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Veterinarian Reviewed on June 6, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
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Ashwagandha Root Extract (Withania somnifera)

More popularly known as the Winter cherry or the Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is a plant belonging to the nightshade family, one of the most common vegetations found in India. Its many medicinal uses have made it very popular not just in Indian society but all throughout the world as well.


Withania somnifera is actually a very short shrub which grows to a maximum height of 75 cm. It has a medium sized stem which branches radiate around the central axis of the plant. The leaves form a star-like pattern when viewed from the top down. The entire stem is covered by wooly hair called tomentose. It has brown tuberous roots that are long and branching and is the main harvested portion of the plant and is actively cultivated in many towns all throughout India.

Origin and History of Ashwagandha

The plant is mainly found in India. And because it is a naturally growing shrub, it is also cultivated in homes due to its medicinal and therapeutic uses. The root of the plant is harvested and the extract is traditionally used to treat a number of health conditions.

Ancient Uses of Ashwagandha

The roots of the plant were mainly used for making traditional medicine. Old Indian beliefs claim that the plant possesses both aphrodisiac and anti-aging properties. It can also prolong life and bring back lost Energy. Aside from that, it has also been used to treat a number of medical conditions such as fatigue, diarrhea, body weakness, impotency, constipation and even memory loss.

Aside from the root extract, the berries of the plant were traditionally used for making cheese during the milk coagulation process. The leaves and the fruits were also used to treat wounds and ulcers and topical tumors.

Modern Uses

Recent studies merely confirm many of the claims made by traditional medicine books. Researchers have revealed that the root extract can effectively increase semen quality – affirming its claim to cure sterility and impotency. Studies also discovered that the extract contains a considerable amount of anti-oxidants which are the main defense against harmful free radicals. Free radicals attack healthy tissues and cause premature signs of aging.

The Ashwagandha root extract has also shown potential anti-cancer activity. Studies reveal that the extract possesses a certain compound that can inhibit the development of several colon cancer cells. Although tests are still ongoing, the compound discovered shows great potential for cancer treatment.

Aside from that, the root extract shows anti-depressive properties and is now a main active ingredient in a number of dietary supplements. It is a natural Stress reliever that so far, has produced no harmful side effects to patients.

Warnings and Side Effects of Ashwagandha

There have actually been scientific clinical tests performed to determine the side effects associated with the consumption of the substance. Results have showed no significant effects. However, there are also a number of unconfirmed reports that patients regularly using the substance have developed thyrotoxicosis, more commonly known as hyperthyroidism or the over stimulation of the thyroid gland and the over production of thyroid hormones. However, this is only in people who consume large amounts of Ashwagandha Root Extract over a prolonged period of time.

So is the Ashwagandha Root Extract a safe alternative medicine to use? The answer can only be yes if treatment is done with the advice and constant monitoring of a medical professional or herbalist.

Read also: Sodium Lactate

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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