How to Use Ashwagandha: A Complete Guide and History

Edited and Published by Wellness Monster Dina

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is a plant whose roots, leaves and berries have been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a powerful antioxidant commonly known and used for its rejuvenating effects on the body’s systems, especially the nervous system, for well over 2000 years. It was first documented in the sacred Hindu text, the Sushruta Samhitas, as early as 1000 BC. Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family; the nightshade family. Nightshades are plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, goji berries, and potatoes, containing a high amount of glycoalkaloids, which are naturally occurring compounds meant to defend the plant against various insects, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The name, Ashwagandha, comes from the Sanskrit words ashva (horse) and gandha (smell), due to the strong aroma of its roots, and is associated with the odor of a horse or reminiscent of horse sweat. Its Latin name, Somnifera, means “sleep inducer”. Ashwagandha is native to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and parts of North Africa. It is also grown in drier and temperate areas of the United States, such as the Carolinas.

Much like its relative, the tomato, Ashwagandha produces red fruit and yellow flowers. While the leaves and flowers are used for medicinal purposes it is the root that is typically used in medicinal preparations.

Due to sharing similar compound structures with Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) and Ginseng (Panax Ginseng), ashwagandha is known as Indian Ginseng. However, these plants are unrelated. Furthermore, ashwagandha is sometimes confused with Winter Cherry, which is actually another plant of the Solanaceae family called Chinese Lantern. Ashwagandha also goes by the name of Poison Gooseberry.

Ashwagandha’s Medicinal Compounds & Properties

ashwagandha-powderAshwagandha root contains several different bioactive compounds including alkaloids(withanine, withananine, somniferine, sominone, somnine) and steroidal lactones (glucosides- cuscohygrine, sitoinosides, tropine, withanolides, and withaferin) amino acids, choline, fatty acids, and sugars. It is known to contain diuretic, aphrodisiac, thermogenic, anthelmintic, astringent, narcotic, and stimulant properties.

The Health Benefits of Using Ashwagandha

In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is known as a rasayana According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta, rasayanas are substances that slow the aging process, increase longevity and increase both mental and physical strength ( Ashwagandha is also referred to as ‘Medhya rasayan’ (nootropic herb). A nootropic herb is an herb that has the ability to enhance cognitive function. In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is and used for the “Vata” constitution, which corresponds with space and air. Balanced vata energy helps to maintain a healthy nervous system, vitality, happiness, and longevity.

Ashwagandha is commonly known as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances such as herbs, amino acids, vitamins, or minerals that modify the body’s response to internal and external stressors. It’s considered a general tonic that relieves tension in the body it’s an excellent herb to use for helping the body to cope with emotional, mental and physical stress as well as for boosting the entire immune system. For example, ashwagandha has the ability to balance cortisol levels during times of stress. Cortisol is a hormone that is naturally released throughout the body after a good night’s sleep to assist the body in performing daily activities. It is also released from the adrenal glands in response to stress. Modern, everyday stresses can trigger the release of cortisol all too frequently which, over time, can cause damage to the body’s nervous system and endocrine system. Ashwagandha has been shown to support the adrenal glands, balance cortisol levels, and tone down the stress response to promote a sense of well-being. Additionally, by keeping cortisol in check other hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone libido and fertility are encouraged.

Ashwagandha appears to promote healthy muscle strength and faster recovery in men who take it while performing resistance training exercises. This is believed due to ashwagandha’s ability to promote higher levels of the amino acid, creatinine, which is known to reduce the incidence of muscle damage that can occur from exercise and to promote muscle recovery.

Ashwagandha is also known to support a healthy inflammatory response and joint health in the body and has been shown to help relieve occasional joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in healthy individuals with its ability to calm, rest, and restore the body.

ashwagandha-illustratedReports have shown that ashwagandha might be beneficial for the following conditions.

  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia/diabetes)
  • Muscular (weakness and fatigue)
  • Arthritis, joint and other types of occasional pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
  • Brain cell regeneration
  • Vitiligo (white patches of skin with no clear cause)
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Concentration, learning, memory, and recall
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Frequent illness or infection
  • Impotence and sex drive
  • Energy (mental and physical)
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High cortisol levels
  • Hormonal balance
  • Incontinence
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Immunity
  • Inflammation
  • Sleep
  • Malaria
  • Amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation)
  • Parasites
  • Tumors and skin cancer
  • Skin conditions (i.e., acne, boils, scrapes, wounds, bacterial skin infections)
  • Nerve damage
  • Parkinson’s (when given in the early stages of the disease)

How to Use Ashwagandha

ashwagandha-usesAshwagandha may be used in the form of tea, tablets, capsules, powders (churan form), essential oil, or as a liquid extract. It can be found in most health food aisles or supplement stores. It can also be purchased online. In the United States, it is typically ingested in capsule form with the typical recommended oral dose being between 500 to 1,000 mg each day.

Traditionally, ground ashwagandha root is given to younger children and the elderly as a tonic for relaxation and overall wellness, but due to its alkaloid content, ashwagandha root is bitter, so it is often taken in the form of tea mixed with milk, butterfat (ghee) and honey to hide its bitter flavor. This “tea” works particularly well right before bedtime for people who suffer from racing thoughts and insomnia.

Ashwagandha Milk Tea Recipe (Makes 2 Servings)

  • 1 cup raw organic milk
  • 2 teaspoons Ashwagandha dried root powder
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or palm or date sugar)
  • 1 cup water

Place milk, ashwagandha, and honey in a small pan and cook over low flame until the mixture reduces to about half its original size. A pinch of cardamom may be added. Drink only after it has cooled down to a lukewarm temperature. Consume throughout the day in ¼ to 1 cup servings.

