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Withania somnifera

Common Name: Ashwagandha, winter cherry, withania, Indian ginseng
Arabic name: جذرالاشواغاندا
Family: Solanaceae
Parts Used: Root
Actions: Adaptogen, Sedative, Tonic, Immunomodulant, Nervine.
Taste: Bitter, Pungent, Sweet.
Energy: Drying, Warming.
Native To: India, Africa.

Geographic Distribution: India, Nepal, Pakistan, several Mediterranean countries, Middle East, Africa.

Botanical Description: Ashwagandha is a shrub that grows to about 2.5-5 feet high with a central stem. The leaves are ovate and alternate. Branches extend radially and are covered in fine hairs. The flowers are green on the outside and yellow inside. The ripe fruits are smooth, orange-red berries and are inside calyxes (papery coverings). The roots are long and brown.

History and folklore: Ashwagandha translates to “that which has the smell of a horse, as it gives the vitality and sexual energy of a horse” This name alludes to the root's strong odor as well as its use to restore strength and vitality, and to improve and enhance sexual drive. In the ayurvedic tradition, ashwagandha is most commonly taken as a powder mixed into milk, especially before bedtime.

Uses: Rather than working like an aphrodisiac, the root is believed to work gradually over time to lower stress levels that may inhibit the sex drive. Ashwagandha may also support fertility. Its nervine and adaptogenic actions make it a good choice for those with anxiety, stress, insomnia, and lack of energy.

Safety: It should be used with caution by those taking thyroid hormones and should not be taken by those with hyperthyroid disease. It may be useful for hypothyroidism, but should be taken under the care of a qualified health practitioner. Some cultures use ashwagandha as a tonic during pregnancy, but other cultures use it as an abortifacient. This effect may depend on amounts, parts used, and preparation. Those interested in using ashwagandha during pregnancy are advised to consult with an herbalist who has experience working with this herb during pregnancy. Avoid in cases of hemochromatosis and hyperthyroidism or if taking thyroid hormones.