By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb that's popular in the Ayurvedic tradition and has been used for more than 2,500 years. It's actually the most commonly used and extensively researched adaptogen herb, especially when it comes to helping the body adapt to fight the effects of stress.
This remarkable herb is recognized as the “king of adaptogens” because of its ability to generally deliver support for not only a healthy stress response, but also promotion of restful sleep and support for a positive mindset.
No wonder it’s gaining popularity in recent years as a beneficial approach to taking care of both of your body and mind.
What Is Ashwagandha?
The ashwagandha plant is botanically known as Withania somnifera root. It is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family.
The literal meaning of the word ashwagandha is "smell of horse" because the fresh roots of the herb are said to smell like a horse. As the story goes, it's believed that when you consume it, you may develop the strength and vitality of a horse as well.
Ashwagandha root is also commonly called Indian ginseng, winter cherry and somnifera root.
This root generally contains a number of beneficial compounds, including a group of steroidal lactones such as withaferin A, withanolide D and withanone that support a healthy immune system.
Additionally, it typically features flavonoids, catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione, alkaloids, amino acids, sterols, tannins and lignans. These compounds contribute to its potential benefits.
Something else to note about ashwagandha overall is its potential ability to positively affect general health by bolstering DHEA levels (often referred to as a healthy aging hormone) and balancing cortisol output (considered one of the body’s main “stress hormones”).
Importance of Choosing Organic Ashwagandha
When crops are conventionally grown, farmers typically use a variety of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers which are referred to as "processing agents.” While these agents can make the growing process easier, they often remain in and on the herbs, even after being washed.
There’s evidence from a number of studies and reports that consumption of such processing agents may contribute to unwanted effects; therefore, choosing organically grown herbs and foods is becoming more popular, since these agents are banned in organic farming.
Overall, when herbs are grown organically they tend to produce their own natural defenses against pests, and as a result these plants are, overall, more resilient and defense-supporting by nature. Organic herbs are thought to contain high amounts of sought-after compounds including antioxidants; therefore, they make a wise choice when choosing which herbs to use for the creation of supplements.
General Health Benefits
1. Supports A Healthy Response to Stress
One of the most well-known benefits of ashwagandha root, and why the herb has been used for thousands of years, is its ability to support a healthy response to stress.
If you’re looking for help getting more restful sleep, or if you’re experiencing a particularly stressful time in life, ashwagandha can provide you with remarkable support.
While more studies need to be conducted, one noted health journal found that supplementing with ashwagandha soothed anxiousness and stress scores and promoted concentration and social functioning.
2. Supports Energy Levels
Ashwagandha root can help to support healthy energy levels and helping the body have a healthy response to stress.
3. Supports Mental Clarity and Concentration
This traditional herb is often used to support mental clarity and concentration.
This benefit comes from the herb’s calming effects, which can help to keep your energy up and assist you in dealing with stress that can bring you down, as well as from compounds such as withanolides and powerful antioxidants like flavonoids that support mental clarity and concentration.
4. Supports a Positive Mindset
Ashwagandha supports a positive mindset. It does this by promoting a healthy response to stress and helping to promote an overall positive outlook.
5. Supports More Restful Sleep
Because it helps to support the body to adapt to stress, ashwagandha also works to support more restful sleep.
6. Supports Healthy Joints
Dealing with ongoing stress and a lack of sleep can both take a toll on your overall mobility and comfort level. Adding ashwagandha to your daily routine is a simple way to support healthy joints, plus it can help you to get the rest you need to feel motivated and energized.
Best Ashwagandha Supplement
The most popular form of ashwagandha is the root extract, but leaf extracts are also available and used in combination with root extracts. You can find the herb used in the following types of products:
- capsules or tablets
- teas and other beverages
When purchasing ashwagandha supplements, make sure of the following:
- It’s standardized for human consumption
- The withanolide content should range from 1 percent to 10 percent
- It’s a high-quality supplement produced under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP)
- It’s organic, non-GMO and fermented
Ancient Nutrition’s offers a USDA Certified Organic Ashwagandha supplement that’s taken in one convenient daily tablet. Each serving provides 800 milligrams of a combination of organic ashwagandha root and leaf.
The organic ashwagandha featured in this formula has also been fermented to help break down the herb into more absorbable components — effectively “pre-digesting” them to help with absorption. Additionally, organic Black Pepper Fruit is added because it generally helps improve absorption and digestion of herbs, including ashwagandha.
When supplementing with an organic ashwagandha powder or other product, the general recommendation is starting with 300 to 500 milligrams per day, which is typically about one capsule or tablet.
Each product is a bit different, so always read and follow label directions as well as consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle routine, including supplementation.
You may find that ashwagandha doesn't have the most appealing smell, but if you choose to use it in powder form, you can mix it with other foods or drinks to make it more pleasant and create a tasty tonic. For example, try adding ashwagandha powder to energy ball recipes, a turmeric or pumpkin spice latte, or even to your favorite smoothies.
Drinking ashwagandha tea is another popular way to consume the herb; add a little organic honey and cinnamon to improve the flavor, or try it in herbal tea that has an already somewhat strong taste.
There is no specific time to take ashwagandha, but you’ll maximize benefits by taking it consistently.
How long does it take for ashwagandha to work? It can vary from person to person and even product to product.
You should always read and follow label directions when taking any herbal supplement. Consult your healthcare professional before beginning any new wellness regimen, especially combining several supplements or taking them along with prescribed medications.
- Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used in ancient traditions for thousands of years.
- It’s most well known for helping the body to adapt to stress, plus it can promote a positive mindset and more restful sleep, support healthy energy, and help promote mental clarity and concentration, as well as healthy joints.
- Ancient Nutrition’s USDA Certified Organic Ashwagandha is available in a convenient once daily tablet formula that features fermented, organic ashwagandha root and leaf to help with absorption and utilization of the herb’s beneficial compounds.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the just released Ancient Remedies.