Ashwaganda (Withania somifera): What is it? How is it used? Science on Ashwaganda and Personal Exper


I'm an avid tea drinker and have enjoyed a morning pot of green tea for decades. Over the past few years I've used tea as a way to incorporate herbs into my routine as well. Since I'm in the habit of drinking tea daily -- brewing a decoction or strong tea infusion flows nicely into my day.

I've been using Vitex berry in my tea lately for its support of the reproductive system and its ability to help ease some of the uncomfortable symptoms that can occur as women mature into menopause (read more about that herb here) and recently wanted to add some herbs to support memory and energy so I turned to ashwaganda or Withania somifera.

Withania is known to be a very safe herb and can easily be incorporated into a tea or in a more traditional warm milk drink.

The plant is a shrub that can grow anywhere from a 2 1/2 to 5 feet tall. It has a central stem with ovate, alternate leaves with branches that extend radially. The flowers are green with a yellow interior and the plant yields a smooth bright orange-red berry. The long brown roots are the part that are used both fresh and dried.

The plant is found in several Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, Africa, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. It is NOT included on the IUCN list of threatened species, however it has been listed as a threatened species in Rajasthan India according to a 2012 study by Ram, et al.

The plant is a noted source of alkaloids and iron and is often used as a "life-prolonging tonic" in Ayurvedic traditions. I find the root interesting because it appears to act in both sedative and invigorating ways -- or as a tonic or adaptogen to support overall wellness.

The name ashwaganda means "that which has the smell of a horse" and refers to the roots odor and its use to restore strength and vitality as well as sexual energy. (Lad and Frawley)

The root is believed to work by gradually lowering feelings of stress and improve fertility. The name somnifera means "sleep inducing" and suggests it is a calming herb or sedative. This calming nature makes this herb a good choice for those seeking to ease feelings of tension. This may help support a more restful sleep or can be useful to calm the nerves. (Winston and Maimes)

Ashwaganda or Withania also supports immune health by activating lymphocytes. A small study done in 2009 found that major changes in immune cell activation occurred in 96 hours in participants taking 6 mls of ashwangada extract twice daily. (Mikolai et. al.)

Additionally Withania has been report to decrease baseline biomarkers of inflammation (Anbalagan et al) and was beneficial for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (Bector).

There are additional studies that indicate increase in strength, stamina, and learning -- visit Richard Whelan's site for additional research article listings.

Ashwanganda is described as sweet, yet bitter. I personally do not enjoy its taste in tea and use herbs such as cinnamon, clove, and ginger to create a more palatable tea. Recomemded doses are 2 to 6 grams or 1 heaping tablespoon per day either in 1 cup of boiling water or steeped into sweetened milk divided into 1 to 3 doses. Alternatively one can consume 2-4 ml of a tincture 3x daily or 400-500mg capsules twice daily.

I've just begun my personal exploration of Withania and will continue to my experience with it in supporting memory, stamina, and sleep.

The actions of Withania include adaptogen, sedative, tonic, immunomodulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, nervine, anti-spasmodic.

Safety: a very safe herb for all ages, however it is suggested to avoid in cases of hemachromatosis and hyperthyroidism if taking thyroid medication. Some cultures use Withania as a tonic during pregnancy, while others use it as an aboritfacient -- so caution is needed.

As with all herbs and natural "remedies" it is wise to use alongside basic wellness practices of healthy diet, exercise, making time for adequate sleep, and reducing toxic load. The goal is to support the overall wellness of the body rather than "cure" a symptom. Richard Whelan's site is a fantastic resource to explore this topic further.

Have you tried ashwaganda or Withania? How have you used it? What is your experience?

Ram H, Kumar A, Sharma SK, Ojha A, Rao SR. (2012). Meiotic Studies in Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal.: A Threatened Medicinal Herb of Indian Thar Desert. AJPS; Vol.3 No.2,. 185-189.

Lad V, Frawley D. (1986). The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press: Santa Fe, NM.

Winston D, Maimes S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, VT.

Mikolai J, Erlandsen A, Murison A, Brown KA, Gregory WL, Raman-Caplan P, Zwickey HL. (2009). In vivo effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on the activation of lymphocytes. J Altern Complement Med. Apr;15(4):423-30.

Anbalagan K, Sadique J. Int J Crude Drug Res 1986;24(2):90-100

Bector NP, Puri AS, Sharma D: Indian J Med Res 56:1581-1583,1969

The Herbarium Website, Ashwaganda, accessed July 1, 2020 from: https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/1003

Richard Wheland Medical Herbalist Website, Withania, accessed July 1, 2020 from: https://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/withania.html#wit3

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