Indian Ginseng: Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, known as the Ginseng of India, is an exotic herb. Also known as Winter Cherry, it comes from the root of a tall branching shrub with yellow-green flowers, cultivated in India and North America. The shrub is called Withania Somnifera. Ashwagandha calms and strengthens the nervous system, promotes sleep, helps arthritis, relieves weakness and clears the mind. It is considered a promoter of good health and well being for the entire body, similar to other “ginsengs”. However, unlike regular Ginseng, it has a sedative effect on the Central Nervous System. Regular Ginseng has a stimulant effect. Ashwagandha contains natural chemicals and flavonoids which calm the central nervous system and balance the systems in the body. It has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory as well, comparable to hydrocortisone. Ashwagandha contains the amino acids alanine, glycine, proline, tyrosine and valine which enhance brain function.

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in India as a folk medicine by Ayurvedic practitioners. It has undergone valid scientific testing and in a double-blind study in India, healthy males taking this Indian ginseng showed slowed signs of aging, less grey hair, lower serum cholesterol, and increased sexual performance. Indian scientists have also proven that Ashwagandha disrupts the ability of cancer cells to reproduce. Both skin and stomach cancer were slowed with its use. A test on rats in Germany showed that acetylcholine metabolism was affected in the brain by Ashwagandha. Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain and is essential for good memory and cognitive abilities. A recent Japanese study showed that the compounds in Indian ginseng reduced the growth of colon, breast and lung cancer. In India, Ashwagandha is used to treat geriatric patients, amnesia and as an antioxidant treatment, since its use has shown to increase three antioxidants: superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase. Other studies showed that Ashwagandha has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties against such bacteria as Salmonella.

Ashwagandha may be taken daily. So far no dangerous side affects have been reported with use in moderate dosages, which is 2-6 grams daily. It should not be taken by pregnant women, with sedatives or illegal drugs. It comes in various forms such as powder, liquid, tablet and dried root. Many health food stores carry it.