Ashwagandha: The Chill-Out Herb
by Eva Dusch
‘This is my absolute favourite’, ‘I love this herb’ and ‘A powerful gift of nature’. When it comes to Ashwagandha the verdict is not to be taken lightly. This chill-out herb seems to be in everyone’s supplement stash. Why? It helps us thrive in the modern world. And yes, that’s already challenging enough.
But having a huge interest in this seemingly magical root doesn’t always translate into knowledge. Here in the West, we’re just getting familiar with it, though Ashwagandha has stood the test of time: it has been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions to not only manage stress-related conditions but also help with chronic fatigue, insomnia and adrenal fatigue.
In Ayurveda, it is known as 'Rasayana' meaning rejuvenating or that which gives rasa. It’s the best rejuvenating herb and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness. It works particularly on the muscles, marrow, semen and for Vata constitution. It nourishes the nervous system (and so the mind) and enhances energy and strength.
Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family—the same family as tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. It holds a place in the Ayurvedic pharmacy similar to ginseng in Chinese medicine, but far less expensive.
The ‘battery-charging’ effect
Feeling overwhelmed? Anxious? Frazzled? On edge? Nothing unfamiliar nowadays, but it doesn’t mean you ‘just have to deal with it’. Instead, it’s a clear sign that your body and mind need support and balance. Ashwagandha replenishes your storehouse of energy so you can be productive, alert, and focussed without pushing it as sharp as coffee does.
The warming, heavy, unctuous qualities of Ashwagandha make it the perfect antidote to the rough, mobile and cold qualities of our go-go-go mentality and quick pace of living. It helps you overcome fatigue when you are feeling worn-out and exhausted, will help to curve the 4 PM slump and brings relaxation after a stressful day.
Ashwagandha is just as Tulsi (Holy Basil) (another great herb!) an adaptogen. Thank you for this fancy-schmancy word, but simply put plants that keep us calm. They help the body resist physiological and psychological stress by adapting - what’s in a word - to the needs of the body. Ashwagandha can help you stay calm and collected in situations in which you otherwise would have flipped out completely yet at the same time it gives a steady dose of energy. This dual-action of both energizing and calming make it so unique.
Often the environment in which a plant grows already says it all. Ashwagandha’s ability to help the body adapt to stress is reflected by its ability to thrive in very dry conditions in poor-quality soils. Most plants would suffer from severe stress in such an environment but Ashwagandha can thrive. How amazing is that!
Now, the name Ashwagandha already has many people go ‘ashwa-what?!’, how about it’s beautiful Latin name: Withania somnifera. Somnifera means sleep-inducing in Latin, showcasing another helpful quality. It is calming and promotes deep, dreamless sleep, according to dr. David Frawley. By nourishing and strengthening a weakened and over-anxious nervous system, it can help you relax and drift off into sleep even while thoughts keep swirling in your mind. It might also improve the quality of your sleep.
The story goes that Ashwagandha - considering it’s Sanskrit name that translates as ‘the strength of a horse’ - bestows the vitality and sexual energy of a horse on the person who is taking it. Va-va-voooom, that’s quite something if you think about it. So, this herb can also have benefits when it comes to libido and fertility. Ashwagandha is used by both men and women as a reproductive tonic, but it is specifically known for revitalizing the male reproductive system. It can increase sperm count and sperm motility. The root powder will be mixed with honey and ghee or taken as medicated ghee.
Ashwagandha is good for weak pregnant women as it helps to stabilize the fetus. It also regenerates the hormonal system. It can be taken with raw sugar and ghee.
After birth, it is important to take extra care of the nervous system. This can be through abhyanga (applying oil to the body), but also by taking good herbs like Ashwagandha. According to our teacher, Victoria Raven Hyndman Ashwagandha is your best friend for at least the first 6-12 months after giving birth. To strengthen the nervous system, the whole physical body and the mind, giving it much more relaxation and stability. Note: this goes for the mom and dad!
If you are curious about how Ashwagandha can help with your health and wellbeing, it is best to consult an Ayurveda Practitioner first. Although it’s a great example of a herb that can be taken for longer periods of time when consumed in moderate doses, that doesn’t mean you should drink your oat milk latte with Ashwagandha for the rest of your life (sorry).
One of the best ways to consume Ashwagandha is by drinking it with warm milk. Vata types can sweeten their ashwagandha milk with some maple syrup or raw sugar and add a pinch of nutmeg to enhance its sleep-inducing properties. Kapha types, for you it’s best to add some honey and cardamom or pippali. People with a Pitta Prakriti or serious Pitta imbalances should be careful. High Pitta conditions notably include excessive hunger or perspiration, burning sensations, and bleeding disorders. Try taking it with sugar (cane or sugar candy) which adds a cooling effect, otherwise choose the cooling herb Shatavari.
Another simple way is to make your own herbal tea. Take a teaspoon of its powder and add it to a cup of warm water, boiled for 3-5 minutes. Filter and drink. If you wish, you can add other healthy herbs such as Guduchi, ginger, long pepper or cinnamon. Or take the capsules (1 tablet once or twice a day), before or after food.
Some people feel a burning sensation when it’s consumed before eating or on an empty stomach. In that case, it’s best to take it 30 minutes after food.
It’s better NOT to take Ashwagandha in cases of high Ama, excess Pitta, congestion or low energy due to Kapha dosha.
The Yoga of Herbs by Dr David Frawley
You can find Pukka Ashwagandha capsules at the Delight Store in Delight Yoga Amsterdam and Den Haag.
It’s when we look beyond the gross outer layers of life that we find our way to the more subtle layers that can shift your whole being and perspective on life. That’s how it felt when Eva encountered the path of Ayurveda. After years of practising yoga and meditation, it was the cherry on the cake. The foundation she was looking for, that connects everything. No matter where you go. After working for years as a writer and freelance journalist, she took a big break in 2016 to travel the world. She went to all corners of the planet, living in New Zealand and South America for a while. As unstable and challenging the circumstances sometimes were, it was through yoga and Ayurveda that she found stability, balance, and inner peace. Something she brought back home with her when she returned to Amsterdam in the spring of 2019. That same year, she started her journey with the Delight Academy to deepen her knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda. Her motivation to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner is to help people reconnect with their bodies and inner knowing again. Encouraging them to take their health into their own hands, using nutrition, awareness, and balance as tools. She believes in conscious, healthy, and joyful living inspired by the beauty and depth of Ayurvedic wisdom and holistic philosophies. Photo credit: Kiki Reijners