Ashwagandha tea can be made without milk or tea by boiling 2 teaspoons of dried, whole ashwagandha root in 3 ½ cups of water for 15 minutes. Remove the root from the water, strain liquid, and drink ¼ cup twice each day.

Ashwagandha Electuaries

Ashwagandha is often used in combination with other herbs and plants, such as Goji berries, Eucalyptus, Ginseng, Gingko Biloba, Licorice, Rhodiola, Thyme, Tribulus, and Turmeric to enhance the medicinal benefits and effects of all of the ingredients in the final product. In India, these types of products are often known as churans or herbal tablets. Homemade tablets, known as electuaries, can be made at home with the same idea in mind of combining complimentary herbs. In the recipe below, any part of the 4 ounces of powder can be traded with other dried, powdered adaptogenic herbs.

Place 4 ounces of Ashwagandha root powder in a medium-large bowl. Add about a ½ cup each of Almond butter, Ghee (butterfat) and Honey to make a paste that is the consistency of Peanut butter. Add up to a ¼ teaspoon each of powdered Cardamom, Cinnamon and Ginger and mix well. Each individual electuary is measured out by tablespoon on to waxed paper and then rolled into balls, which can be dipped into cacao or shredded coconut for added flavor and to keep them from sticking together when stored. When finished rolling and coating place in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Serving Size: Up to 1 tablespoon taken throughout the day or before bed.

Ashwagandha Paste

Ground root powder, as well as dried, ground leaves and berries, can be made into a paste with a bit of water to help treat inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatism and infectious skin conditions. This paste can also be applied to tumors, tubercular glands, carbuncles, boils, and ulcers. Concentrated extract and essential oil may also be applied topically.

Ashwagandha Extract

Ashwagandha extracts can be mixed with water or juice and taken between meals 2-3 times each day. Take as directed on the product label.

Ashwagandha Essential Oil

When Ashwagandha essential oil is burned in a diffuser and inhaled, it promotes a better night’s sleep which contributes to a calmer and relaxed mind and body. Ashwagandha essential oil may also be applied to the skin. However, it should never be applied directly to the skin without first being diluted in a base oil, such as Olive oil or Coconut oil. 30 drops of ashwagandha essential oil may be diluted in 2 tablespoons of base oil for a 5% solution, the highest percentage still considered to be safe limits.

Possible Side-Effects

Generally speaking, Ashwagandha is safe for most individuals to take orally for a period of a few days. The effects of long-term use are not yet known. Possible side effects are as follows.

  • When used topically it may cause inflammation or rash. Taking Ashwagandha orally is not recommended for individuals with gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease. Ashwagandha may cause stomach upset, gastritis, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, especially when taken in higher doses
  • It is also to be avoided for two weeks previous to any surgery as ashwagandha effects the nervous system and may increase the effect of anesthesia and interfere with medications both during and after surgery. It may also delay recovery time.
  • Individuals with autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS, HIV, or Lupus should not use Ashwagandha
  • Women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant or nursing should be aware ashwagandha can cause uterine spasms leading to miscarriage or premature delivery. It is not known whether ashwagandha is safe for baby while nursing.
  • Ashwagandha should not be used in conjunction with diuretics and may cause kidney lesions when taken in excess.
  • Ashwagandha should not be used in sedative-like herbs or medications, such as Ativan, Klonopin or Valium, as it may cause excessive sedation.
  • Individuals with low blood pressure or those taking high blood pressure medication should not take ashwagandha as it may cause a drop in blood pressure and interfere with medication.
  • Ashwagandha should not be used by individuals living with autoimmune disorders, such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Ashwagandha is an immune-stimulating herb and makes the immune system work harder which can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Ashwagandha will counteract the effectiveness of immunosuppressant drugs, such as CellCept, Deltasone, Imuran, Neoral, Orasone, Orthoclone, Prograf, Rapamune, Sandimmune, Simulect, Zenapax, and corticosteroid containing drugs, such as Prednisone.
  • Those who are diabetic, taking diabetes medication or other natural remedies to control blood sugar, or have a tendency toward hypoglycemia should not use ashwagandha as it may dangerously lower blood sugar.
  • Ashwagandha may increase the level of thyroid hormones the thyroid gland produces. It should cautiously be taken when a thyroid condition is suspected or thyroid medication is being taken to avoid too much thyroid hormone in the body and an increase in side-effects of too much thyroid hormone.

It’s important to note that Ayurvedic herbs are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Meaning, the manufacturers of ashwagandha products and products containing ashwagandha are not held to the same high standards as drug and food manufacturers are. In fact, one study found that roughly 41 out of 191 products made in India and the United States had levels of arsenic, lead, mercury that were far above safety levels for human consumption. For this reason, although much is known about ashwagandha it may best to use it only for short-term benefits until more is known about how the plant interacts with the human body.



Home Page version 2

Essential Oils – Learn About and Purchase

Photo Credits:

Ashwagandha superfood remedy. [ID 113567712 © Eskymaks –]

Ashwagandha powder in wooden bowl. [ID 107859702 © Eskymaks –]

Ashwagandha ayurvedic herb isolated on white. Withania somnifera. [ID 89562504 © Godruma –]

Ashwagandha supplement. Ayurvedic medicine. [ID 123257931 © Eskymaks –]