Ashwagandha the World’s Healer

By: Katlyn Bosnich

The desire for and use of more natural ways to bring health into the body as well as heal or help aid in the healing of current ailments are on  the rise. With people wanting more and more to do things the “natural” or “organic” way it is no surprise that more and more research is being done on the validity of these herbs that claim to heal and promote health. The medical world or maybe it is the mass’s that are coming full circle into a life that is a more in tune with nature and ultimately with the human body. Researchers are diving head first into studies that prove the validity and strength of some of these ancient herbs. Ashwagandha is one of many herbs that numerous studies are being conducted around to prove what has been written for hundreds of years in the ancient texts about herbs such as this. Ashwagandha is one of the most recognizable herbs in Ayurvedic Medicine and Ayurveda itself. Ayurveda is said to be “as old as humanity” according to Dr. Halpern in his textbook The Principles of Ayurveda, he also follows this up with saying that historians place the age of Ayurveda anywhere from 5000-10,000 years old. Ashwagandha being one of the most respected rasayana herbs of Ayurvedic Medicine means that this herb has been around as long as the science has as well. 4 We believe this because it is frequently referenced in the Caraka Samhita as well as the Sushruta Samhita. 5,6

Ashwagandha’s botanical name is Withania Somnifer; meaning winter cherry. Ashwagandha also has many other names such as Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asan, Asana, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashagandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwaganda, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Asvagandha, Aswagandha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Cerise d’Hiver, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Ginseng Ayurvédique, Ginseng Indien, Hayahvaya, Indian Ginseng, Kanaje Hindi, Kuthmithi, Orovale, Peyette, Physalis somnifera, Samm Al Ferakh, Samm Al Rerakh, Sogade-Beru, Strychnos, Turangi-Ghanda, Vajigandha, Winter Cherry, and Withania, As a result of this plants various applications its popularity has spread to all over the world and so many names have been created to interpret the name Ashwagandha to fit into other cultures and languages.   These multiple different languages only makes it more obvious of how highly diverse and widely accepted this herb is. Ashwagandha is a shrub like plant that is common in hot temperatures and places like Bombay and west India; the parts of the plant that are commonly used are the roots and leaves although all parts of the plant have been known to be used in various different formulas. 1

As a rasayana; Ashwagandha promotes youth and mental health, and is said to expand happiness. Among rasayanas Ashwagandha holds the most prominent place for its adaptive properties and many applications in promoting health and wellness in all ages and all ailments, particularly for weakness and tissue deficiency. But is also beneficial for those who are overworked and have a lack of sleep. Ashwagandha is also an aphrodisiac, adaptogen, nervine tonic, sedative, and an astringent. Its many actions are one of the many reasons it is such a revered herb. 2

The dosic effects and properties of Ashwagandha are that its taste is bitter and astringent its energy is heating but has a sweet effect. Its doshic effect is pacifying to vata and kapha but can be aggravating to pitta in excess when ama is present. The tissue it acts upon is muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, nerve and the reproductive organs. The systems that Ashwagandha works on are mostly the reproductive, nervous, and respiratory. The actions of Ashwagandha are tonic, rejuvenative, aphrodisiac, nervine, sedative, and astringent. It is indicated for use for general disability including sexual disabilities, excessive exhaustion, emaciation, old age, memory loss, muscle loss, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, skin diseases, difficulty breathing, infertility and many more ailments that take away from the tissues of the body. Some precautions when using this herb are when ama is high or with severe congestion as it can aggravate the problem. Ama must be cleared first and then Ashwagandha can be beneficial without cleaing the channels first the weight of Ashwagandha would only be stacked on top of the present ama, causing more problems than help. 2 This is why it is important to be informed on your condition and to consult with an Ayurvedic Specialist before jumping into taking any herb before understanding all of its possible effects on the body.

Rasayana’s and rejuvenation therapy is referenced many times in the Carka Samhita writing that “A person undergoing rejuvenation therapy attains longevity, memory, intellect, freedom from disease, youth, excellence of lustier complexion and voice, excellent potentiality of the body and the sense organs, (i.e. What he says comes true), respect and brilliance.” Caraka Samhita VOL.III pg.8. The long list of amazing benefits of rejuvenative techniques are exactly the same benefits that Ashwagandha has and by this proving that when Ashwagandha is integrated into the diet combined with a healthy lifestyle it proves to bring health and wellness to the body and mind. As a rasayana herb it is a vital part of many rejuvenative therapies and brining health and wellness back to a body that has been depleted by purification, disease or any form of over work or stress. This herb along with rejuvenation therapies can also help prevent disease and the effects of aging.  The Caraka Samhita gives more specific qualifications to rasayana’s saying that “The term rasayana… connotes a specific meaning…drugs, diet and regiments, which promote longevity by preventing aging and disease.” Caraka Samhita VOL.III pg.3 Giving clear distinction that rasayana type herbs combined with diet and lifestyle is what leads the body and mind to overall health and wellness. The integration of this herb into daily life can also facilitate a clearer mind in order to make better more healthful decisions, so that one may have a youthful, disease free life.

