Withania somnifera has been an important herb in the Ayurvedic and indigenous medical systems for over 3000 years. It is commonly known as Ashwgandha which indicates the equine (of horses) odour of the plant, also known as, Indian ginseng, and winter cherry.
Its main use, as described in Ayurvedic literature, is as a “rasayana” or rejuvenating drug and hence also traditionally known as a varadan which suggests the application of this plant for enhancing longevity. Historically, the plant has been used as an aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory agent, astringent, and more recently to treat bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, emaciation, insomnia, and senile dementia. Clinical trials and animal research support the use of Ashwgandha for anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation, and Parkinson’s disease. Withania somnifera is used in several indigenous drug preparations for maintaining health as well as treatment of several disease conditions. Its main use is as an immunomodulator and as an anti stress.
Description: Ashwgandha is a small, woody shrub of Solanaceae family that grows about two feet in height. It can be found growing in Africa, the Mediterranean, and India. The roots are the main portion of the plant used therapeutically. The bright red fruit is harvested in the late fall and seeds are dried for planting in the following spring. The berries have been shown to have an emetic effect.
Properties in Ayurvedic texts:-
Guna : Laghu, Snigdha
Ras : Tikta , Katu, Madhur
Vipaka : Madhur
Virya : Usna
Synonyms- varahkarni, varda, balda, kustagandhini, vaaji, vaajigandha etc.
Active Constituents: Various compounds isolated from Withania Somnifera (trivially named Withanolides) are now being investigated as highly promising and non-toxic anti-tumoral drugs. The major biochemical constituents of Ashwgandha root are withaniol (C25H35O5), phytosterol, hentriacontane, somniferin (C12H16N2) & anaferin like steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones in a class of constituents called Withanolides. At present, 12 alkaloids, 35 Withanolides, and several sitoindosides from this plant have been isolated and studied. Much of ashwaganda’s pharmacological activity has been attributed to two main Withanolides, withaferin A and withanolide D.
Mechanisms of Action: Ashwgandha is thought to be amphoteric; i.e., it can help regulate important physiological processes. The withanolides serve as important hormone precursors that can convert into human physiological hormones as needed. The theory is that when there is an excess of a certain hormone, the plant-based hormone precursor occupies cell membrane receptor sites so the actual hormone cannot attach and exert its effect. If the hormone level is low, the plant-based hormone exerts a small effect. Ashwgandha is also considered to be an adaptogenic, facilitating the ability to withstand stressors, and has antioxidant properties as well. Other studies have shown Ashwgandha to have an immuno stimulatory effect.
Other Therapeutic Considerations: Various studies show Ashwgandha to be effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis, inflammation, stroke, and dyskinesia. Studies also reveal Ashwgandha to be a potential antimicrobial agent, with antifungal activity and moderate antibacterial activity against Staphyloccus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Charaka’s Indications for Ashwgandha: In Respiratory Disorders: Ashwgandha is effective with honey and ghee.
Lymphadenitis:Lukewarm paste of Ashwgandha root is used locally.
Sushruta’s Indications for Ashwgandha
Tuberculosis: Ashwgandha powder boiled with milk is very good adjuvant in tuberculosis.
Malnutrition: Ashwgandha along with Pippali, Honey & ghee gives good results.
Chakardutt’s Indications for Ashwgandha
Vataj disorders: Ashwgandha is good for increasing muscle bulk & strength.
Infertility: Ashwgandha boiled with milk & ghee helps the woman to conceive.
Vrinda’s Indications for Ashwgandha
Gastro Intestinal disorders: Vrind recommended Ashwgandha in Gastro Intestinal disorders and to eliminate the worms from GIT.
Rasayana: Ashwgandha is used as rasayana in winters. It imparts youthfulness.
Heart Disease: Ashwgandha powder with warm water is recommended in Cardiac Diseases.
Insomnia (Sleeplessness): It ensures sound sleep when used with ghee and mishri.
A typical dose of Ashwgandha is 3-6 grams daily of the dried root, 300-500 mg of an extract standardized to contain 1.5 percent withanolides, or 6-12 ml of a 1:2 fluid extract per day.
Warnings & Contraindications: Ashwgandha in Large doses may have abortifacient properties; therefore, it should not be taken during pregnancy. Since Ashwgandha acts as a mild central nervous system depressant, patients should avoid alcohol, sedatives, and other anxiolytics while taking Ashwgandha.