In the age of superfoods, it seems there are constantly new names and ingredients for the health conscious to be in the know about. The latest craze, ashwagandha, isn’t a fad at all, but rather an ancient Ayurvedic medicinal herb that’s been around for years.
Not to worry—we touched base with Peter K. Raisanen, N.D., a naturopathic physician to break down what’s essential about this plant and how it could benefit your day-to-day.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as Withania Somnifera, is an herb that comes from the Solanaceae (a.k.a. nightshade) family, explains Raisanen.
In Ayurvedic medicine—a form of ancient Indian medicine that’s all about natural healing—ashwagandha is an all-star. The highly-revered herb has been used for millennia, says Raisanen.
“The root is the portion of the herb used for the medicinal action,” Raisanen says. It can come in the form of bulk herb (the full physical root), tincture of root (alcohol), ground root in tea, or ground root in a capsule form, he explains.
Ashwagandha’s Traditional Uses
In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is known as an adaptogen, which is a type of plant extract believed to promote a healthy stress response in the body. “They work through a variety of body systems, especially the endocrine, immune, and central nervous systems,” says Raisanen.
Traditionally, the herb has been used in response to stress and anxiety. According to Raisanen, ashwagandha helps to boost the nervous system and is often beneficial for those dealing with excess or chronic stress.
A study published in The Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that when people under chronic stress supplemented with 300 milligrams of ashwagandha (in capsule form) a day for 60 days, they experienced a decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reported improved feelings of well-being.
Plus, ashwagandha may promote strength gains from exercise. One study published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that men who supplemented with 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day while following an eight-week strength training program saw greater increases in muscle strength compared to those who didn’t take the herb.
What To Know Before Supplementing
Since ashwagandha is an herb, there’s no single recommended dosage. Raisanen recommends either three to six grams daily via one cup of tea one to three times a day, one to three teaspoons of tincture in water, or one gram via a capsule.
According to Raisanen, ashwagandha may affect autoimmune diseases and interfere with immunosuppressive drugs, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center warns pregnant women and those taking sedatives against supplementing. It’s best to touch base with your doctor to find out the right dosing for you before you start supplementing.