Blog written by: Dr Anju Balakrishnan
Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera belongs to the Solanaceae family that grows in India, the Middle East and parts of Africa. It is a branched shrub, and the stem is erect and covered with fine stellate hairs. The leaves are arranged alternately, and the flowers are found to be greenish-yellow. It has a tap root system. The roots and leaves are mainly used for therapeutic purposes.
Ashwa means horse, and gandha means smell. The root of Ashwagandha is having the smell of a horse, hence the name Ashwagandha. The drug also imparts body mass, strength and sexual ability like a horse. It is one of the widely used drugs in Ayurveda. In the classics, the drug has synonyms like gatrakari and balya since it improves strength. The leaf looks similar to the ear of a pig hence called varahakarni.
Ashwagandha is also known as putrada since it increases the chance of progeny. In Charaka Samhita, it is mentioned under Bruhmaniya (bulk enhancing), Balya (strength promoting) mahakashaya (Maha kashaya is nothing but a group of 10 drugs having similar properties).
In Ayurvedic classics, the drug is therapeutically used in kushta (skin diseases), vata roga, dipana, pachana (ignites digestive power and helps in digestion), jwara (fever), osteoporosis, infertility, etc.
The drug has potential hypoglycemic action and hence helps in treating diabetes. The drug also proved its action in improving sperm count, leucorrhoea (white discharge), rhinitis (running nose), depression, insomnia, weight gain etc.
According to Ayurveda, the drug is having katu (pungent), tiktha (bitter), and kashaya (astringent) taste. It has properties like snigdha (unctuous), laghu (lightness), virya (hot potency) and katu vipaka (pungent taste after digestion). It helps in balancing tridosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), especially kapha and vata.
The pharmacological action of the drug depends upon the properties of the drug. Pungent (katu) and astringent (kashaya) taste, along with hot potency (virya) and pungent taste after digestion (katu vipaka), are responsible for normalizing the kapha dosha, hence by beneficial in diabetes, weight control, etc. Bitter taste (tiktha) helps in balancing pitta dosha, which corrects sleep disorders and unctuousness (snigdha) is responsible for promoting strength. The Lightness (laghu) of the drug promotes easy digestion.
The main health benefit of the drug is that it improves strength and immunity and is hence, useful in muscle wasting, emaciation etc. It is useful in premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction and improves semen quality and quantity. It improves life expectancy and has anti-ageing properties. It can be therapeutically utilized in the conditions of cough, cold, asthmatic conditions, neurological and neuro-muscular disorders like paralysis. The drug is having detoxifying action. It brings down inflammation. It also relieves itching and can be used in conditions like leucoderma and intestinal worm infestations. The drug is also having diuretic action.
This drug is used as one of the substitutes for ashtavarga. Astavarga is nothing but a group of eight drugs, which is having rejuvenating action. Among them, kakoli (Roscoea purpurea) and ksirakakoli (Lilium polyphyllum) are substituted with ashwagandha since they have similar properties.
Ashwagandha has the ability to boost immunity. Research has been conducted to study the potential ability of Ashwagandha during Covid-19. Main proteinase (Mpro) plays an important role in the replication of viruses. It is proved that Withanone, the chemical constituent that is present in this drug, has the ability to block the activity of Mpro. The drug is rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are nothing but substances that can prevent or delay cell damage. The drug is therapeutically beneficial in respiratory tract diseases and fever. It builds immunity and strength and also relieves stress.
Studies prove that the drug is beneficial in hypothyroidism since it stimulates the thyroid by decreasing TSH and improves T3 and T4 levels. Few studies prove that the drug is beneficial in arthritis, musculoskeletal disorders etc.
For anti-viral and anti-diabetic action, herbal tea can be prepared out of the root powder (1 tsp) with 1 cup of water along with ginger, cinnamon and long pepper.
For promoting strength and fertility, 5 grams of root powder can be taken along with 1 cup of milk. It also enhances sound sleep and is beneficial for cognitive impairment.
It proves the drug Ashwagandha is having vast medicinal properties. There is a saying in Ayurveda which means “Even the poison if taken in a proper dose act as medicine, similarly a medicine can act as a poison if it is not taken in a given dose”. So consult an ayurvedic expert before going for self-medication with any drug.