As Ayurveda becomes increasingly popular in the world, it seems inevitable that many will become aware of some of its more important remedies. And among these various remedies the herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has taken on a special prominence, Ashwagandha Powder is an incredibly healthy medicinal herb.It is classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning that it can help your body manage stress. Ashwagandha Root is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing. in this post I am exploring its various attributes, properties, Ashwagandha benefits and uses, Ashwagandha dosage and even some of its potential contraindications, to properly guide its usage.
What Is Ashwagandha?
First off, what is Ashwagandha? Well, in part this depends where you are in the world. The Sanskrit name “Ashwagandha” means “horse smell”, which rather than referring to the actual odour of a horse, refers to the power and potency that this herb is thought to imbue in one who takes it regularly.
According to the nama-rupa-vigyana system of Ayurveda, names like Ashwagandha are somewhat interchangeable, and can be used for different species. A good example of this is the herb “Brahmi”, which denotes the property of “activating consciousness”, and can refer to either Bacopa monnieri or Centella asiatica. Likewise, the herb “Shankhapushpi” – which means “conch flower”, and is used like Brahmi to “enhance the intellect” (medhya), can refer to up to eight or more different plant species, including Clitoria terneata and Convolvulus pluricaulis.
Mostly when we consider Ashwagandha, and especially that which is commonly found in the marketplace, it refers to the roots of Withania somnifera, a member of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. It is an erect branching shrub that is covered in a wooly hairs, that thrives in the drier parts of India, West Asia and northern Africa, and is frequent roadside weed. This is why it’s important to make sure you get your Ashwagandha from a reputable and clean source.
Not all of what we call Ashwagandha, however, refers to Withania somnifera. In the temperate mountainous regions of the Himalayas, where Withania doesn’t grow, local Ayurveda physicians use an entirely different and unrelated species for Ashwagandha, called Convolvulus arvensis. Also known as Field Bindweed, this plant grows in temperate regions all over the world: even in the US where it is considered to be a noxious weed. Although few are aware of its medicinal uses, in places such as Nepal, local physicians have extensively used this plant as Ashwagandha for millennia, and in my experience, Convolvulus is at least or even more powerful than Withania.
Ashwagandha For Sexual Wellness
As I alluded previously, the name Ashwagandha refers to the virility of a stallion, and in this sense Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the premier sexual restoratives used by the branch of Ayurveda that is concerned with the treatment of infertility, called vajikarana rasayana tantra.
Given this comparison Ashwagandha is more often thought of as a herb for men, used in the treatment of male sexual dysfunction. Clinical research on human subjects has validated this perspective, and in one study that examined the semen profiles and reproductive hormones in both normal and infertile men, it was shown that Ashwagandha improves sperm count and motility while significantly increasing serum testosterone levels. For problems with male sexual function, Ashwagandha can be combined with herbs such as Kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens) and Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris).
Ashwagandha can also be an important herb for women as well, used in combination with herbs such as Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) in the treatment of infertility, threatened miscarriage, postpartum
depression, and to enhance breast milk production. Unlike Ginseng, with which it is frequently compared, Ashwagandha can be safely used for both sexes, as well as in children, using other herbs in formulation to modify its medicinal properties.
Just one of Ashwagandha’s benefits is Sexual Wellness. Not only is Ashwagandha a ‘sexual restorative’, it may also help with infertility. It’s beneficial for both men’s and women’s sexual health, chronic insomnia, poor memory and low testosterone levels. Learn to love and understand your body, and balance and harness your sexual energy!
Ashwagandha Benefits & Uses
Given the growth-enhancing, anabolic properties of Ashwagandha, it is an important herb to treat deficiency states, or an increase in vata dosha, characterized by exhaustion, weight loss, and poor immunity. When taken on a regular basis, both species of Ashwagandha enhance healthy weight gain, and along with regular exercise, helps to build and enhance muscle mass.
In part this is due to Ashwagandha’s effect upon the nervous system, enhancing the activities of the rest and restorative systems, to conserve and build up the body’s energy by decreasing nervous irritability. In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is described as a medhya rasayana, meaning that it rejuvenates the brain and nervous system.
When prepared with milk and taken before bed, Ashwagandha is a remarkably effective and gentle sedative used in the treatment of chronic insomnia. In my clinical practice, I often use Ashwagandha for problems such as poor memory, lack of concentration and in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), often in combination with herbs such as Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) and Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum).
