what is ashwagandha?
The root has been touted to have all sorts of benefits, but what is ashwagandha? We’ll tell you everything you need to know here
image SpongeBob SquarePants / Paramount Pictures
words Rhys Thomas
Ashwagandha, it’s picking up traction. TikToks of people explaining and reviewing it are clocking up hundreds of thousands of likes and millions of views; endless products from coffees to gummies to straight-up capsules of the stuff.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha isn’t new, though. Sometimes known as “winter cherry” and going by the proper name of Withania Somnifera, it’s an evergreen shrub that grows across India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. It’s a cute little shrub often described as tender, and grows about two and a half feet tall. The fruit is a vivid orangey-red colour, but the root is what we’re here to talk about.
“The main health properties come from the root of the plant.” Says Maya Quadir, co-founder of a botanical-based wellness company Super Botanic. You can prepare it in a lot of ways, they generally involve boiling it in some way, and drinking the water as a tea, or grinding it down into a powder and taking in capsule form, or mixing it into a drink.
Ashwaghanda was used heavily in Ayurvedic medicine (the ancient Indian medical system) and still is to this day, both for physical and mental health issues – everything from sleep to energy. The name actually comes from Sanskrit, meaning “smell of the horse” partly due to the scent, which is, uh… horsey. It’s also possibly called this because in the restorative benefits were said to give you the strength of a horse (not literally)
So the health benefits?
Yeah, the reason ashwagandha is a word you now know is because there are reportedly signs, indications, and a study called "Safety and clinical effectiveness of Withania Somnifera (Linn.) Dunal root in human ailments" in the National Library of Medicine, says there’s evidence of big health benefits to consuming this curious little root. This is mainly to do with cognitive effects.
“Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens are plant substances that work to reduce the negative effects of stress on your body and bring it back to balance. Several studies have shown that ashwagandha can help reduce stress and anxiety as well as promote good quality sleep.” Says Marillia Chamon, a registered Nutritional Therapist and Gut Health Specialist. It’s said to reduce stress by being able to control mediators of stress, including heat shock proteins, and cortisol. There’s a fair few more reported benefits from the National Library of Medicine, too. From improving sleep through to improving maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max). It seems, that unlike many other substances, ashwagandha is able to both relax the body while increasing strength. It also leans into nootropic properties by possibly helping with focus and memory quality.
But more often than not, the calming, stress-reducing properties of the clever little root are why it’s becoming popular to consume. And as Chamon says “People who are feeling stressed or anxious might benefit from taking ashwagandha, stress will not disappear but it may help you feel more relaxed.” There is evidence suggesting it could even help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Also, the reason people on immunosuppressants aren’t advised to take ashwagandha is because it might help to increase our immune system’s activity, which can be a good thing for some.
How do you take ashwagandha?
It’s important to invest in the KSM 66 form of ashwagandha. According to Quadir it’s “the most clinically studied ashwagandha with the highest concentration of all major root only extracts available on the market today.” When you take it is sort of up to you, morning or night work equally well – consistency is key. As with anything, follow the recommended dose, unless a doctor has provided you with an alternative. You can find the powerful plant in a big variety of forms too. As a straight-up powder sure, but also in oil form, as part of a chewable gummy, and more.
Is ashwagandha safe to take?
There is a risk associated with pregnant people taking it, as well as people on immunosuppressants. Rare side effects including upper gastrointestinal discomfort, drowsiness, and diarrhoea have also been reported. Very much ideal, but also rare. That aside, "it’s possibly seen as being safe to take short term however long term effects are not known we cannot be sure of the risks associated with taking the adaptogen over a long period of time." Says Dr Rachel Clarkson, a registered nutrigenomic dietician. She adds "it is advised that you consult with your physician."
Where can I find ashwagandha?
It’s increasingly popular in health food stores, and there’s plenty of it online. But for some solid (and tasty) options tried and tested, have a look here:
pure good stuff
If you just want the powder plain and simple, this ashwagandha from Wunder Workshop is made from the highest quality root there is (and also the most studied). Simply add 1/2 tsp (500mg) of the powder to hot water, coffee, tea, or any other liquid.
for feeling as strong as a horse
High Flyer Stack Nutrient Gummies
Often ashwagandha is found in combination with other adaptogenics to offer you one product with a rounded set of benefits. If you're curious about ashwagandha for helping energy levels, this 3D-printed gummy from Nourished might be the trick. High Flyer provides your mind and body with all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients it needs, to keep your day as uninterrupted as possible while the adaptogenics help us to feel calm and focussed throughout the day.
If you're looking more for just chill and energetic vibes as opposed to needing the energy to run around all day, this happy formulation might be best for you. Here you'll also find rose petal, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm and gotu kola – a load of happy calming chilled out plants and flowers, basically. A couple drops now and then is all you need!
CALM & COLLECTED
For similar affects without having to drop oil under the tongue, these capsules are ideal. They're again full of natural adaptogenic goods like Lion's mane mushroom and seagreens, it's a potent pill that's designed to help you feel naturally calm and collected.
the right kinda sleeping pill
As with the tincture we mentioned, this is a capsule full of goods. Ashwagandha of course, and chamomile. But also magnesium, a mineral many of us don't get enough of that helps with sleep, and cherry!
Wellness (Ashwagandha) Gummies
Support wellness for your mind and body with these tasty Ashwagandha gummies. Chew 2 gummies every morning for a stress-free day.
take a chill pill
Innermost's Relax nootropic capsules contain six research-backed ingredients that are specially designed to help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Take two of these bad boys daily to improve your mood, ease your anxiety and get a great night's sleep.
On top of all its other properties, Ashwagandha is also considered an aphrodisiac! A few drops of this invigorating blend is all you need to light your inner fire and reconnect with your sensual side.
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