the-south-asian.com January 2004
Page 3 of 4
Ashwagandha: Wonder Herb of India
By Dr. Michael Tierra
In the TCM system, ashwagandha would be used as a Kidney Yang tonic because of its warming, aphrodisiac properties. In this, it is deeper acting than other herbs, such as the African yohimbe, the South America muira puama or the milder Central American damiana. One may have to take ashwagandha longer, at least a month, to notice its aphrodisiac effects.
The distinctive earthy odor and flavor of ashwagandha is due to the presence of certain steroidal lactones or Withanolides  . It is from this characteristic odor which its Sanskrit name, "like a horse", derives. While the largest majority of medicinal herbs are not particularly prized or known for their appealing flavor, ashwagandha for most may be promoted to the forefront of those herbs with the least taste-smell appeal. Fortunately, it is possible to formulate ashwagandha into pills, capsules and alcoholic extracts to create greater public acceptance.
Different people will have different reactions but for most, at first the reaction to taking ashwagandha even after a few days is a sense of increased warmth and more energy. As stated, eventually this further transmutes to heightened libido. For this reason, tonics like ashwagandha or ginseng are seldom prescribed to otherwise normal and relatively healthy adolescents or for that matter, otherwise normal individuals under the age of 40 years. Given specific signs and indications of chronic weakness and deficiency, ashwagandha is, however, specifically indicated for individuals of all ages. For such conditions, it is best to take ashwagandha in powder or alcoholic extract with warm scalded milk and honey.
So why is it that more people do not know or use ashwagandha? Mainly because it has not yet permeated the arena of the largely fad-driven natural supplements industry of the West. An important second reason is that many, including most Western herbalists, as yet do not fully understand and appreciate the many diametrically opposed and therefore, confusing therapeutic properties of this valuable herb. Supplements become best sellers when the industry can latch onto one specific attribute of a particular substance to popularize. This, unfortunately, has happened to many herbs such as Feverfew and St. Johnswort (Hypericum perfoliatum), both herbs having more extensive therapeutic properties than that for which they have become popularly known.
The issue of herbal marketing poses some further serious reservations among herbalists, not only because it can create a demand for a particular herb that can threaten its survival, as in the case of wild golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), osha (ligusticum porteri) and ladies slipper (Cypripedium pubescens), but also because of the tendency to create concentrated extracts to heighten certain drug-like effects. This has certainly been true of Chinese ephedra also known as Ma Huang which has epinephrine and pseudo-epinephrine alkaloids that are very similar to adrenaline. Ma Huang is traditionally one of the best herbs for treating asthma. However, by overly concentrating its herbal constituents, it is more drug-like with properties similar to meth-amphetamine, and it is in that form that it is abused in the popular herb market place included as a stimulant in herbal pep pills, diet formulas and even in pseudo-mind altering formulas. When prepared in this way, Ma Huang can be more of a health risk than a benefit. As a result of incidents implicating it as the cause of certain adverse reactions, the popular availability of the herb may be threatened as a result of stepped up legal restrictions.
Given the sensational tendency of marketing, the aphrodisiac effects of ashwagandha may take precedence over all its other outstanding properties. Ashwagandha should be considered as the premiere herb for all negative conditions associated with aging  . This includes its use for the prevention and inhibition of senile dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease  , low energy and arthritis  .
The other important properties of ashwagandha includes its traditional use as an alternative for detoxification, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antitussive (alleviating coughs), bitter (in small doses, stimulating appetite), sedative and as an overall rejuvenative.
Ashwagandha is specific for a wide range of conditions including arthritic inflammation, anxiety, insomnia, respiratory disorders including emphysema, asthma bronchitis and coughs, nervous disorders, gynecological disorders, especially functional female and male infertility and impotence. From this it would seem that ashwagandha should be considered for all immuno-compromised diseases including TB and AIDS, chronic upper respiratory diseases, degenerative symptoms attendant to aging, juvenile mal-development and growth, chronic neurological diseases especially anxiety, nervousness, depression and insomnia, weak digestion, fluid retention caused by lowered body metabolism and last but certainly not least, for low sexual libido.
Other Species and Parts of the Herb that are Used
So far, all discussion is about the use of the root which possesses the most valued tonic properties. However, the bitter leaves are used as a hypnotic in the treatment of alcoholism and to relax the spasms of the lungs for the treatment of asthma and emphysema. They can also be made into an anti-inflammatory poultice and topically applied for boils and carbuncles. Internally, as with so many other strongly bitter herbs, they are anthelmintic (clearing worms). The seeds of the fruits are diuretic and can be used as a substitute for rennet to curdle milk.
Ashwagandha Coagulans, a related species and occasional adulterant, primarily uses the inside kernel of the seed capsule containing "withanin" which is similar to rennet to curdle milk. "About a tablespoon of the mixture of seeds with a little milk (1 in 40) is enough to coagulate a gallon of milk in approximately a half an hour."  Alcohol will destroy the coagulating principle but the dried capsules can be used.
|Copyright © 2000 - 2004 [the-south-asian.com]. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.|