Botanical name: Withania somnifera
Other names: Indian ginseng, Winter cherry
Withania somnifera / herb info from the Happy Herb Company

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Ashwagandha is one of the most widespread herbs used in India, where it holds a position of importance similar to ginseng in China.

Commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, practitioners have been using ashwagandha for thousands of years in oral and topical preparations as a general tonic and for a variety of health disorders. Ayurvedic medicine considers ashwagandha an immune system booster, as explained by the Chopra Center. The Center notes that the Sanskrit word "ashwagandha" means "the smell of a horse," symbolizing the strength and vigor of a stallion.

Ashwaganha is traditionally prescribed to strengthen the immune system after an illness. It acts mainly on the reproductive and nervous systems, having a rejuvenative effect on the body. It is also used to treat nervous exhaustion, debility, insomnia, wasting diseases, failure to thrive in children, impotence, infertility and multiple sclerosis.

It is well-known as a natural sedative and general stress reliever. The active compounds in ashwaghanda have anti-anxiety, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-arthritic properties that may be effective in reducing stress caused by physical and emotional fatigue; increasing mental alertness, focus and concentration; relieving nervous tension and anxiety; invigorating the body; decreasing inflammation and balancing out and leveling mood swings.

Ashwagandha appears to inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX), the same mechanism of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Other uses are that the fruit is rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute, and also that the leaves are an insect repellent. 

Precautions / Contraindications: 

As with all herbal medicines, ashwagandha should be used carefully, and only under the advice and supervision of your health-care provider. * Some caution is advised in the use of this plant since it is toxic when eaten. * Researchers concluded that despite its reputation as an aphrodisiac, ashwagandha may be detrimental to male sexual competence. * Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha at all costs because it may induce abortion. This herb should also not be used in conjunction with prescription medications such as benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors because they may cause excessive drowsiness.

Michael Tierra (1988), Planetary Herbology, pp. 309
Image: by JMK (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons