Botanical Name is Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, or winter cherry. It is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing. It is classified as a rasayana i.e. rejuvenation in Ayurveda and expected to promote physical and mental health, restore the body and increase longevity. It has been glorified over time for its dual capacity to energise and calm at the same time.
The Sanskrit term Ashwagandha translates to “smell of horse”. Traditionally, it is believed that a person who consumes this herbal medicine will gain horse-like strength and vitality. It is a small shrub with yellow flowers and a red fruit, native to India, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Cultivation takes about 180 days. This usually results in a harvest around early January. The plants will start flowering from mid December onwards and it is determined if they are ready to harvest by observing the development of the red berry like fruits. The whole plant along with the roots is removed from the soil. The roots and berries are the main parts used. It is generally grown in fields characterized by slightly basic soils that have good drainage. Light red soils are suitable for this herb.
Many uses of Ashwagandha:
Ashwagandha is popularly used for boosting immunity, anti-ageing, joint pain and insomnia. Due to its active ingredient called withanolides, Ashwagandha is also used as an “adaptogen” to help the body cope with daily stress, as a general tonic and for improving thinking ability. It also improves the brain’s memory functions like attention and concentration, hence helping with the symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It enables the body to reserve and sustain vital energy throughout the day while promoting sound, peaceful sleep at night.
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Traditionally, it is used as a powder mixed with honey and warm milk.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
- The benefits of Ashwagandha are perfect for those battling stress, as it inhibits high levels of cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’. It is in fact used in tranquilizers and antidepressants drugs, since it helps relieve physical and mental stress and overcome depression. It has demonstrated an ability to promote the growth of nerve cells, and protect the brain cells from the harmful effects of the environment.
- Ashwagandha has a rich history in Ayurveda for its wound healing abilities. Traditionally, fresh leaves were used topically to heal joint pains, skin sores and to reduce swelling.
- In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is referred to as balya, which means giving strength in conditions like general debility. It is known to improve energy, increase stamina and endurance.
- Ashwagandha is used as an aphrodisiac as well, since it supports sexual health.
- In addition to boosting immunity, Ashwagandha also has the potential to be a serious anti-cancer agent as it slows the growth of cancerous tumors.
- Skincare: Ashwagandha stimulates DHEA, which is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen and stimulates the production of natural skin oils. It also promotes the production of vital compounds and proteins for healthy skin such as hyaluronan for skin hydration, elastin to keep the skin supple and collagen for skin strength. For glowing skin, one can also use Ashwagandha as a toner with dried ginger and lemon.