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.
Some specific benefits of Ashwagandha
- Ashwagandha is classified as a somanasyajanana herb in ayurveda--an herb that enhances the natural ability of your mind to adapt to stressful situations. It helps elevate the strength of the mind to match heightened stress levels as needed. In modern terms, Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen--it helps boost your natural ability to withstand stress only when a heightened response is called for, such as during physical or mental competition, or in times of additional pressure at school or on the job.
- According to PNI (psychoneuroimmunology) theory, stress can depress your immune system. Distress increases the flow of the stress hormones cortisol and beta-endorphins, whereas eustress (positive emotional condition opposite to distress) helps to boost the immune system by increasing levels of antibody immunoglobulins. Ashwagandha, by helping to boost your natural ability to handle stress, helps strengthen the immune system as well.
- When stress-handling ability is deficient, Vata dosha typically is out of balance, and this leads to difficulty falling asleep. By improving your natural ability to handle stress and enhancing the mind-body-senses coordination, Ashwagandha promotes restful sleep as well.
- Ashwagandha is extremely nourishing for the nervous system. It helps strengthen the nerves and maintain nerve function.
- Ashwagandha is an anti-inflammatory, and helps pacify Vata imbalance in the joints. Because of its warming, penetrating quality, Ashwagandha also helps improve circulation.
- Traditional texts state that Ashwagandha helps maintain physical strength, stamina and endurance. It is said to impart to its user the strength and vigor of a horse. Its action has been compared to that of ginseng--in fact, Ashwagandha is also called "Indian ginseng."
- Ashwagandha is considered a tonic for the reproductive system, especially for men. It helps support a healthy libido.
- Ashwagandha is a medhya rasayana, helping to enhance mental ability and performance--it helps support memory and problem-solving skills and enhances the coordinated functioning of all aspects of the brain.
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