Plants were the precursor to modern pharmaceutical medicines. They have been used for thousands of years to treat various symptoms and ailments, often with successful results. One such plant with medicinal properties is ashwagandha – a popular shrub for traditional healers and naturopaths around the world. This plant has many health benefits, but it is most widely used as a remedy for stress and anxiety.
Its scientific name is Withania somnifera, but ashwagandha is also known as poison gooseberry, winter cherry or Indian ginseng. It has the ability to promote relaxation and calmness when ingested. The Latin name ‘somnifera’ means “sleep-inducing”, which points to ashwagandha’s ability to lower the heart rate and calm a stressed mind. These healing properties make the plant a possible solution for people looking for a natural remedy for stress, anxiety and tension.
Medicinal properties of ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is most widely used in Indian herbal remedies, but it is also popular in African and Chinese traditional medicine. According to WebMD, ashwagandha contains compounds that calm the brain, minimise swelling, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Research on ashwagandha shows that consuming an extract of its roots may improve symptoms of stress.
Other medical publications report similar test results. “[Ashwagandha] may be beneficial for certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and anxiety, but more research is needed,” writes Rena Goldman for Medical News Today. “It’s possible that ashwagandha has a calming effect on anxiety symptoms when compared to the drug lorazepam (a sedative and anxiety medication),” she continues.
A medical research paper titled An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda, was published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines. The authors, Singh, Bhalla, de Jager and Gilca, write that ashwagandha “showed significant protection against stress-induced gastric ulcers…and [is] useful in children with memory deficit and in old age people [with] loss of memory.”
Taking ashwagandha for stress and anxiety
In traditional applications, the roots of the plant are crushed and ground before being consumed. The leaves and gooseberry-like fruit can also be eaten. However, modern herbal remedies use ashwagandha in a powdered form that is mixed with water. This makes it easier to swallow and digest, allowing for faster results.
There are no major side effects of this medicinal plant and it is usually well-tolerated by the body in the correct dosages. However, some people may experience mild side effects such as headaches, drowsiness and stomach upset. Pregnant women should also avoid taking ashwagandha as there have been reports that it may promote the onset of early delivery. Always consult a qualified doctor before taking herbal remedies.
More information about ashwagandha
This medicinal plant is native to India, Nepal and China – although, small-scale crops may be found around the world, including South Africa. Ashwagandha is a perennial shrub, meaning that it lives for many years. It grows to a height of up to 75cm and produces dull green leaves that are elliptic in shape. The flowers are small, green and bell-shaped and produce a bright red gooseberry-like fruit.
Ashwagandha grows in stony soil that has good drainage in areas of partial shade. The roots have a strong horse-like smell that is unmistakable and this is where the plant takes its name. ‘Ashwagandha’ is a combination of the Sanskrit words ‘ashva’, meaning horse, and ‘gandha’, meaning smell.
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