When it comes to herbs, ashwagandha happens to be a hit — and then some. A couple of years ago, the Ayurvedic herb even took the spotlight as Saturday Night Live guest star Gwenyth Paltrow jokingly mentioned the herb as having originated in Wakanda, the fictional nation in the film, Black Panther. Truth be told, ashwagandha has been making its way into the mainstream for some years now. In fact, the herbal supplement is on its way to becoming one of the country’s best-selling herbs.
But what is ashwagandha exactly and why is it making waves across the airwaves? Read on to find out what makes ashwagandha so awesome, what it even is in the first place, and if the holistic ingredient is the health supplement you’ve been searching for.
What is Ashwagandha?
First thing’s first: what in the world is ashwagandha, anyway? In a pinch, ashwagandha — also known as Withania somnifera in more specific plant science terms — is an Ayurvedic herb that is native to Asia, specifically India and Africa. Also referred to as the “Indian ginseng” and “winter cherry,” the herb is commonly used in these regions in churna form — the Indian word for a fine sieved powder that can be mixed in with either water, honey, or ghee (an Indian clarified butter that has a delicious nutty flavor).
Most of the benefits from ashwagandha are claimed from the root and the leaves of the herb, and these leaves are most commonly used in teas, especially in India. The root can be taken in many ways, but in modern times, it's most commonly dried, powdered, and taken as a supplement. In the Western world, ashwagandha is more commonly used in supplement form, although you can also find it in tea form at many specialized health food stores.
As far as looks go, don’t let the herb’s delicate nature fool you. Ashwagandha happens to be a fairly small shrub with small pale green flowers, simple leaves, and beautiful little red berries. The herb has a tuberous root that can be carrot or ginger shaped. It’s also fair game to say that ashwagandha has a very distinct and potent smell, which by many is described as being horse-like. In fact, this potent smell is partly where it also gets its name: ashwa is Sanskrit (the ancient Indo-European language of India) for horse and gandha means smell. The herb is also touted for having the strength of a stallion because it is associated with strength and vitality.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
If we’re talking about health advantages, let it be known that ashwagandha is acclaimed as an all-around amazing herb. The medicinal herb has a host of health benefits including the ability to boost nutrition, improve blood sugar, and lower cholesterol, in addition to helping other common health and well-being complaints such as pain, inflammation, and insomnia.
Improved Mental Health
Studies have shown that ashwagandha has the ability to alleviate stress and anxiety because the herb happens to be a powerful adaptogen — a natural substance that helps the body adapt to stress and normalizes the effect on bodily processes. This means that the herb is able to enhance the body's reaction and resilience to emotional pressure and tension. Research has also shown that the herb can help with a number of other mental health issues such as depression and schizophrenia, but be sure to consult with a medical professional if you’d like to try ashwagandha as a remedy to any of your health concerns
Ashwagandha is also an ideal herb for immune function. Research has shown that the herb has the ability to improve the body's defense against disease. It has potent antioxidant properties that help protect against cellular damage which are caused by free radicals. Additionally, ashwagandha is acclaimed for boosting the body’s immune system because the holistic herb happens to be rich in biologically active substances such as amino acids, lipids, peptides, and the bases of nucleic acids.
Research has also demonstrated that the herb is also able to improve muscle strength: ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and that an ashwagandha supplement could be useful when used with resistance training. The herb can improve stamina and health while also able to help with intense fitness exercises for weight loss.
Enhances Brain Power
Ashwagandha can even enhance brain function and improve memory. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can be effective in enhancing both immediate and general memory in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). It is also believed to improve executive function, attention, and processing of information.
Aids Reproductive Health & Balances Hormones
Ashwagandha can also be applied to fertility and reproductive health especially in men. Studies have shown that the herb can boost testosterone levels, enhance sperm count, reduce cortisol levels, and create a healthy sex drive and reproductive balance. For women, ashwagandha can balance out any menopausal issues that may affect fertility. The herb also promotes aphrodisiac properties and balances out hormones.
Of course, it is vital to have a consultation with a medical professional on how the herb can help you with any of the above conditions and if other considerations need to be noted such as your medical history as well as any possible allergic reactions.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
This brings us to potential side effects: it should be noted that while there are many benefits to taking ashwagandha, there are potential side effects that can stem up from ingesting the herb — particularly if you take large amounts. The good news is that most people are able to tolerate ashwagandha in small and medium doses. There also haven’t been enough long term studies done to extensively examine any possible side effects.
However, please be advised that taking large amounts of the herb can lead to digestive upset, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. This may be due to irritation of the intestinal mucosa. Of course — and this can’t be stressed enough — before taking ashwagandha, please consult with your doctor to make sure the herb is safe for you to use given both your medical and family history. A medical professional will be happy to guide you on what to expect for your particular usage.
What to Look for in Ashwagandha Supplements
So, what form can you expect from this hero of an herb on the supplement front? Ashwagandha supplements come in a host of conformations including tablets, capsules, root powder, and in even gummy form. Advised dosage is at least 0.3% and 1.5% of withanolides, as these are considered to be key marker compounds which may also play a role in the herb's activity.
When Is the Best Time to Take Ashwagandha?
According to health experts, a lot depends on what you’re using the herb for. For example, if you want to boost your energy, take Ashwagandha first thing in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast. If, however, you want help with issues like insomnia and enhancing sleep quality, then take ashwagandha with warm milk at night just before going to bed. For other benefits, experts suggest taking the powder, tablets, or capsules twice a day after meal times.
Shop Ashwagandha Products on Vitabox
Excited to try ashwagandha? We don’t blame you. As soon as you get the go-ahead from your doctor, or perhaps even after consulting with a naturopath in conjunction with a medical professional), you’ll be happy to know that Vitabox has a variety of ashwagandha products including those in yummy gummy form including:
And although we adore horses, we assure you that none of Vitabox’s ashwagandha products smell like one! But as always, remember to check in with your family physician who can advise if taking ashwagandha can be beneficial to your health.