Botanical name: Withania somniferum
© Steven Foster
Ashwagandha, which belongs to the pepper family, is found in India and Africa. The roots of ashwagandha are used medicinally.
Ashwagandha has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
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and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
The health applications for ashwagandha in traditional Indian and Ayurvedic medicine are extensive. Of particular note is its use against tumors, inflammation (including arthritis), and a wide range of infectious diseases.1 The shoots and seeds are also used as food and to thicken milk in India. Traditional uses of ashwagandha among tribal peoples in Africa include fevers and inflammatory conditions.2 Ashwagandha is frequently a constituent of Ayurvedic formulas, including a relatively common one known as shilajit.
The constituents believed to be active in ashwagandha have been extensively studied.3 Compounds known as withanolides are believed to account for the multiple medicinal applications of ashwagandha.4 These molecules are steroidal and bear a resemblance, both in their action and appearance, to the active constituents of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) known as ginsenosides. Indeed, ashwagandha has been called “Indian ginseng” by some. Ashwagandha and its withanolides 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.5 It has also been shown to inhibit inflammation6 and improve memory in animal experiments.7 Taken together, these actions may support the traditional reputation of ashwagandha as a tonic or adaptogen8 —an herb with multiple, nonspecific actions that counteract the effects of stress and generally promote wellness.
Some experts recommend 3–6 grams of the dried root, taken each day in capsule or tea form.9 To prepare a tea, 3/4–1 1/4 teaspoons (3–6 grams) of ashwagandha root are boiled for 15 minutes and cooled; 3 cups (750 ml) may be drunk daily. Alternatively, tincture 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (2–4 ml) three times per day, is sometimes recommended.
No significant side effects have been reported with ashwagandha. The herb has been used safely by children in India. Its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unknown.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with ashwagandha.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 514–5.
2. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 514–5.
3. Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137–41.
4. Wagner H, Nörr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomed 1994;1:63–76.
5. Wagner H, Nörr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomed 1994;1:63–76.
6. Anabalgan K, Sadique J. Antiinflammatory activity of Withania somnifera. Indian J Exp Biol 1981;19:245–9.
7. Bhattacharya SK, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Effects of glycowithanolides from Withania somnifera on an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease and perturbed central cholinergic markers of cognition in rats. Phytother Res 1995;9:110–3.
8. Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137–41.
9. Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137–41.
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The information presented in Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires September 2008.