Ashwaganda, also spelled ashwagandha, is a member of the pepper family known as Withania somnifera. The small evergreen grows in the frost-free drier parts of western India, northern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Ashwaganda grows to a height of 2–3 ft (about 1 m) and has oval leaves, showy yellow flowers, and red, raisin-sized fruits. All parts of the plant, including the root, are used medicinally. Ashwaganda is also called winter cherry, withania, asgandh, and Indian ginseng.
Ashwaganda is a major herb in the Ayurvedic system of health and healing. Ayurvedic medicine is a system of individualized healing derived from Hinduism that has been practiced in India for more than 2,000 years. It is a complex system that recognizes different human temperaments and body types. Each of these types has different qualities that affect a person's health and natural balance.
In Ayurvedic medicine, disease can result from any of seven major categories of factors: heredity, congenital, internal, external trauma, seasonal, habits, or supernatural factors. Disease can also be caused by misuse of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Diagnoses are made through questioning, observation, examination, and interpretation. Health is restored by evaluating the exact cause of the imbalance causing the disease or condition and then prescribing herbs, exercises, diet changes and/or meditation to help restore the natural balance of body, mind, and spirit. Prescriptions are highly individualized, so that the same symptoms may require different remedies in different people.
Ashwaganda is used to treat a great many different conditions in Ayurvedic medicine. Every part of the plant is used: leaves, fruit, flowers, and root. In addition, the
young shoots and seeds are used as food and to thicken plant milks in the making of vegan cheeses. The fruit can be used as a substitute for soap, and the leaves are sometimes used as an insect repellent. Although ashwaganda can be taken alone, it is more often combined with other herbs in tonics to enhance its rejuvenating effects.
Tish Davidson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,