Ashwagandha – The Ancient Stress Buster

Ashwagandha – The Ancient Stress Buster

Ashwagandha – the ancient stress buster

Withania somnifera is the scientific name of Ashwagandha. It is the most common and highly revered Ayurvedic traditional herb. It is being used since 6000 BC in India. The word ‘Ashwa’ means ‘horse’ and ‘gandha’ means ‘smell’ as the root of the herb smells like horse and gives power of a horse after consumption. Other common names of this herb are Indian Ginseng, Indian Winter Cherry and Poison Gooseberry. Other Sanskrit terms of Ashwagandha are Kamrupini, Balada, Gandhpatri and Vajini.

It is a perennial evergreen shrub belonging from Solanaceae family. The shrub is native to India, Middle east and North Africa. It is also found in China, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Yemen. Preferred cultivation region should be dry and stony soils along with partial shade.

The shrub is short and tender which grows up to 75 centimeters. The leaves are elliptic and dull green. Flowers are greenish and bell-shaped. Fruits are orangish red. The word ‘somnifer’ is originated from ‘somnus’ (sleep) and ‘fer’ (carrying). Hence, the word ‘somnifera’ denotes ‘sleep inducing’. This is a potent sedative for treating insomnia and other sleeping disorders. Ashwagandha is mainly known for its anti-stress property for having calming effect on the nervous system.

Ayurvedic usage of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been mentioned as one of the potent ‘Rasayana’ herbs. ‘Rasayana’ is a rejuvenation therapy to promote youthfulness and longevity and the way to achieve excellent ‘Rasadi Dhatus’ (physical stamina). Several medicinal herbs have been classified as ‘Rasayanas’ in Ayurveda. According to Charaka Samhita, Ashwagandha and Guduchi are the best Rasayana herbs.

The root extract of Withania Somnifera is used as Rasayana to fight against stress, anxiety, fatigue, skin diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, epilepsy etc. The root extract is mildly sedative and has analgesic, anabolic, narcotic, diuretic, aphrodisiac, anthelmintic, thermogenic, stimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress properties. Clinical studies have shown that Ashwagandha has significant anti-aging properties which it is extremely beneficial in preventing oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

The paste made from root extract is used to treat joint inflammation, painful swelling, carbuncles and ulcers. This herb is also used as Medhya Rasayana to improve memory, mental stability and cognitive functionality. Powder made from the root extract is used as a stimulant to increase sperm count. In combination with other herbs, the root extract is also used in treating scorpion-sting. Also, formulations made from Ashwagandha leaves and roots are beneficial in healing leucorrhea, piles, worms, flatulent colic and constipation.

The Nagori Ashwagandha is the superior among all the other types of Ashwagandha. The leaves are recommended for fever and swelling. The seeds are anthelmintic in nature and combined with rock salt and astringent to remove white spots from eyes suffering from cornea.

Ayurvedic properties of Ashwagandha

Rasa: Tikta (bitter), Katu (Pungent) and Kasaya (Astringent)

Guna: Light (Laghu) and Snigdha (Oily)

Virya: Ushna (hot potency)

Vipaka: Katu (Pungent)

Ashwagandha pacifies vata and kapha dosha, however, as it is oily in nature, it aggravates pitta dosha.

Bio-active components of Ashwagandha

Chemical compositions like alkaloids (anaferine, anahygrine, cuseohygrine, isopelletierine, etc.), saponins and steroidal lactones (withaferins, withanolides) are present in Ashwagandha. Acylsteryglucosides and Sitoindosides are the active anti-stress agents present in this herb. Withaferin – A and Sitoindosides VII-X have shown notable anti-stress properties against acute stress. Also, many of its bioactive components carry immunomodulatory actions. Scientific studies have also shown the immunomodulator agent can increase the life-span of cancer patients due its anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects.

Adaptogenic properties

Adaptogenic herbs improve the response to psychological stress and also reduces stress induced ailments like gastric ulcer, hepatotoxicity, arteriosclerosis, premature aging and malignancy. Ashwagandha is an excellent neuroprotective, anxiolytic, memory enhancing and adaptogenic Rasayana herb. The aqueous suspension, several phenolic compounds and flavonoids of powdered Ashwagandha induce antioxidant and anti-stress properties. These active components help in treating hysteria, syncope, anxiety and memory loss.

Ashwagandha is mainly used as Churna (fine powder) mixed with lukewarm water, ghee or honey. This works as a nerve tonic for the entire nervous system and improves the function of the reproductive system promoting healthy sexual balance. The adaptogenic components help in fighting against cellular damage, aids immunity function, improves sleep, promotes mental wellbeing, helps in maintaining normal endocrinological range and supports adequate testosterone balance.

Benefits of Ashwagandha in brief

  • Ashwagandha is primarily used to increase youthful vigour, strength, endurance, muscle fat and cell production and to remove toxins from lymphatic system. That’s why it is said that Ashwagandha gives the power of horse upon regular consumption.
  • The herb is useful in regeneration of new cells and reducing premature aging. The tonic made from the herb rejuvenates the cells and organs preventing bone weakness, chronic fatigue, loss of teeth and muscle tension.
  • Ashwagandha comes on top of all other Ayurvedic herbs in combating stress and anxiety. It calms the nerves, aids better sleep, strengthens the nervous system, and promotes better mental stability and cognitive function.
  • The hematopoietic and immunoregulator properties found in Ashwagandha root extracts have shown to increase the count of white blood cells. Also, have shown significant improvement in hemoglobin count and notable preservation of hair melanin and nail calcium.
  • Ashwagandha has excellent antioxidant properties preventing harmful conditions from free radicals and provides healthy and glowing skin.
  • The herb is extremely beneficial in maintaining healthy testosterone levels and helps in improving stamina and sexual health.
  • Ashwagandha not only treats ulcerative diseases but also helps in lowering bad cholesterol, promotes normal blood glucose level and maintains normal thyroid range.
  • The plant has also therapeutic effect on bronchitis, asthma, emaciation, joint pain, weight management, liver disorder, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, and nervous breakdown.

The root, stem, leaves, flowers, bark and even the entire plant has its therapeutic usage for centuries due to which Ashwagandha stands as the ‘King of Ayurvedic herbs’. Regular consumption is recommended followed by an Ayurvedic practitioner’s guide to maintain sustained health and vitality.

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