Ashwagandha – Natural Anti-Inflammatory

ashwagandhaASHWAGANDHA (Withania)                            
Family: Solanaceae
Botanical Name (Latin): Withania somnifera
Sanskrit Name: Ashwagandha
Plant of Restoration
Planets: Mars, Jupiter

Plant Insight: Those who take Ashwagandha, even for just a few days, become aware of increased energy and a feeling of internal warmth, wellbeing and overall balance. Ashwagandha can support you in overcoming all obstacles. As it is under the influence of Mars, it passes on a sense of power, courage, health and renewed strength to face problems head-on. In short, it will stimulate your passions as well as your motivation.

Ashwagandha (or Withania) has a very long history of medicinal use beginning over 4000 years ago in its native India. Ashwagandha grows prolifically in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and parts of Africa. A member of the nightshade family, it is also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry. This amazing plant has now firmly established its place in the practices of western Naturopaths and Herbalists.

The therapeutic qualities of Ashwagandha are well recognised in Ayurvedic traditional Indian medicine. Dating back an estimated 5,000-10,000 years, Ayurveda is widely believed to be the oldest known system of health care. Buddha (born c. 550 BC) was a devotee of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic practitioners value Ashwagandha as an important medicinal plant. They regard it as a rasayana herb … indicating that it strengthens, rejuvenates and invigorates. It is an adaptogen that works to normalise physiological function by acting on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the neuroendocrine system to control stress and regulate body processes. Ashwagandha has “middle note” or neutral action, which means it can be warming as well as cooling, depending on the condition. According to Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha simultaneously balances the nervous system (vata = air) and the musculoskeletal system (kapha = earth, water) while it increases heat (pitta) in the body. As a result, it improves memory, counteracts the effects of stress and calms the mind.

The main active ingredients in Ashwagandha are alkaloids and steroidal lactones or withanolides. The withanolides provide its medicinal character and produce its distinctive earthy odour and flavour. Ginseng contains molecules similar to withanolides called ginsenosides.

Many studies have been conducted to determine the effects of Ashwagandha on tumours, arthritis and other forms of inflammation. These studies conclude that Ashwagandha acts as an anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory agent. The naturally occurring steroidal content is considerably higher than that of hydrocortisone … a common treatment for cancer. Ashwagandha’s natural steroidal compounds also reduce the pain of arthritis as effectively as aspirin or phenylbutazone when taken in comparable amounts, although without the immune-depressing side effects caused by these drugs.

No significant side effects have been reported with the use of Ashwagandha.  Children have been treated safely with the herb for centuries in India, where the shoots and seeds are also used as food and to thicken milk.

Parts Used Medicinally
Generally the leaves and roots, though the fruits and seeds can also be used.
Leaves (contain the most withanolides): Dried and made into a powder.
  • Relax lungs – treat asthma and emphysema
  • Anti-inflammatory poultice – applied externally to skin infections
  • Internally – inhibit cancer growth, arthritis
Roots: Fresh or dried and made into powder – strengthens, rejuvenates and invigorates.
  • Decoction and capsules – anxiety and stress control, antidepressant, relaxant, immune system stimulant, anti-inflammatory, all-purpose tonic
  • High iron content useful in treating anaemia