Withania somnifera is a plant from the nightshade family native to the Indian subcontinent. It’s more commonly known as ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, or winter cherry (not to be confused with Physalis alkekengi).
It is a fairly small shrub with small pale green flowers, simple leaves and red berries. It has a tuberous root, carrot or ginger shaped. It also has a distinct smell, described as horse-like, which is where it gets its name, ashwagandha; Ashwa is Sanskrit for horse and gandha for smell. As one of its qualities is that it’s strengthening, it’s also said to impart strength of the stallion.
It’s always been revered in Ayurveda and other traditional medicine practices. It’s fast gaining popularity once again, as scientific studies are proving what the traditional medicine has always stated about the plant’s many medicinal properties.
Most of the benefits are from the root and the leaves. The leaves are most commonly used in teas. The root can be taken in many ways but it’s most commonly dried, powdered and taken as a supplement these days.
It’s used to treat arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, tumors, tuberculosis, asthma, leukoderma (a skin condition marked by white patchiness), bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, hiccups, and chronic liver disease, stress, focus, stamina and strengthening.
Research has been done on the plant and found it to have many of these healing properties. It has been found to:
Reduces blood sugar levels
Adding ashwagandha was found to increase insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity and thus lower blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes.
Many experiments have shown that ashwagandha is a potent medicine against cancer. It’s been found to reduce the growth of new cancer cells and induce death in pre-existing cancer cells. Most of these findings have been on animal studies and it has yet to be tested on humans, but the data looks promising to treat several cancers. One experiment on mice found 70 to 80 per cent reduction in tumor growth and complete inhibition of metastasis to other organs compared to untreated controls. The study was conducted by NCBI, US National Library of Medicine.
Improves heart health
It has been found to significantly reduce the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream. Both animal and human studies have confirmed this, though the effect is far stronger in animals than it is in humans. Still it reduced levels of cholesterol by an average of 17 per cent and levels of triglycerides by an average of 11 per cent in a 60-day study of chronically stressed adults.
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