Ashwagandha has long been prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners as a treatment for many physical and psychological problems; but before using it, it is important to know all the necessary details about it.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is the term used in Ayurveda for Withania somnifera; or more commonly known in the western world as winter cherry or poison gooseberry. This is one of the most widely used herbs in Ayurvedic treatments. The word is a Sanskrit term, and is coined by combining the word “ashwa” meaning “horse” with “gandha” meaning “smell”. This makes the meaning of Ashwagandha “the smell of horse”. The name is given to the plant for two reasons: one is that it smells like a horse, and second it is believed to give vitality and strength of a stallion to the user. In Ayurveda, it is regarded as a “rasayna” meaning “rejuvenation”. The herb is a common adaptogen; which means that it helps in coping under all types of condition.
Appearance and composition
The plant actually belongs to the family of tomatoes, and as suck it is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is a small shrub-like plant, with oval-shaped leaves and flowers. It carries yellow flowers, which form the small red berries. The plant is native to the drier areas of India, but is now cultivated in the US as well. Chemically, the plant is composed of amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, choline, alkaloids, and withanolides.
Ashwagandha and the tridosha
The taste of the herb in the six tastes falls in bitter and astringent. The impact of this on the tridoshas is that it increases Vata, while decreasing the other two, Pitta and Kapha.
Advantages of Ashwagandha
Here is a list of some of the major benefits of Ashwagandha:
- Immunity; it strengthens the immune system, and increases blood circulation.
- Sexual potency; the herb is often prescribed to improve sexual potency among men.
- Anti-inflammatory; the anti-inflammatory properties of the herb allow it to cure any skin ailment like pimples, rashes etc.
- Inflammation; it helps in reducing joint inflammations.
- Cleansing; the herb removes toxins from the body providing it with more vigour, health and vitality.
- Metabolism; it promotes insulin production, helping diabetics.
- Weight-loss; the removal of toxins and rejuvenation properties help in maintaining weight.
- Stress reliever; it is considered as a strong relaxant and antidepressant, lowering stress & anxiety.
- Anti-aging; stops cell degeneration and promotes regeneration in old as well as new nerve cells.
- Cancer fighting; the antioxidant properties have been observed to be effective in destroying tumours.
Ayurvedic techniques of using Ashwagandha
The roots, leaves and fruits of the plant are used in Ayurvedic diets & treatments. The herb is prescribed to be used in the following ways:
- Supplement: a dose of 600 to 800 mg is recommended, but this may vary according to the problem.
- Tonic: a tonic or tea can be made, and consumed twice a day; that is, in the morning and the evening. This can be made by boiling ¾ tsp of the herb in a cup of water or milk. This is cooked for 15 minutes.
- Oil: the oil is used a toner for skin after mixing it with a large amount of almond oil. Rose water is added for additional benefits.
- Topical cream: use a pumice to make a paste of the roots of the plant with water. This is then applied to reduce joint and skin inflammations.
- Household uses: the roots are added during boiling milk to remove any infects in it. The berries are used for making cheese and yogurt.
- In combination with other herbs: Ashwagandha can be used with other herbs in any of the above listed methods.
Precautionary measures – look before you leap
Although no definite results have been obtained regarding the side-effects of Ashwagandha, but certain Ayurvedic practitioners and medical specialists suggest certain precautionary measures and unwanted effects. These are:
- Allergies – before trying the herb as treatment, you should consult a doctor to ensure that you are not allergic to the plant, or any of the chemicals in it.
- Pregnancy – there is a slight risk of a miscarriage occurring by taking the herb during pregnancy. It should also be avoided during the breastfeeding phase; as it might affect the milk, and the hence the baby.
- Sleepiness – it has been known to cause the condition of sleepiness in some people.
- Ulcerations – the astringent nature of the herb can irritate ulcers in the large intestine.
- Autoimmune response – since it is known to enhance one’s immune system, the signs of autoimmune disease can also be enhanced.
- Risks during operations and surgeries – the relaxing properties of the herb might slow down the healing process, so a person should take the herb two weeks before any surgery.
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With so many uses and powerful, positive properties, when used properly it truly is a gift!