Not only is Ashwagandha used as a rasayana for rejuvanative techniques but also as hypnotic in alcoholism and emphysematous dyspnea. According to the India Materia Medica the roots and bitter leaves are used as a hypnotic in the treatment of alcoholism. 1 While Ashwagandha has many rasayana properties it is also a nervine tonic and sedative. The diversity of this herb and its ability to be applied to many types of ailments is why it is so useful in so many different healing methods and herbal formulas. Its applications run from fatigue to stress, from overwork to recovery from disease or surgery, it is even used in cases of extreme loss or sadness. 2 Ashwagandha’s many applications is why it is so well known and widely used within Ayurvedic Medicine as well as beyond.  As a widely accepted and diverse herb, it is used in many fashions; again in the India Materia Medica references another way to use Ashwagandha beyond internally as a tea or capsule but also the leaves maybe used topically in the treatment of carbuncles. “A carbuncle is a skin infection that often involves a group of hair follicles. The infected material forms a lump, which occurs deep in the skin and may contain pus” as defined by Medline Plus with the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The leaves being anthelmintic can help calm the intensity and pain of the affected area, again referencing Ashwagandha’s wide scope of application. 1

Another of Ahwagandha’s many applications is its application towards stress. “Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. A stressful event can trigger a fight, flight or freeze response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body. ” As stress rises more and more in our culture it is no wonder people are turning to all sorts of different techniques and drugs in order to help control the constant pressure and stressors of life. Ashwagandha has had many studies done to prove it’s effectiveness for combating stress and lowering cortisol levels. In a study published on PubMed a double blind random study was done on 64 individuals with a history of chronic stress. They were split into two groups one given a placebo and one given a high concentrate full spectrum Ashwagandha capsule for sixty days. The group who took the Ashwagandha experienced significant and measurable reduction in all stress assessments and cortisol levels were sustainably reduced as well. The study concluded that Ashwagandha root extract proves to be effective in improving ones resistance to stress and improves overall quality of life as a result.  14

In an another study found on Pub Med Ashwagandha’s adaptogenic properties were studied and it was found showing increased stamina and the ability to keep ascorbic acid and cortisol levels low even during the high stress of swimming, the experiment; done on rats showed significant protection from high levels of stress. As well as showing protection from stress induced gastric ulcers. 7

Disease can be described as anything causing a lack of ease therefore stress can be considered a huge disease affecting the western world. With a life that is in a constant state of movement and is always in need of being faster and more productive it is no wonder people are turning to anything that can help them combat the stress. While lifestyle is a huge reason for stress there are many herbs that can help combat these stressors of daily life. With Ashwagandhas adaptogenic properties it is no wonder that people are doing so many studies on herbs such as these. Ashwagandha has such amazing effects on keeping the body healthy and healing it from diseases as well as its stress fighting attributes. The adaptogenic properties give the body room to process stress and worry and to let go of it much more easily. 3

With further study of this herb material was found to prove its effectiveness in and around cancer, tumors and their treatment. In the medical journal called “Cancer Letters” a study was done on the components of selective cancer killing properties of Ashwagandha leaf extract. Their research found that the leaf extract of Ashwagandha had cancer inhibitory factors and has at least seven components that could kill cancer safely; in this study it was also shown to be non-toxic to the body and also have anti tumorigenic in studies done on mice. They also took on a gene silencing and pathway analysis and found that the extract and the components within it kill cancer cells by at very least five different pathways. Making the leaf extract of Ashwagandha highly effective in the treatment of cancer. 13

Cancer is described as abnormal cells dividing uncontrollably and destroying body tissue. According to the American Cancer Society the estimation for new cases of cancer this year alone is 1,658,370 and the estimated deaths from cancer this year alone are 589,430. Thankfully Ashwagandha’s effects have even been tested on and in relation to cancer and chemotherapy. Showing significant antitumor effects in experiments without causing any systemic toxicity. According to Euro PubMed and then Indian Journal of Experimental Biology these tests were conducted and came back to prove that Ashwagandha could be a great resource of natural treatment for cancer and other autoimmune diseases. 12 In another study done on an adult mouse with a tumor there was significant response from the tumor with the addition of Ashwagandha in tincture form. The combination of Ashwagandha and hyperthermia at 43 degrees Celsius proved to be just as effective as radiation therapy on the tumor. Again proving to be a healthy alternative to traditional radiation techniques in regards to tumors and or cancer. The research says, “It is concluded that Ashwagandha in addition to having a tumor inhibitory effect, also acts as a radio-sensitizer and heat enhances these effects.” 11

