Ashwagandha also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, is a tonifying herb with spectrum of uses. This member of nightshade family (peppers, potatoes, tomatoes) is cultivated in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and displays small green flowers with an orange/red fruit.
Traditionally this tonic herb has been mainstay of the 5,000 Ayurvedic tradition of India and prized for a wide variety of uses. In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” and generally considered to provide the vitality and strength of a stallion.
Ashwagandha use as an herbal “adaptogen” can be traced back to at least 1,000 BC used by the Hindu sage Punarvasu Atreya, the personal physician of the king whose teachings formed the Charaka Samhita. Adaptogens are substances that support the body’s natural response to stress and balance normal body functions.
During the 1800s and 1900s, it was documented that Ayurvedic practitioners used ashwagandha. The tuberous root was pulverized and boiled in milk and then fermented, which is thought to extract fat soluble compounds like withanolides, thought to support brain function and alertness, relieve occasional stress.
Ashwagandha was ignored by much of the world outside India until 1960, when researchers discovered relaxing effects of fractions of ashwagandha root.
Today ashwagandha is well-known for its rejuvenating benefits which stem from its longtime use.
Recent studies are consistent with its traditional use. Several well-designed randomized clinical trials in recent years have found ashwagandha, mainly standardized root extracts, support energy and physical performance and immune function, all while supporting healthy sleep patterns. The constituent alkaloids, steroidal lactones and saponins have been found to calm the nervous system in animal studies.
Ashwagandha has gained adoption for use during extreme conditioning. In one study, mountaineers climbing for weeks at 17,000 elevation reported improved physical strength and sleep patterns.
As the Alternative Medicine Review stated in 2004 (1): “Studies indicate ashwagandha possesses rejuvenating properties… studies reveal that ashwagandha appears to be a safe compound.”
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