Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

 There is an herb regarded as a 1st class adaptogenic tonic in one of the world’s greatest herbal medical systems, an herb which can compare favorably to the world’s most renowned herbal tonics such as ginseng, astragalus, dong quai, reishi mushroom and South American suma and like these has been held in high regard by generations of people over the course of millennia for its ability to increase vitality, energy, stamina, promote longevity and strengthen the immune system without stimulating the body’s reserves. It has the ability to nurture the nervous system, counteract anxiety and stress to promote a calm state of mind. This same herb, having powerful anti-inflammatory properties, is specific for treating arthritic and rheumatic conditions. As if all this were not enough, it is easily the most potent tonic aphrodisiac in the entire botanical kingdom. With all these uses, Withania somnifera, better known in India as ashwagandha, is destined to rise significantly and take its place with all the other better known tonics. Ashwagandha has been used for a wide variety of conditions ranging from male impotence, for which Withania is a near specific, to chronic vaginal discharge. I have noted that everyone to whom I have recommended the herb has either experienced significant improvement or has completely recovered from their chronic condition. Over the years I have noticed how herbs with more complex, seemingly opposite properties, such as ashwagandha, are generally the strongest and most useful. Unlike many tonics, ashwagandha is also anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-anxiety calmative and aphrodisiac. To herbalists, this seems strange since it is also a member of a family of plants that include the familiar belladonna and henbane, also well respected anti-inflammatory nervines but toxic and not particularly known for their nutritional tonic properties. This certainly qualifies ashwagandha as one of the most paradoxical herbs. Perhaps it is for this reason that so far it has not yet established itself with the equal esteem of the other more well known tonics mentioned above.  There is still one other highly significant and practical fact about ashwagandha. Most tonics like ginseng require special growing conditions and several years to develop their tonic properties (ginseng requires 7 years). Ashwagandha is unique as a tonic herb in that it is exceptionally easy to cultivate and is ready for harvest after only one year of growth. Perhaps if ashwagandha were used more, would relieve some of the threat of extinction from the wild of other highly popular herbs such as wild ginseng, golden seal, suma, and lady’s slipper for instance. This is not to say that any tonic can be substituted for each other, but too often, because of excessive commercial promotion, people are induced to overuse and misuse certain endangered herbs for purposes that another more common herb may even be more effective.  The unique properties of ashwagandha, while being an energy tonic like ginseng or Codonopsis for instance, is uniquely more beneficial for calming the mind, relieving arthritis and building sexual energy while ginseng and Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula also known as “bastard ginseng” because it is an acceptable milder substitute) is more specifically effective for low energy caused by digestive weakness. Astragalus, classified as another Qi or energy tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is stronger as an immune tonic. Again, these properties are equally shared by ginseng, Codonopsis and ashwagandha, but more indirectly because of their effects on other physiological systems. Ashwagandha is also useful for strengthening the female reproductive system for which it is commonly combined with another Ayurvedic herb called shatavari. The Chinese herb, dong quai, renowned as a blood tonic, is especially beneficial in gynecology for deficient blood conditions, anemia and irregular menstruation. The uniqueness of Ashwagandha is that it achieves its results through strengthening the nervous system and potential reproductive hormones. Also known in English as winter cherry, ashwagandha is one of the most highly valuable herbs in the Ayurvedic medical system. On another trip to India I met with several Ayurvedic doctors and heads of prominent Ayurvedic pharmacies. I decided to ask them the kind of inane question that I am often asked, “What do you think is the most valuable Ayurvedic herb?” There was an unequivocal answer that ashwagandha was at least equally regarded in Ayurvedic medicine as ginseng is in TCM. Because the primary quality and flavor of ashwagandha is sharp and pungent, this indicates that it is warming, raises metabolism, stimulates digestion, clears mucus and improves circulation. Unlike TCM, Ayurvedic also identifies a secondary post-digestive flavor, which for ashwagandha is sweet. It is this effect, which is not necessarily directly identified by one’s sense of taste, that occurs when a substance is converted into a still purer nutritive extract. Following this, the post digestive sweet flavor of ashwagandha represents its deep nutritive, hormonal properties as well as its ability to strengthen and nourish the nervous system. An even deeper and more profound transformation of food occurs after 7 days. This is when food is transformed into blood. Only after a month does the most refined essence of food transform into semen. It is at this deepest level that ashwagandha exhibits its profound aphrodisiac properties. In the TCM system ashwagandha would be used as a Kidney Yang tonic because of its warming, aphrodisiac properties. In this, it is deeper acting than other herbs, such as African yohimbe, the South America muira puama or the milder Central American damiana. One may have to take Ashwagandha longer, at least a month, to notice its aphrodisiac effects. The distinctive