Used for centuries in Africa and India, Withania somnifera is becoming more widely used in the western world as a tonic. Herbalists love it for its ability to strengthen the weak and calm down the anxious and stressed individuals. In Ayurvedic texts from roughly 4,000 years ago, it is classified as a Rasayana, an herb that “deeply rejuvenates and promotes longevity.” The young and old both reap the benefits from this herb.
Primarily recognized as an adaptogen, ashwaganda strengthens and calms the nervous system. This is an herb that is best taken over time to create a healthy response to stress and increase energy levels. This doesn’t mean it’s stimulating, like caffeine. It can act like a sedative and its species name somnifera implies its use for sleep support. While some adaptogen herbs like ginseng can be overstimulating to some individuals, ashwaganda balances what the individual needs.
Ashwagandha for anxiety and insomnia
It is also especially revered for people with anxiety and insomnia. In a study on anxiety, one group of people received a small dose of ashwagandha, a multivitamin, deep breathing exercises, and dietary counseling. Another group received psychotherapy, the same breathing exercises, and a placebo to replace the ashwagandha. After eight weeks, those taking ashwagandha showed more improvement in their anxiety levels than the placebo group.1 (I love how this study incorporated holistic health, not only a dose of an herb, to address a complex health challenge!)
This plant is also famous for reproductive health. I don’t want to give the impression that this herb will work like a sexual enhancement drug. Given ashwaganda’s strengthening abilities, it is then easier to give more energy to “sexual and reproductive vitality.”
Ashwaganda doesn’t have many human studies, but a small one concluded that it can improve cognitive function.
The indication here is that the use of Withania somnifera can bring significant changes in neurological baseline functions, with the postulation that it can be applied clinically in prevention, and possibly repair,
of central nervous system disorders.
Natural Medicine Journal
Other benefits include cardioprotective (protects the heart), and supports immune system health. Ashwaganda is one of Rosalee de la Foret’s most-used herbs. She says, “I always reach for it when there are signs of exhaustion especially when those are accompanied by sleep problems. It also works for many people with autoimmune conditions and arthritis.” If you can grow tomatoes then you can probably grow this plant as well. Ashwaganda can be taken on its own, but is often combined with other herbs.
Special Considerations: Ashwaganda is considered safe, but should be avoided during pregnancy unless directed by a qualified herbalist or health professional. (It is often used in Ayurvedic practices during pregnancy.) Ashwagandha does have sedative properties and may potentiate the sedative effects of barbiturates. It’s a member of the nightshade family. It shouldn’t be used if there is a current upper respiratory infection or lots of congestion.
Sources: Herb Mentor