Aswagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera , is a perennial plant that has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for numerous years. It is used to treat several conditions like stress, anxiety, anemia, arthritis, and others.
What is Withania somnifera?
Withania somnifera is a small, perennial woody shrub that belongs to the Solanaceae family. It is also known as winter cherry, and Indian ginseng. It is cultivated in the dry parts of sub-tropical regions, including India, Africa, East Asia, and the Mediterranean. The plant grows about 35–75 cm in height and has a central stem covered with wooly hair (tomentose).
The roots are the commonly used parts of the plant. The shrub has been used in the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine for treating various conditions, such as cold and coughs, diabetes, nervous disorders, and others.
What are the benefits of Withania somnifera?
Withania somnifera is considered a rasayana herb, that works to improve health and increase longevity.
Some of the uses of different parts of ashwagandha are given below:
- The roots: They are used for the treatment and management of stress, asthma, edema, bronchitis, leucoderma, anxiety, anorexia, asthenia, anemia, insomnia, neurasthenia, repeated miscarriage, impotence, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, memory loss, immune- dysfunction, rheumatism, carcinoma, arthritis.
- The leaves: They have been used to treat fever, haemorrhoids, wounds, tumours, tuberculosis glands, anthrax pustules, syphilitic sores, erysipelas, and in ophthalmitis.
- The fruits: They are used for the treatment of ringworm infection.
Apart from these benefits, the plant extracts are used for the treatment of skin problems, nervous exhaustion, coughing, osteoarthritis, and type 2 diabetes.
What are the medicinal properties of Withania somnifera?
The parts of Withania somnifera have good pharmacological value. The following are the medicinal properties of Withania somnifera:
- Anti-stress property: The extract of the plant possesses anti-anxiety and antidepressant effect.
- Anti-inflammatory activity: The plant extract exhibits anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory actions.
- Antibiotic activity: The extracts of the roots and leaves have antibiotic activity.
- Antioxidant effect: The root extract exhibits antioxidant property.
- Anti-aging activity: The extract of the plant has anti-aging property.
- Anticonvulsant property: The extract of the shrub has demonstrated anticonvulsant activity.
- Nootropic effect: The root extract has shown a nootropic effect.
- Antiparkinsonian property: The root extract, as well as the whole plant extract, exhibits antiparkinsonian activity.
- Immunomodulatory activity: The plant extract possesses immunomodulatory property.
- Anti-hyperglycemic effect: The plant extract along with other herbal extract has anti-hyperglycemic activity.
- Hypolipidemic effect: The fruit and the root extracts of the plant have a hypolipidemic effect.
- Sexual behavior: The plant extract exhibits properties to enhance sexual activity.
- Anti-carcinogenic activity: The extract of the shrub has demonstrated the anti-carcinogenic effect.
What are the side effects of Withania somnifera?
Withania somnifera is safe when taken at recommended doses for a short term. But the long-term safety of the herb is not understood. Large doses of the shrub can cause side effects such as:
- Stomach upset
Using Withania somnifera safely
Caution must be practiced while using ashwagandha in individuals with the following conditions:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Some studies have reported that ashwagandha causes miscarriages. On the other hand, not enough data is available regarding its use in lactating mothers.
- Diabetes: Withania somnifera might lower the blood sugar levels. This activity can interfere with the drugs used for diabetes and result in blood sugar levels to go too low.
- High or low blood pressure: Withania somnifera can reduce the blood pressure. The use of this drug can reduce the blood pressure too low in individuals with hypotension or interfere with the drugs used for treating high blood pressure.
- Stomach ulcers: The shrub can irritate the digestive tract and thus is not recommended in patients with a stomach ulcer.
- Auto-immune diseases: Withania somnifera can trigger the immune system, making it more active and aggravate the symptoms of auto-immune diseases.
- Surgery: The herb may slow down the central nervous system. This effect can be enhanced by anesthesia and other medications used during or after surgery.
- Thyroid disorders: Withania somnifera might increase thyroid hormone levels.