In the book The Yoga of Herbs Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad describe Ashwagandha as having the smell of a horse and giving the vitality and sexual energy of a horse. Another of Ashwagandha’s many qualities and functions is its work as an aphrodisiac; an aphrodisiac according to Webster Dictionary is a food, drink, or drug that stimulates sexual desire. While Ashwagandha has been shown to improve sexual desire it has also been proven to promote men’s reproductive health and even increase sperm count in men with infertility. As many as 50% of men deal with infertility and low sperm count, while the exact cause of this is unknown there have been studies to show the benefits of Ashwagandha and improved health in men’s reproduction. In a random blind study of forty six men with oligospermia or low sperm count they were give full spectrum root extract of Ashwagandha for ninety days and on the final day there was 167% increase in the sperm count, a 53% increase in volume and a 57% increase in the motility of the sperm of those who were given the root extract compared to those given the placebo. These results show a significant benefit in regards to men’s reproductive health. 10

Ashwagandha has also been shown to be active towards bacteria, and as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal herb its effectiveness has been tested against multiple pathogenic bacteria, the properties of these traits have been revealed by a study done in 2005, testing Ashwagandha’s ability to protect various mice that had been treated with many different strains of bacteria one in particular being the bacteria Salmonella typhimurium. The study revealed that the mice that were administered Ashwagandha extract in tincture form orally had not only a higher survival rate but also had lower bacterial load found in their system and in their various vital organs.  9

A fungus is described as “any of a diverse group of eukaryotic single-celled or multinucleate organisms that live by decomposing and absorbing the organic material in which they grow…” by The fungus A.niger is one of the most common fungi and is described by the EPA “Aspergillus niger is a member of the genus Aspergillus which includes a set of fungi that are generally considered asexual, although perfect forms (forms that reproduce sexually) have been found. Aspergilli are ubiquitous in nature. They are geographically widely distributed, and have been observed in a broad range of habitats because they can colonize a wide variety of substrates. A. niger is commonly found as a saprophyte growing on dead leaves, stored grain, compost piles, and other decaying vegetation. The spores are widespread, and are often associated with organic materials and soil”. A study done with Ashwagandha and its effectiveness against such fungi as A. niger were done, in this study the plant extract was tested from multiple different solvents. The study showed that Ashwagandha had effectiveness using any solvent but was the most effective when the extract was done in methanol. Proving Ashwagandha’s effectiveness even against fungi, really showing a large scope of productivity as an herb. 8

As a result of Ashwagandha’s many applications it is no wonder why there are so many different ways to prepare this herb for use. Each aliment or need easily has it’s own method of preparation. Looking at India Materia Medica and The book The Yoga of Herbs a long list of preparations for specific and non-specific ailments were found. The most common preparations for Ashwagandha are a decoction in either milk or water, but also can be made into a paste or medicated ghee or oil. 2 Also because of its many applications the modes in which it is administered varies on the application needed for the aliment involved. The Indian Materia Medica has a long list of formulas and recommendations for some general and specific aliments. I have included a few interesting ones found with in the book. The fruits and seeds can be used as a diuretic and to coagulate milk. The root is used in the application of obstinate ulcers and rheumatic swelling. The dosage is approximately 30 grains in the treatment of consumption, emaciation of children, senile debility, and in any case of general debility or exhaustion. Powdered Ashwagandha mixed with ghee and honey in equal parts is recommended for impotence or any problems with seminal fluid. For women who are pregnant or are in an older stage of life it is recommended to drink a decoction made from the powder or to mix the powder in milk. A formula given to sterile women is a decoction made from milk that ghee is added to, it is given as a cure for the these women. A formula for weak children would be a decoction of the root boiled down to a paste and is then is placed in warm milk and mixed with ghee. For skin diseases or irritations Ashwagandha powder can be mixed with oil and applied topically. Ashwagandha is also recommended for improving eyesight; a classical formula for this is a mixture of the root powder mixed with licorice root powder and taken with the juice of Indian gooseberry or amla. 1

Most commonly Ashwagandha is found in capsule form in recent years but there are many other ways to receive the herb. It is also available in powdered form as well as tincture or extracts in liquid form or in a “cut a sifted” option, giving the herb a longer shelf life and more versatility to the individual who is using the herb. Allowing the individual the option to grind the root into powder or to  make it into a decoction or medicated oil or ghee and even placing your own formula into a capsule as well. Each modality the herb is in is dependent on the body system or tissue that needs to be affected. For example if the issue is stress then the use of a tincture is helpful because as stated earlier stress triggers hormones like cortisol and hormones get processed in the liver. With a tincture or extract made in alcohol it causes its direct action to go straight to the liver because alcohol is something else that the liver needs to process solely.

