Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant in the nightshade family, most famous for its wide usage as a herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
Also in the same family as the tomato, Ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. It is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa and the Middle East, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States.
In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha actually means “the smell of a horse”, but don't let this put you off :) This is a direct translation and, rather than indicating an odour, the phrase is actually intended to imply that the herb imparts the vigour and strength of a stallion. A little dramatic perhaps (!), but this herb has traditionally been recommended by practitioners to help people strengthen their immune system.
As a result, Ashwagandha is also frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” (because of its claimed rejuvenating properties), even though botanically, ginseng and Ashwagandha are actually unrelated.
Possible uses of Ashwagandha
What are the active ingredients in Ashwagandha?
In the West, researchers have focused on isolating the one or two active ingredients in the herb. In the Ayurvedic tradition, however, the entire plant is used on the assumption that all the compounds in the plant are meant to work together.
Ashwagandha contains withanolides (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids and a variety of sugars, but the root of the Ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in Western herbal remedies.
Ashwagandha as an adaptogenic herb
Adaptogens are substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and herbs) that may help your body to modulate its response to stress or a changing environment. In other words, adaptogens are "tonics" that can help the body to cope with external stresses, such as toxins in the environment, as well as internal stresses, such as anxiety and insomnia.
The fundamental difference between Ayurvedic and Western medicine is underscored by the Ayurvedic use of tonics - herbs that are used not to address specific ailments, but more to support overall health and vitality. Ashwagandha is one of the most highly prized pf these so-called "tonic herbs".
How to add Ashwagandha to your diet
The nutrients we ingest from food on a daily basis are metabolised into the energy and other substances that form the building blocks of our cells, tissues and organs. Every day, our bodies need essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to maintain their delicate balance and fuel themselves. Ensuring a varied, healthy and nutritious diet for yourself is therefore the cornerstone of good health.
Ashwagandha, one such nutrient, is typically ingested in capsule form.