Its Sanskrit name means the ‘smell of a horse’- perhaps because its fresh root smells like horse’s urine- or maybe because it is reputed to endow the sexual stamina of a horse! Its Latin name ‘Withania somnifera’ means ‘sleep bearing’, possibly because it is used as a sedative. It is frequently referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’ because of its rejuvenating properties. What is this shrub that has so many contrasting and valuable health benefits? It is Ashwagandha, also known in English as the winter cherry or Indian Cherry.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub that is related to the tomato plant. It has small yellow flowers that turn to red fruits the size of large raisins. It is found widely in India, and has been a part of Ayurvedic medicines for thousands of years. In Kerala, the sunny state in South India, Ayurvedic physicians have passed on the accumulated experience of generations of their forefathers, who have used this amazing plant to treat a wide variety of ailments, as well as to promote total well being. As a result, the physicians in Kerala are renowned for their treatments using Ashwagandha.
An Adaptogen Par Excellence
For more than 2,500 years, Ashwagandha has been used as an adaptogen, which means that it helps the mind and body adapt better to stress, to become more flexible and capable of handling change. For this reason, it is considered to be one of the most valuable herbs in the Ayurvedic medical system. Aswagandha strengthens the immune system by enhancing the cells in the body which help eliminate bacteria and other harmful elements. It also provides smooth transition of the oxygenated blood in the body, strengthening it, so that the body is able to fight against fatigue and weakness often associated with anemia.
Ashwagandha contains anti inflammatory properties, and studies have shown that using the plant helps reduce inflammation caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other painful joint pains. The bio chemical compounds found in Ashwagandha possess anti-oxidant properties. It is a known to be a good anti-ageing agent, for it helps moisturize and keep the cells as healthy as possible. This shrub helps reduce the rate of diabetes risk, as it helps dilute blood sugar in the body so as to keep it within normal levels. It has anti-depressant capacities due to the presence of bio molecules that help influence brain chemistry and is also known for boosting testosterone levels in the body. This is one of the reasons why most athletes prefer taking this herb, as it also promotes strengthening of the muscles and coordination of the body. Ashwagandha may help to encourage weight loss when used in combination with other weight loss enhancing supplements, by promoting fat burning.
Recent research suggests that toxic substances released in the brain called beta-amyloid laques potentially induce neurodegenerative conditions. It has been found that Ashwagandha has the property to help prevent such plaques from forming, and may potentially become a good medicine against Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other similar ailments. The shrub is also known to help reduce anxiety induced by stress. This is because the plant is known to help influence the neurotransmitters in the brain which affects a person’s mood, and in the process promotes a calming and sedative effect. Ashwagandha is also being prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners as an aphrodisiac. In fact, it is believed to be the most the most potent aphrodisiac in the entire botanical kingdom! So whether it is used as a paste or powder, as massage oil, medicated ghee, medicated wine or a decoction, Ashwagandha is a plant that is small in size but is immensely beneficial to mankind.