What is Ashwagandha?
Withania somnifera or ashwagandha has many names. Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, and iciness cherry are some of the famous names. In addition, it is categorised as a Rasayana (tonic) to increase longevity and vitality. It is a plant from the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Several species within the genus Withania are morphologically similar. Somnifera is a Latin word that means sleep-inducing.
Ashwagandha finds its mention in historical medical journalling and is famous for its therapeutic qualities. ‘Ashwa’ means horse, and ‘Gandha’ means smell in Sanskrit. Therefore, it implies that this herb mimics a horse-like odour. Furthermore, the name suggests that the herb imparts the vigour and energy of a stallion. Traditionally, people use it to improve immunity after an illness.
Ashwagandha, known as ‘Rasayana,’ may help preserve youth physically and mentally. The main phytochemical constituents are withanolides, which are triterpene lactones. In addition, it includes withaferin A, alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tropine, and cuscohygrine.
Historically, the roots of this herb have been used to treat several ailments like stress, anxiety, constipation and insomnia. In addition, the leaves, seeds and fruits also help treat illnesses.
It is an adaptogenic herb and an aphrodisiac. The plant is also called the Indian ginseng for its rejuvenating properties. However, botanically, ashwagandha and ginseng are not related.
The evergreen shrub grows in India, the Middle East and some parts of Africa. Ashwagandha grows in drier regions of India, Nepal, China, and Yemen. The plant grows in dry stony soil. It is a short, tender perennial shrub and grows up to 35–75 cm tall. The leaves are dull green in colour and are elliptic. In contrast, the flowers are small, green and bell-shaped.
Ashwagandha belongs to the same family as that of the tomato. It bears red fruits about the size of a raisin. It can be grown from seed or greenwood cuttings. If you are using the seed, then you will have to sow it in early spring. You can plant greenwood cuttings later in the spring. It is essential to know that the plant needs watchful tending as it is prone to diseases.
Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Indians have used Ashwagandha root powder for centuries as ayurvedic medicine. Still, there is a lack of scientific evidence about its benefits.
However, the traditional medicine ashwagandha has several advantages. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and immunomodulatory properties. It is also a relaxant and antispasmodic.