Withania somnifera, or Ashwagandha, is a shrubby plant cultivated in India, parts of East Asia, and Africa that offers tremendous potential as an energizing medicinal herb. Ayurvedic practitioners have used the roots of this plant for centuries with success as a tonic to increase vitality and longevity, as well as to treat health conditions as diverse as tumors and arthritis. Laboratory studies have begun to confirm what Ayurvedic practitioners have known for years— that Withania somnifera deserves attention as an herbal therapy that can help ease many of today’s common health problems.
Sometimes referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its stimulating effects, Ashwagandha is used to calm the mind, relieve weakness and nervous exhaustion, build sexual energy, and promote healthy sleep. In Ayurvedic practice, the herb is considered to be a rasayana, which means that it acts as a tonic for vitality and longevity. It also is classified as an adaptogen, meaning that it assists the body’s immune and other defense mechanisms in coping with stress factors.
Traditionally, Ashwagandha has been used as an aphrodisiac, a liver tonic, an anti-inflammatory agent, and as an astringent. Less well-established but potentially exciting properties of Withania somnifera are its ability to optimize mood and brain function. Ashwagandha also is used for patients with nervous exhaustion, debility as a result of stress, and as an immune stimulant.
As Western medical practitioners become more receptive to the possible contributions of non-Western medical traditions, Ashwagandha may begin to be used as part of multi-layered medical therapies to replace or lower the dosage of modern drugs that have problematic side-effects.
In addition to its Indian name Ashwagandha, Witha- nia somnifera is also known as winter cherry, Indian ginseng, Ajagandha, Kanaje
Hindi: Asgandh Sanskrit: Ashwagandha It belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family.
Withania somnifera grows natively in India and parts of Asia, Africa, and North America. It is grown fairly easily in sunny locations with well-drained soil. Although by nature it is a perennial, Ashwagandha may be grown as an annual and will blossom and bear fruit in its first year when grown from seed.
Ashwagandha is an erect shrub that grows to a height of about 2 feet. Its stem and branches are covered with tiny star-shaped hairs. The root, the part that is most valuable for medicinal uses, is fairly long and tuberous, with two or three lateral roots slightly smaller in size. The roots are grayish yellow with longitudinal wrinkles and a so center mass with scattered pores. They are characterized by a strong odor—hence the Indian name for the plant, which translates as “horse’s smell.”
The plant flowers throughout the year. Its leaves are simple and ovate in shape, measuring about 10 centimeters long. The leaves are alternate in arrangement. The plant’s flowers resemble others of the nightshade family. They are small, greenish-yellow blooms borne in short axillary clusters. The fruit is a smooth, red enclosed berry, about 6 millimeters in diameter.
Laboratory analysis has revealed more than 35 chemical constituents contained in the roots of Withania somnifera. The biologically active chemical constituents are alkaloids (isopellertierine, anferine), steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), saponins containing an additional acyl group (sitoindoside VII and VIII), and withanoloides with a glucose at carbon 27 (sitonidoside XI and X). Withania somnifera is also rich in iron.
The roots of Withania somnifera consist primarily of compounds known as withanolides, which are believed to account for its extraordinary medicinal properties. Withanolides are steroidal and bear a resemblance, both in action and appearance, to the active constituents of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) known as ginsenosides.
Chemical analysis of Ashwagandha shows its main constituents to be alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Among the various alkaloids, withanine is the main constituent. e other alkaloids are somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withana- nine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo-tropine, 3-a-gloyloxytropane, choline, cuscohygrine, iso- pellertierine, anaferine, and anahydrine. Two acyl steryl glucosides— sitoindoside VII and sitoindo- side VIII—have been isolated from the root. e leaves contain steroidal lactones, commonly called withanolides. e withanolides have a C28 steroidal nucleus with a C9 side chain with a six-membered lactone ring. Further chemical analysis has shown the presence of the following: anaferine (alkaloid), anahygrine (alkaloid), betasisterol, chlorogenic acid (in leaf only), cysteine (in fruit), cuscohygrine (alkaloid), iron, pseudotropine (alkaloid), scopoletin, somnif- erinine (alkaloid), somniferiene (alkaloid), tropanol (alkaloid), withanine (alkaloid), withananine (alkaloid) and withanolides A-y(steroidal lactones).
Centuries of Ayurvedic medical experience using Withania somnifera have revealed it to have pharmacological value as an adaptogen. Ashwagandha has been found to:
• provide potent anti-oxidant protection
• stimulate the activation of immune system
• counteract the effects of stress and generally promote wellness.
Uses and Actions
• Adrenal support*
• Supports longevity*
• Cognitive support*
• Thyroid support*
• Endocrine support*
• Immune support*
• Supports a healthy stress response*
• Support a healthy inflammatory response*
• Supports a healthy thyroid response*
• Root is used
• 5% Withanoloids