Another use of Ashwagandha is in the treatment of inflammatory joint disease, which in Ayurveda is considered to be a vata disorder. For this purpose, it’s best to use Ashwagandha for pain and immobility, but not when there is active inflammation (characterized by redness, heat, and swelling). Ashwagandha also has use for breathing disorders including asthma and bronchitis.
Another important use for Ashwagandha is to support the health of patients undergoing conventional cancer treatment, to protect against injury and infection, improve immune status, and enhance recovery. Likewise in HIV/AIDS patients, herbal combinations that contain Ashwagandha have been found to promote a significant decrease in viral loads and an increase in CD4+ counts. In my practice, I often use Ashwagandha in combination with herbs such as Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) to help wean patients off of corticosteroids.
In herbal medicine we can say there are three basic dosage levels: high, medium, and low. A high dose is used for acute conditions, whereas a medium dose for chronic conditions, and a low dose for some kind of subtle, energetic effect, sometimes that opposes the original action of the herb. For example, the herb Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) will make you nauseated at a medium dose, vomit in large doses, but in very low doses, it can be very effective for nausea. The same is true for the Indian herb called Madanaphala (Randia dumetorum). Not all herbs are effective in very low doses, and this is often the case for nourishing, building herbs such as Ashwagandha.
The dosage ranges varies not just used for different purposes, but will be different depending on factors such as age and sex. In this way, a high dose for a child is not the same as a high dose for an adult. To calculate dose for children, use Clark’s Rule. In the case of Ashwagandha, a high dose for adults of up to 15-30 g of the powdered root can be used in cases of severe exhaustion, fatigue, nervous stress, and acute insomnia. High doses, however, are typically used only for a short period, under proper supervision, until the client has become stabilized. In such cases, Ashwagandha is best prepared in A2-milk, taken warm with a little ghee and jaggery, on an empty stomach.
A moderate adult dose for Ashwagandha, such as 2-5 g of the powdered root, is more effective for chronic conditions that tend to wax and wane, like chronic insomnia or chronic anxiety, or long term during recuperative periods. Once again, it’s the same ability of Ashwagandha to promote balance, but at lower doses so as to match the nature of the signs and symptoms. This is also a good dosage range when taken long term to harness the anabolic (brimhana) of Ashwagandha, helping with weight gain, or for its nootropic effects. At these doses the powdered root can also be prepared with A2-milk, or mixed with various anupana (‘vehicles’) such as water, ghee, or honey, depending on the effect desired.
Ashwagandha Side Effects
it contains a variety of phytochemicals that synergistically promote a GABA-like activity in the brain. GABA is the central nervous system’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, and exerting this influence promotes a state of deep calm and relaxation. This is how some drugs such as sleeping pills work, but with much more powerful, and unfortunately, addictive effects. Given that Ashwagandha exerts an influence on GABA there is a potential interaction with many psychiatric drugs, from sleeping pills to anti-psychotics. This doesn’t mean that Ashwagandha can be helpful or used along with these drugs, but only under proper supervision
One interesting effect with Ashwagandha, is that like the Western herb Valerian, a small percentage of people (maybe 10-20%) will experience stimulatory effects after taking it. If these people take it before bed it will excite their nervous system and keep them awake all night long. There is no way unfortunately to know for sure who it will effect in this way, so be forewarned. Traditionally, it is considered to be a heating herb, and thus the perspective here is that people with a pitta constitution or those suffering from pitta issues (e.g. liver, heat, anger) may be more sensitive to its heating or excitatory properties.
Another class of drugs that Ashwagandha might interact with are steroids, such as corticosteroids or hormones. Like Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Ashwagandha has useful anti-inflammatory properties, and I often use these two herbs to help slowly wean a patient off corticosteroids. Ashwagandha also has an androgenic activity, meaning that it could interfere with fertility treatments in women. This is why for women, it is usually mixed with Shatavari (Asparagus racemosa), which has estrogenic effects.
It has also been shown to have hypoglycemic (blood-sugar lowering) and hypolidemic (cholesterol-lowering) effects in clinical trials, and thus may enhance the activity of diabetes medications, or drugs used to treat heart disease. Rather than being an issue with the herb per se, this issue is caused by the drugs themselves, which have many interactions not just with Ashwagandha, but other herbs as well as every foods in the diet.