What Is Ashwagandha?


Ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions. It is most well-known for its restorative and rejuvenating benefits. In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb has the potential to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion. The root of the plant is also reported to have a smell reminiscent of horse sweat.

Traditionally, ashwagandha has been prescribed as a nerve tonic and adaptogen—an agent which helps the body adapt to various emotional and physical stressors. It has classically been used in India for nearly 5,000 years for conditions such as failure to thrive in children, weakness and debility in old age, rheumatism, constipation, insomnia, nervous conditions, stress, goiter, joint inflammation, parasites, hormone balance, and more. A paste made from the root powder applied topically can treat boils, ulcers, and other skin irritations and infections.

Ashwagandha is known to help people strengthen their immune system after illness, chemotherapy, or surgery. It is a highly effective, evidence-based remedy for anxiety and stress—by lowering cortisol levels and mimicking the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.

Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated.

Belonging to the same nightshade family as the tomato, ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States.

Why Use Ashwagandha?

Do any of these common symptoms sound familiar?

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low libido
  • Frequent illness
  • Anxiety
  • Low endurance (mentally or physically)
  • Joint pain
  • Neurological condition

The use of ashwagandha can help alleviate these symptoms and support an energetic and rejuvenating sense of well-being.

Benefits and Healing Effects

Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in Western herbal remedies.

Medical researchers have been studying ashwagandha for years with great interest and have completed more than 200 studies on the healing benefits of this botanical. Some key examples of the healing effects of Ashwagandha are:

  • Protects the immune system
  • Helps combat the effects of stress
  • Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
  • Reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
  • Helps reduce brain-cell degeneration
  • Stabilizes blood sugar
  • Helps lower cholesterol
  • Offers anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits
  • Contains anti-malarial properties
  • Enhances sexual potency for both men and women
  • May be an effective anti-tumor agent
  • Promotes new nerve growth

Organic Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha as an Adaptogenic Herb

In Ayurveda, there are specific herbs with adaptogenic benefits—ashwagandha is one of them. Adaptogens are substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and herbs) that modulate your response to stress or a changing environment. Adaptogens help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia.

How to Add Ashwagandha to Your Daily Diet

According to Ayurveda, our bodies are woven from food. The nutrients we ingest are metabolized into the energy and information that form our cells, tissues, and organs. Every day our bodies need essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to maintain our body’s delicate balance.

Ashwagandha is classically taken as a fine powder mixed in honey or ghee. In western countries, it typically ingested in capsule form. You can buy ashwagandha capsules in the Chopra Center Marketplace here.

The typical recommended dose is 500 to 1,000 mg. For people who suffer from insomnia and anxiety, having a cup of hot milk that contains a teaspoon of powdered ashwagandha or an ashwagandha capsule before bedtime is beneficial.

Medical Caution: Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before using Chopra Center signature supplements if you have any health conditions. Ashwagandha is not recommended for women who are pregnant.

Want to start integrating ashwagandha into your regimen? Taking supplements is always easier than mixing powders. Start taking this rejuvenating Ayurvedic herb daily with our signature ashwagandha supplement. Buy Now.


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About the Author

Jenna Saunders

Certified Instructor: Yoga; Meditation
Jenna found yoga as a student at Virginia Tech where she attended yoga classes at the on-campus gym. She moved to San Diego from the east coast after her graduation in 2008 and has grown to love the practice of yoga. Through her practice she discovered the healing benefits of yoga both on and off of the mat and hopes to help students learn about yoga beyond the physical asana practice. She completed a 200 hour teacher training with YogaWorks in April 2012 and the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga 200 hour teacher training with The Chopra Center in November 2014. Jenna is passionate about living a healthy...Read more