This small, evergreen shrub is most treasured in the Ayurvedic tradition most notably for its adaptogenic properties, nerve soothing and regenerating effects. The whole plant, roots, leaves, stem, flowers, green berries, fruits, seeds and bark can be used or their nutritional potency.
Ashwagandha, as mentioned, is an adaptogen, which means it responds & ‘adapts’ its benefits according to the state in which it finds our bodies. Whether that is by increasing our ability to deal with stress & boosting energy levels or reducing over-stimulated bodies & inducing calmness to improve our general well-being. As an adaptogen, it helps regulate the balance of several hormones & neurotransmitters in the body involved in the stress response, including cortisol. It also has beneficial effects on adrenal functioning which can enhance the body’s resistance to stress.
The herb is consumed in either capsule, tablet or powder form & can be used for daily maintenance as a supplement or for medicinal purposes to ailments. For those who can stomach its unique herb taste, it can be used in soups, homemade chocolates, salad dressings or savoury spreads.
Some of ashwagandha’s health benefits include:
• Always check with your healthcare practitioner before using medicinal foods/superfoods such as ashwagandha during pregnancy or on prescribed medication
Among the many active constituents in ashwagandha, such as alkaloids, steroidal compounds, saponins and withanolides, one of the main biologically active compounds is Withaferin A, and along with Withanolide D and Withanone, is thought to be the main reason for its therapeutic benefits. Withaferin A is said to possess diverse biological actions, such as stress and inflammation reduction, antioxidant free radical transformation, immunomodulation, tumour growth inhibition, and anticancer properties. Once you understand the far-reaching effects of each of these actions, you can truly appreciate the profound healing potential of this incredible plant.
Ashwagandha is not only an adaptogen that balances many systems in the body, but it is a regenerative nerve-soothing tonic.
Nerve soothing, anti-anxiety: Ashwagandha is said to calm the nervous system which is often where we carry our stress, leading to anxiety and feeling wound up and highly strung. It is used extensively in Ayurveda as a nerve tonic in the young and old alike, and modern research supports this application. It has also shown to be an effective mood stabiliser, and in fact, it’s just as effective, if not more, than other prescribed medications in Western medicine used to treat depression and anxiety, but without any long term or toxicity side effects.
Antioxidant: The antioxidants present in ashwagandha have been shown to increase the activity of the major free radical enzymes in the brain which reduces the toxic oxidative free radicals and may be responsible for its diverse range of effects.
Stress reduction: Chronic stress can create a number of mental and physical conditions. Ashwagandha is known to reduce these effects of chronic stress ranging from sexual dysfunction and skin conditions to poor memory and neurochemical deficiency. It lowers the stress hormone, cortisol, which has a cascade of benefits on the body such as improved sleep and better mood.
Improved brain function: One of the reasons for the nootropic effects of enhanced cognition and memory improvement is that ashwagandha contains neuron-supporting compounds which improve signalling in the brain by regenerating the axons and dendrites, restructuring synapses and boosting neurotransmitter production.
Anti-inflammatory: The anti-inflammatory effects are most welcome in those with rheumatic disease. Inflammation in the joints, muscles, bones and organs cause considerable discomfort and ashwagandha is known to alleviate this inflammation. Inflammation is also known to go hand in hand with chronic pain and disease, and so minimising inflammation is essential for pain relief and healing.
The taste of ashwagandha is somewhat bitter and herby, not as strong and distinct as dried herbs, but it does have its own unique herb-like flavour that not many find palatable and so it’s generally consumed in tablet, capsule or powder form.
The best way to take ashwagandha is to take it twice a day, in the morning and evening, this can help your body maintain equilibrium in your adrenal system throughout the day. It is therefore fine to take it in the morning with breakfast or in the evening after dinner.
If you mind the taste and don’t want to take it in tablet or capsule form, then we have some easy hacks that can help:
BONUS: A QUICK RECIPE
Simply warm nut milk, add it to a blender with hot coffee or hot chocolate, drop in a spoonful of hazelnut butter, a dash of maple syrup & a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder. Blend all ingredients together & serve! This creamy grounding ayurvedic hot drink will soothe the nervous system and re-energize the body.
TIP: You can also open the capsules to mix the powder into hot drinks, soups and homemade chocolates. The taste masks well in cacao or umami flavours.
Ayurveda, the most ancient of the medical sciences, has used ashwagandha as one it’s most important Rasayana (tonic) herbs for almost 6000 years. It is used as a regenerative tonic to treat a variety of conditions. A tonic herb can be taken without any toxic effects. In Ayurveda it is also regarded as an aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, anthelmintic (expels parasites), astringent (heals wounds and certain digestive ailments), thermogenic (burns fat by boosting metabolism) and stimulant.
Ashwagandha has a long list of benefits that have been proven in therapeutic use and scientific research. The most incredible effect that it has is the ability to regenerate nerve damage in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. Research has shown that not only does it have a GABA mimetic effect which is the ability to promote the formation of dendrites, it also regenerates the axons, restructures the synapses and boosts neurotransmitter production. These structures make up the neural pathways in your brain which is essential for memory and learning. Without them our brains don’t learn and remember the way they should.
Ashwagandha is also used as a potent nerve tonic to soothe the nervous system, reduce anxiety and stress. This in turn starts to heal the diseases caused by these stressed states in the body. Among many other things it is said to help with debility from old age, dementia, memory loss, improving stamina, diminishing insomnia, recovering from nervous breakdowns, healing goiter, fever and painful swellings and discouraging formation of tumours.