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Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry or Withania somniferum) in Sanskrit means "horse′s smell", probably, originating from the odour of its root which resembles that of sweaty horse. The species name somnifera means "sleep-making" in Latin, indicating that to it are attributed sedating properties, but it has been also used for sexual vitality and as an adaptogen. Some herbalists refer to ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, since it is used in ayurvedic medicine in a way similar to that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
In Ayurveda, ashwaganda is considered a rasayana herb, which works on a nonspecific basis to increase health and longevity. This herb is also considered an adaptogen which is a nontoxic herb that works on a nonspecific basis to normalize physiological function. Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the best rejuvenating rasayana in Ayurveda. Its roots, seeds and leaves are used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicines. Ashwagandha root drug finds an important place in treatment of rheumatic pain, inflammation of joints, nervous disorders and epilepsy. Dried roots are used as tonic for hiccup, cold, cough, female disorders, as a sedative, in care of senile debility, ulcers, etc. Leaves are applied for carbuncles, inflammation and swellings. Leaf juice is useful in conjunctivitis. Bark decoction is taken for asthma and applied locally to bed sores. Ashwagandha and its extracts are used in preparation of herbal tea, powders, tablets and syrups.
Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, antioxidant, mind-boosting, immune-enhancing, and rejuvenating properties. Ashwagandha root has also been noted to have sex-enhancing properties. Ashwagandha is mentioned in the ancient Kama Sutra as an herb to be used for heightening sexual experience. Ashwagandha has the ability to restore sexual health and improve overall vitality while promoting a calm state of mind. The plant has been used as an aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory agent, and more recently to treat asthma, ulcers, insomnia, and senile dementia. Clinical trials and animal research support the use of ashwagandha for anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation, and Parkinson′s disease. Incorporation of ashwagandha in the diet may prevent or decrease the growth of tumors in human.
The constituents believed to be active in Ashwagandha have been extensively studied. Compounds known as with anolides are believed to account for the multiple medicinal applications of Ashwagandha. Indeed, Ashwagandha has been called "Indian ginseng" by some. Ashwagandha and its with anolides have been extensively researched in a variety of animal studies examining effects on immune function, inflammation, and even cancer. Ashwagandha stimulates the activation of immune system cells, such as lymphocytes. It has also been shown to inhibit inflammation and improve memory in animal experiments. Taken together, these actions may support the traditional reputation of Ashwagandha as a tonic or adaptive - an herb with multiple, nonspecific actions that counteract the effects of stress and generally promote wellness.