial effects on brain health in general, ashwagandha can go as far as improving brain function in those with injuries or disease (e.g., Parkinson's or Alzheimer's).
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb concerning mental stress. It is also important to note that it helps our bodies in physically stressful situations.
In taking KSM-66® Ashwagandha (a full-spectrum extract of the root of ashwagandha), male and female participants showed to have enhanced cardiorespiratory endurance.
In another study, males who underwent resistance training while taking 300mg of ashwagandha were shown to have significantly greater:
· Strength in arms and chest (bench-press exercise)
· Reduction in exercise-induced muscle injury
· Testosterone levels
· Decreased body fat percentage11
Ashwagandha is a compelling and easy way to support heart health. Here are just some of the ways this herb can help our hearts:
· Can help lower high cholesterol
· Can help lower high blood pressure
· May ease chest pain
· May prevent heart disease
Ashwagandha has other incredible benefits that are worth mentioning!
For starters, this herb works wonders on the nervous system; it supports a healthily functioning nervous system by its antioxidant effects, which in turn aids the GABA pathways in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that encourages calmness and supports muscle tone.
As mentioned before, ashwagandha proves to have soothing effects by regulating cortisol levels. Having our cortisol levels better-managed leaves room for reproductive hormones to be produced. If we are constantly under stress, the body is more apt to produce cortisol than these reproductive hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, or progesterone.
Here, we see ashwagandha supports yet again another important area of the body in supporting reproductive health.
Sleep! Sleep is regenerative, restorative, and essential for longevity. Ashwagandha can support a good night's rest by supporting our adrenal health. Adrenal health plays a role in our sleep schedule/quality (adrenal fatigue can also disturb sleep, which is all the more reason to take this herb).
The EarlyBird Morning Cocktail
There are side effects to this herb, but not many.
Taking ashwagandha could potentially give you an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting, especially when taken at higher doses.
It has also been recommended not to take ashwagandha for more than 3 months at a time.12
Ashwagandha is additionally not recommended for pregnant women or those with autoimmune disorders.
As always, the dosage depends on the type of ashwagandha supplement you are taking and what the manufacturer suggests.
Another element to note is what part of the plant that particular supplement is using (roots, leaves, etc.) and if the supplement is an extract or just ground ashwagandha (in powder form).
Typically, when getting all the benefits that ashwagandha offers, you are taking an extract from the root. This is usually around 450-500mg, once or twice daily, depending on your personal needs.
Additionally, you can consult with a trusted herbalist to adjust the dosage depending on what you want to achieve from taking ashwagandha. Whether it is to reduce anxiety, boost fertility, enhance exercise performance, or boost memory, there are healthcare practitioners that can help guide you to the proper dosage.
Since ashwagandha is so versatile, it can be good to take any time, anywhere! Similar to the dosages, the answer to when you should take ashwagandha depends on what you want out of it.
In helping with stress and anxiety to cope with a crazy workday, it might be beneficial to begin incorporating ashwagandha in your daily morning routine. (And, it might be more convenient for you to take it with your other supplements at this time).
Some people experience an upset stomach upon taking ashwagandha on an empty stomach. If this is you, it might be helpful to get a little breakfast in before taking this herb.
Consuming ashwagandha at night can also promote feelings of relaxation and help you get a night of solid sleep.
Whether you take this supplement in the morning, at night, or twice a day, you are sure to reap the benefits you seek! However, one thing to note is it might take days to weeks before experiencing the benefits of this herb. This is because it takes longer than most herbs/supplements for its effects to be felt.
I personally recommend taking ashwagandha in the morning. One of my favorite morning mixers, called EarlyBird Morning Cocktail, has my favorite extract of ashwagandha, KSM-66 Ashwagandha, at a dosage of 250mg (which is enough to reduce anxiety, reduce inflammation, elevate my mood, and help with concentration).
Either way, ashwagandha is an incredible medicinal herb that may prove to work wonders in your life!