A powerful adaptogen, ashwagandha has been prized in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for its ability to help us deal with stress and anxiety. Discover the many benefits of this healing herb.
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs used in Ayurveda, the holistic healing system that originated in India. And it’s becoming increasingly popular in the West too, due to its adaptogenic qualities.
An adaptogen is a herb (or mushroom) that helps your body cope with stress. They promote a state of balance – known as homeostasis – and can support you in dealing with the symptoms of stress, including fatigue and anxiety.
With the events of the last few years, on top of already busy and stressful lives, it is no wonder that many people around the world now use ashwagandha daily. In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the benefits of this restorative herb and how it supports your mental and physical health.
What Is Ashwagandha?
A small evergreen shrub with eye-catching red berries, ashwagandha is native to India, as well as parts of the Middle East and Africa. It is also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng. This last name is a nod to ashwagandha’s role in Ayurveda, which is similar to ginseng’s use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Ashwagandha has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. It is prized as a rasayana – a tonic that rejuvenates the body and promotes long life and youthfulness.
The name Ashwagandha comes from Sanskrit. The herb gets this name from the smell of its root, which has a distinctively horse-like odour. Ashwa means horse, and gandha means smell. The name literally translates as “the smell of a horse”.
This name is also a metaphor for ashwagandha’s energy-boosting properties. It is said to give the vitality and strength of a horse to anyone who consumes it.
The Latin name for this plant, Withania somnifera, also gives us a clue about some of its properties. Somnifera translates to ‘sleep-bringing’, indicating ashwagandha’s ability to calm our minds and help us get a better night’s sleep.
What Are the Benefits of Ashwagandha?
Since this herb is so prized in Ayurveda, there’s been more research into its benefits than for many other herbal remedies. Most of this research supports the traditional uses of ashwagandha as an adaptogen, energy booster, and tonic for the mind and body.
1. Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Stress can have a huge impact on our health, leading to both physical and mental issues. Ashwagandha’s ability to limit how our bodies respond to stress therefore has a beneficial effect on our overall wellbeing.
2. Boosts Cognition and Concentration
Another traditional use of ashwagandha is giving your brainpower a boost. This herb helps to promote concentration, memory, and focus. People who took it regularly for eight weeks scored significantly higher on tests designed to assess cognitive function.
3. Improves Athletic Performance
It isn’t just your brain that gets a boost when you take ashwagandha. It also appears to improve physical performance. Supplementing with ashwagandha helps to increase both speed and muscle strength.
Ashwagandha may also improve how your body uses oxygen during exercise. Healthy adults who took ashwagandha saw an improvement in their VO2 max, which is a measure of how much oxygen you can breathe in while exercising. A higher VO2 max usually indicates better cardiovascular fitness.
4. Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Another benefit of ashwagandha is the effect it has on our blood sugar levels. One of the compounds in ashwagandha, withaferin A, encourages your body’s cells to take up more glucose from your blood. In turn, this reduces blood sugar levels and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
5. Supports Healthy Sexual Function
Both men and women might find that taking ashwagandha helps to boost libido and increase sexual satisfaction.
In men, ashwagandha appears to stimulate the production of the hormone testosterone, which is associated with increased libido and heightened fertility. It doesn’t have the same effect on women, but it does seem to boost sexual desire, arousal, and the ability to reach orgasm.
6. Helps You Sleep Better
Considering ashwagandha gives us more mental and physical energy, it might seem counterintuitive that it is also used as a remedy for insomnia.
However, it is ashwagandha’s adaptogenic qualities that allow it to play both roles. It helps our bodies maintain a state of healthy balance, which means we have energy when we need it, but can also fall asleep more easily at the end of a busy day.
Is Ashwagandha Safe?
For most people, ashwagandha appears to be safe and well-tolerated. However, you should check with your doctor before taking it if you are on any medications or have any underlying health conditions, especially those that affect your thyroid. Anyone with prostate cancer should also avoid this herb.
There’s not much evidence yet for whether ashwagandha is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It may cause complications at higher doses, so it is best not to take it while pregnant.
In high amounts, ashwagandha may cause some stomach upset, headaches, or drowsiness.
For most people, however, ashwagandha shouldn’t cause any issues. Just don’t go overboard with the amount you take each day.
How Should You Take Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is often available as a pill or powder. The powder can be added to warm milk, which is a traditional way to take this herb.
However, our favourite way to incorporate ashwagandha into our day is to brew up a delicious cup of herbal tea. Not only is this a tasty way to take ashwagandha, but it means you can easily combine it with other herbs, depending on the health benefits you are most interested in.
For example, if you are looking for an energy boost, our NutraBoost blend combines ashwagandha with green tea, ginseng, astragalus, and other energising herbs.
Just pick your preferred tea, boil your kettle, and brew for four to five minutes. You can enjoy two to three cups a day.
Bear in mind that adaptogens like ashwagandha take a while to build up in the body. The best way to see the effects is to continue to take it regularly for several months.