Ashwagandha is a herb that originated centuries ago in our country, India, and has been around since. This herb is important in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and is also referred to as Indian ginseng. Ashwa means horse, and gandha translates to smell – this herb gets its name because of its distinctive smell that resembles the perspiration smell of a horse. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This essentially means something that when consumed, ‘adapts’ and attunes itself to the particular individual, and is said to fight anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and stress. It is a soothing nervine (Nervines are types of herbs intended to act on or relieve disorders of the nerves; soothing the nerves – Dictionary)

Let us look at some of the benefits, side effects, and best ways to use this gift of nature.

Ashwagandha Benefits:

There are varying views from the scientific and ayurvedic perspectives on the benefits of this herb.

Controls Stress and Anxiety and Related Issues

While scientists believe that this herb can elevate a person’s ability to cope with anxiety and stress, by decreasing cortisol levels, Ayurveda believes that anxiety and stress are imbalances, and Vata Dosha, and Ashwagandha powder helps to restore the balance, which thus reduces symptoms of stress. Since Ashwagandha helps to deal with stress and anxiety, it thus also helps to keep the blood pressure at a normal rate.

It is recommended to consume this powder by boiling ½ teaspoon in two cups of water and a pinch of ginger. This water should be boiled until it reduces to half its quantity. Once it is cooled, add honey as per taste and consume. You could also consume Ashwagandha tea.

Controls Diabetes-Related Problems (Type 1 and 2)

Scientists believe that Ashwagandha could help control blood sugar by raising levels of insulin production and raising insulin sensitivity.  It also raises the number of insulin-producing cells, which increases the secretion of insulin. All these actions together help to manage diabetes and the risk associated with it. Ayurveda believes in de-nourishment and replenishment and it states that Ashwagandha works for both obesity and lean diabetics. The herb works for both types of therapies by balancing Vata and Kapa doshas.

It is recommended to add ½ teaspoon Ashwagandha root powder to boiling 1 glass of milk and ½ glass of water and continue boiling for five minutes. Crushed almonds and walnuts – two teaspoons to be added to this, and consumed. Alternatively, it would be helpful to consume one tablet or capsule twice a day either with milk or warm water, after two hours of eating one’s meal. This would be in addition to the existing diabetes treatment.

Alleviates Arthritis Pain

Ashwagandha is reported by scientists to have analgesic properties. The roots and leaves contain a substance called withaferin A, which is known to stifle pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. The Ayurvedic medicine states that arthritis is caused by Vata dosha and Ashwagandha helps to alleviate the pain and swelling.

It is recommended to mix ½ teaspoon of Ashwagandha root powder into a glass of milk and this must be consumed three times a day, for at least a month or two for best results.

Keeps Blood Pressure in Control

According to scientists, Ashwagandha helps to deal with stress and anxiety, which in turn helps to keep the blood pressure at a normal rate.

Side Effects of Ashwagandha

When consumed orally

This herb is safe to consume in small quantities for about three months, since as of now long-term usage safety is not proven. Also, large doses result in the irritation of the intestinal walls, causing indigestion, diarrhea and vomiting, and in extreme cases, liver dysfunction.

When applied on the skin

There is not enough research to indicate whether it is safe to use this way or what kind of side effects one might expect.

Who Should Not Consume?

Pregnant women should not take this herb in any form, since there has been some evidence to show that it could lead to a miscarriage. Although there is not sufficient evidence to prove that Ashwagandha is not safe for breastfeeding women, it is better to check with your doctor prior to consuming it. Those with auto-immune diseases should not consume Ashwagandha, as it could increase the symptoms by enhancing the working of the immune system. Check with your medical practitioner if you are to undergo surgery and have been taking Ashwagandha. Additionally, if you have a thyroid problem, it is best to avoid Ashwagandha as it is known to raise thyroid hormone levels.

Finally:

In order to know how to use Ashwagandha and gain its benefits, it is important to understand this herb. Before making any changes to your diet and or medication, it is always best to check with your doctor. When consuming the powder of this herb, the product should contain only the root of this herb and products that are extracted by water (not with chemicals). Some products contain the leaves of Ashwagandha, in addition to the roots, and these products should be avoided. Adding black pepper while consuming Ashwagandha, ensures that the herb is better absorbed and used by the body.

Always consult a medical practitioner/physician or an expert before you decide to use Ashwagandha. While it is one of nature’s bounties, it may not be suitable for everyone or for every body type. Ensuring that you understand the herb, its benefits, uses, and side effects, prior to using it, will be the right thing to do.

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