Day 162/365 - On Ashwagandha
As part of my “Stress busters” class with Carly Wertheim this past week, I’ll do some highlighting of the herbs we discussed in the following posts. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as winter cherry, is one of the prime adaptogens in ayurvedic traditional medicine. In Tamil, the name is translated as “horse (ashwa) smell (gandha)” and it really does have an interesting scent reminiscent of horse (although I personally find the smell very pleasant and warming). In Latin, ‘somnifera’ means ‘to induce sleep’ - which ashwagandha can help with over time. While it’s not a true sedative that induces sleep immediately, it helps balance stress and sleep cycles in the body, allowing us to rest more when needed. For people sensitive to nightshades (eggplant, potato, goji, etc.) - ashwagandha is a nightshade as well so you may want to avoid it.
Ashwagandha is what’s known as an adaptogen - it helps balances stress response, and regulate our adrenal and hormonal systems to bring it back to balance. It will help with both overfunctioning and underfunctioning adrenals by nourishing them. Both males and females can use it as a long term tonic, and for males it’s also known to preserve sperm virility over time. Men in India usually start taking ashwagandha in their twenties and continue for life. It’s main phytoconstituents are known as steroidal lactones - called “withanolides.” It can also help boost immune system cell production (particularly lymphocytes), libido, and sperm count, as well as help manage stress-induced insomnia or anxiety, and improve memory. It’s rich in iron and can help in anemic conditions, and has been shown to improve athletic performance, muscular strength, neuromuscular coordination. It can also help boost metabolism in hypothyroid patients.
The best way to get the full medicinal value of ashwagandha (the lactones) is to simmer at low heat for about 20-30 minutes (decoction) with some source of fat (coconut oil, ghee, milk). Other ways to consume it is to add the root powder to foods (oatmeal, smoothies), or in capsule or tincture form.