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What Is Ashwagandha Root?

By Robin Coe

Ashwagandha root is often referred to as Indian ginseng even though the plant is a member of the pepper family. This is because it contains many attributes and compounds that make it similar to panax ginseng. The herb is used as a tonic for stress and general well-being. It is popular in Ayurvedic medicine because it reportedly works synergistically with other herbs.


There are actually two plants that are known by the name of ashwagandha, according to the Tillotson Institute. Nepalese convolvulus is native to India and Africa, and most often found in Nepal. The other plant is known as Withania somnifera, and is the one most used today and known as Indian ginseng. The ashwagandha that originates from India and Africa, Nepalese convolvulus, is the one that is believed to be referenced in old Sanskrit texts that list its healing benefits. Its effects are much stronger than Withania somnifera. The ashwagandha plant is a bushy perennial plant. The white roots are the part that is used medicinally. The root has a bitter taste.


Ashwagandha has been considered a rejuvenating health herb for over 3,000 years in India, according to Steven Foster and Rebecca Johnson, authors of "National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine." Ashwagandha increases energy while also strengthening the nervous system. According to the Tillotson Institute, the root is used to strengthen the immune system, support the adrenal glands and nourish the thyroid glands. It helps to improve memory and cognition, as well. In Africa, the herb is traditionally used for inflammation and fevers, according to the University of Michigan.

Side Effects

Ashwagandha is, for the most part, a safe herb to use. It should not be used in conjunction with barbiturates, according to the Tillotson Institute. Ashwagandha is also safe for children. It has been given to children in India safely. According to Foster and Johnson, it was shown to improve body weight and red blood cell count in children who took 2 g of the herb a day for 60 days. The herb should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women because the effects of ashwagandha under these circumstances have not been well researched, according to the University of Michigan.


Typically, the root of the ashwagandha plant is taken in capsule or tea form. The tea is made by simmering 3/4 to 1 tsp. of the ground root in boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes, according to the University of Michigan. The tea can be taken up to three times a day. The root can also be taken as a tincture using the same measurements and frequency. Traditionally, the root was mixed with an equal amount of ghee in India. Up to 3 tsp. of the mixture was given to children to increase their weight, according to Foster and Johnson.


Ashwagandha has been shown to posses anti-tumor, anti-stress, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a review of studies published in “Alternative Medicine Review." The adaptogens present in ashwagandha also may help with other health issues because of its ability to adapt to disease, according to the article. In another study published in the “Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology," the root was found to reduce hepatic lipid oxidation in the liver, which can lead to cancer and to stimulate the thyroid glands.

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