earthy odor and flavor of ashwagandha is due to the presence of certain steroidal lactones or Withanolides. It is from this characteristic odor which its Sanskrit name, “like a horse”, derives. While the largest majority of medicinal herbs are not particularly prized or known for their appealing flavor, ashwagandha for most may be promoted to the forefront of those herbs with the least taste-smell appeal. Fortunately, it is possible to formulate ashwagandha into pills, capsules, and alcoholic extracts to create great public acceptance. So why is it that more people to not know or use ashwagandha? An important reason is that many, including most Western herbalists, as yet do not fully understand and appreciate the many diametrically opposed and therefore, confusing industry can latch onto one specific attribute of a particular substance to popularize. This, unfortunately, has happened to many herbs such as Feverfew and St. Johnswort (Hypericum perfoliatum), both herbs having more extensive therapeutic properties than that for which they have become popularly known. Given the sensational tendency of marketeering, the aphrodisiac effects of ashwagandha may take precedence over all its other outstanding properties. Ashwagandha should be considered as the premiere herb for all negative conditions associated with aging. This includes its use for the prevention and inhibition of senile dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, low energy and arthritis. The other important properties of ashwagandha includes its traditional use as an alternative for detoxification, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antitussive (alleviating coughs), bitter (in small doses, stimulating appetite), sedative and as an overall rejuvenative. Ashwagandha is specific for a wide range of conditions including arthritic inflammation, anxiety, insomnia, respiratory disorders including emphysema, asthma bronchitis and coughs, nervous disorders, gynecological disorders, especially functional female and male infertility and impotence. From this it would seem that ashwagandha should be considered for all immuno-compromised diseases including TB and AIDS, chronic upper respiratory diseases, degenerative symptoms attendant to aging, juvenile maldevelopment and growth, chronic neurological diseases especially anxiety, nervousness, depression and insomnia, weak digestion, fluid retention caused by lowered body metabolism and last but certainly not least, for low sexual libido.  Other species and parts of the herb that are used So far, all discussion is about the use of root which possesses the most valued tonic properties. However, the bitter leaves are used as a hypnotic in the treatment of alcoholism and to relax the spasms of the lungs for the treatment of asthma and emphysema. They can also be made into an antiinflammatory poultice and topically applied for boils and carbuncles. Internally, as with so many other strongly bitter herbs, they are anthelimintic (clearing worms). The seeds of the fruits are diuretic and can be used as a substituted for rennet to curdle milk. The major biochemical constituents of ashwagandha from which its primary medicinal properties emanate, are based upon the actions of certain steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones in a class of constituents called withanolides. These serve as important hormone precursors which the body is then able, as needed, to convert into human physiological hormones. If there is an excess of a certain hormone, the plant based hormone precursors occupy the so-called hormone receptor sites, without converting to human hormones, to block absorption. In this way, ashwagandha, like other adaptogenic tonic herbs, is amphoteric and can serve to regulate important physiological processes, increasing or decreasing as needed. The term adaptogen was first defined by the Russians as a result of their extensive research on the tonic Siberian Ginseng. The definition of adaptogen is based on the following, according to Brekham: 1). Safety of the adaptogen’s action on the organism; 2). A wide range of regulatory activity, but manifesting its action only against the actual challenge to the system; 3). Act through a nonspecific mechanism to increase the nonspecific resistance (NSR) to harmful influences of an extremely wide spectrum of physical, chemical, and biological factors causing stress; 4). Has normalizing action irrespective of the direction of foregoing pathological changes. An adaptogenic herb of which ashwagandha would be a first rate example, allows one to adapt to a variety of is a class of herbs that allows one to adapt to a variety of heightened stressful circumstances. This will result in heightened stamina and endurance for athletic competition, the workplace and conditions of inclement and environment and weather conditions. With its ease of cultivation, there is hardly a reason that most people and certainly old age nursing homes does not have its own garden path of ashwagandha as a hedge, so to speak, against the ravages of aging decrepitude. Given the fact that for better or worse, more people are living longer in the world than any other time in its history, trying to save enough money in long term retirement accounts for a comfortable old age and at the same time sensing real concerns at the thought of dwindling governmental entitlement benefits, it seems imperative that everyone grow their personal supply of ashwagandha and learn how to prepare and take it. Besides over 3000 years of empirical experience, numerous studies on both animals and humans have attested to the anti-arthritis and mind calming properties of crude preparations of the herb. The combined alkaloids seem to exhibit calming, anti-convulsant and bronchial, tracheal and blood-vascular muscles. It is described as similar but considerably weaker that papaverine and phenobarbitone. by Dr. Michael Tierra at www.planetherbs.com/articles/ashwaganda.htm