The term “adaptogen” appears to have been coined in the 1950s by Russian researchers for medicinal botanicals which seemed to increase resistance to stress and which were used to enhance the mental and physical stamina of Russian troops during World War II.
Among adaptogens, Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is extensively talked about in wellness circles, and its sales growth has been off charts recently. Unsurprisingly so, as its promises to help with anti-inflammation, insomnia, and libido make it attractive to anyone looking to brew a self-indulgent cuppa!
This herb is prominent in Ayurvedic medicine, and countless folk articles hail its curative powers. But knowing what Ashwagandha truly is and what you should realistically expect from this herb is what we will touch on.
First – What is it?
It is a fruiting shrub belonging to the nightshade family (think eggplant & tomatoes). Its earthy, sweet, bitter, and pungent roots contain a number of antioxidants as well as flavonoids, alkaloids, and steroidal lactones, all of which are thought to bring beneficial effects to the body. “Ashwa” means horse. Whether this refers to the smell of the root or its purported benefits has never been quite settled!
It is grown anywhere dry, although it prefers subtropical regions, and its broad growing range means that variations in the species exist, together with differences in efficacy. Don’t be surprised if ashwagandha from different sources seems to work (or not work) for you in distinct ways.
Lofty Claims? No, it is not going to bestow you with the vitality of a horse, but it is quite possibly going to relax you….
Of Ashwagandha’s many suggested beneficial effects, the most common is stress reduction. Its calming properties are thought to be due to its ability to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by our adrenal glands in response to stress (adrenal fatigue). One study showed that daily doses of at least 125 milligram taken for 1-3 months lowered cortisol levels in participants by 11 to 32%.
If you invest time to search for quality organic Ashwagandha, carefully noting its source and variety, you can expect to reap overall mood improvement benefits. If nothing else, the calming effects of drinking warm tea could very well be a placebo affect that might do you good!
But like most medicinal herbs, Ashwagandha offers a unique experience to each individual. Finding what is right for you comes from understanding your body and the herb, and from mindful (and careful) trial and error. While consumption of Ashwagandha has grown by leaps and bounds and it is loved by many herbalists around the world, wide ranging, vague, and lofty claims do make this herb oversold and misunderstood.
For instance, promises that Ashwagandha will help with insomnia or better sleep may be overstretched. For some, it might instead act as a stimulant, boosting energy and alertness causing sleeplessness… If it is increased libido you’re after, there’s a deeper underlying factor to resolve first. It is a shot in the dark in most cases and experimentation is very much required.
A Word of Caution
We cannot stress enough the importance of being choosy with your supplements. Pregnant women are advised from using Ashwagandha, and over 20% of some 190 surveyed products were found to be contaminated by lead, arsenic and mercury at levels deemed unacceptable for human daily intake. That number is likely higher as there is no strict standardization in the supplement industry.
Always get to know your herb and start with microdoses. Say No to herbal catfishing!