Ashwagandha is considered one of the most respected herbs in Ayurvedic Medicine and as an herb that pacifies all three doshas meaning it works well with all types of people, it is no wonder that it has such wide scope of application. 4 As discussed in this review of literature the vast uses of Ashwagandha and its ability to work with many different body systems and tissues as well as fight against many different ailments it is no wonder that this herb is one of the most respected. Although many think of this herb as only a tonic for men’s reproductive system as covered above the range of application is far beyond a higher sperm count. The scope of this herb ranges from building up tissue that has been depleted as a result of purification or emaciation do to illness to fighting against abnormal tissue that is attacking the body the way cancer does, from being antibacterial and antifungal to calming the mind, clearing stress and lowering cortisol levels to even as far as shrinking tumors and aiding in safer forms of chemotherapy like treatment. This herbs vast wealth of healing properties is why people are continuing to run studies and research programs to make sure this herb is all that it claims to be. A truly magical healer when it is combined with diet and lifestyle, this honored rasayana really does bring freedom from disease, as well as bring youth back to the body, promote longevity, memory function and expand happiness. How could one not be happy if their bodies and mind’s are free from disease and even aging is prevented? This herb like Ayurveda promotes immortality, something all people are looking for. 3 With the various benefits of Ashwagandha this herb is surely something to be integrating into all of our daily lives and diets in order to promote youth and expand happiness in not only ourselves but the world as well, creating a world free from disease would ultimately create a happier more peaceful world because not only would health no longer be an issue or source of worry as healthier people, individuals would feel more happy and alive; spreading that good feeling everywhere they went.

End Notes

1. A. K. Nadkarni, Dr. K. M. Nadkarni’s INDIAN MATERIA MEDICA. Popular Prakashan 2010, – Volume I. 1976 1292-1293

2. Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, Yoga of Herbs. Lotus press 2001 160-161

3. Dr. Marc Halpern, Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine. California College of Ayurveda, tenth edition, September 2010 – 1, 4

4. Dr. Marc Halpern, Clinical Ayurvedic Medicine. California College of Ayurveda, sixth edition, September 2012, – 7-39

5. R. K. Sharma & Bhagwan Dash, Charaka Samhita. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office 2009 VolumeIII-3,8

6. Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna M.R.A.S The Shushruta Samhita 1911 Volume II 348, 354,365,376,697

7. African Journal Traditional Complementary and Alternative Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): An Overwiew on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana Rejuvenator of Ayurveda 208–213. Published online 2011 Jul 3. doi:  10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9

8. Babeet Singh Tanwer. Et al. /International Journal of Biopharmaceutics “Antifungal Potential of Ashwagandha against some Pathogenic Fungi”

9. M. Owais, K.S. Sharad, A. Shehbaz, M. Saleemuddin, Elsevier Phytomedicine  “Antibacterial efficacy of Withania somnifera and indigenous medicinal plant against experimental murine salmonellsis Volume 12, Issue 3, 22 March 2005-229-235 

10. Vijay R. Ambiye et al, Hinwadi Publishing Corporation Volume 2013 “Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root extract of Ashwagandha in Oligospermic Males” 

11. Devi PU, Sharada AC, Solomon FE Indian Journal of Experimental Biology Antitumor and radio-sensitizing effects of Withania somnifera(Ashwagandha) on a transplantable mouse tumor. 1993, 31(7): 607-611 

12. Devi PU, Indian Journal of Experimental Biology Withania Somnifera Dunal (Ashwagandha); Potential plant source of promising drug for cancer chemotherapy and radio-sensitization. 1996, 34 (10): 927-932 

13. Nashi Widodo, Yasuomi Takagi, Bhupal G. Shrestha, Tetsuro Ishii, Sunil C. Kaul, Renu Wadhwa. “Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of Ashwagandha: Components, activity and pathway analyses. “Cancer Letters” Volume 262, Issue 1, April 8, 2008- 37-47 

14. K. Chandrasekhar, Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty  “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults” Indian Journal Psychological Medicine. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262. doi:  10.4103/0253-7176.106022