By Dr John Anne
Ashwagandha is an indigenous Indian herb, which is popular in the west as the Winter Cherry. The Indian name of the herb literally means ‘horse smell’ (ashwa = horse, gandha = smell). It is called so because its root smells like horse’s urine when wet. Ashwagandha is a small to medium sized herb, growing up to 1.5 meters at a maximum with small green flowers growing in clusters of about 25 in number. This herb is found in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, apart from India.
The main medical constituent of ashwagandha is somniferine, an alkaloid which is present in all parts of the herb. The oil extracted from its roots is composed of two constituents – a water soluble part and a water insoluble part. The water soluble part contains some sugar, while the water insoluble part contains fatty acids among other vital substances. Besides that, ashwagandha oil is also rich in tannin, glucose, potassium nitrate and several alkaloids.
The following curative properties of ashwagandha are made use of in Ayurvedic medicine:-
(i) Ashwagandha is best known for its stimulating properties on the libido. It is used as an aphrodisiac in men. For this reason, ashwagandha is also referred to as the Indian ginseng.
(ii) Ashwagandha is a mild hypnotic. It can be used in allaying pains.
(iii) Ashwagandha is effective in treating urinary ailments. It can facilitate easy flow of urine. Also it helps in opening the sweat pores, which make it possible to expel liquid wastes through perspiration.
(iv) Ashwagandha is an antibiotic and an antibacterial agent.
Ashwagandha is indispensable in various constituents of Ayurvedic medicine. The following are some ways in which it is used in treatment of diseases.
(i) Common Cold
Ashwagandha is used in opening up the respiratory tract and treating diseases that originate in the chest cavity. If a person has a common cold, then the powdered root of ashwagandha is taken in quantities of three grams. Decoction of the ashwagandha root is also popularly used. In a similar fashion, the berries and seeds of the ashwagandha are also used for resolving chest complaints.
The leaves of the ashwagandha are boiled in water and the steam is used to foment the eyes. This relieves the pain and the itchiness of sore eyes.
(iii) Digestive Disorders
Both dyspepsia and loss of appetite can be treated with ashwagandha. For this purpose, the roots of the herb are used. Ashwagandha pacifies the pitta dosha which is responsible for digestion and brings the body to a state of normalcy.
Due to its hypnotic properties, ashwagandha is prescribed to people who are not able to sleep soundly at nights.
(v) Loss of Libido in Men
Ashwagandha is an aphrodisiac, mostly for men. This is the curative property for which it is renowned all over the world. In order to increase sexual performance of men, Ayurvedic doctors prescribe taking three or four grams of the root with a vehicle like milk or ghee at least half an hour before performing the sexual act. For permanent treatment of these problems, a preparation of ashwagandha is made with sugar, honey, pepper and ghee. This is administered to the person once daily. In addition to increasing libido, ashwagandha can also treat male problems like spermatorrhea and premature ejaculation.
Ashwagandha is taken in doses of three grams per day for the treatment of geriatric problems such as rheumatism. The root of the ashwagandha is used for this purpose.
(vii) Skin Problems
Ashwagandha has very effective properties in the treatment of problems of the skin. Its roots and leaves are ground into a paste and applied externally for the treatment of carbuncles, ulcers and swellings. In case of boils and swelling, its leaves are warmed in water and used to foment the affected parts. For bedsores and wounds, ashwagandha leaves are boiled in fat or ghee and applied.
(viii) Sterility in Women
Ashwagandha can treat sterility in women and help them conceive a child. Its roots are powdered and taken in quantities of six grams with milk. This is taken for a week continuously after menstruation.
Ashwagandha has antibacterial properties, which are made use of in the treatment of syphilis. A paste of its leaves is applied on the syphilitic sores continually. This relieves the itchiness of the sores and treats the disease eventually.
In the treatment of tuberculosis, ashwagandha is used in the following manner. A decoction of its root is prepared with pepper and honey. This decoction is used in the treatment of tuberculosis. It is found to be especially beneficial in the treatment of scrofula, which is a painful tuberculosis of the lymph glands that manifests itself in the neck region.
Special Ayurvedic Preparations
The following are some Ayurvedic preparations in which ashwagandha is the main ingredient:-
(i) Ashwagandha lehya
Ashwagandha is made into a fine paste known as linctus. This is ashwagandha lehya which is taken for all the diseases that can be cured with the consumption of ashwagandha.
Ashwagandharishta is a very valuable extract of ashwagandha with several other herbs such as manjishta, yashti, arjuna, chandana, etc. It is used as a general tonic in several medical problems including debility, digestion problems and psychotic problems like hallucinations.
Ashwagandha is a very beneficial herb, but it must never be prescribed to pregnant women. The various chemical constituents of ashwagandha can lead to abortion of the fetus. Though it is used to correct sterility itself, its use must be discontinued as soon as the woman conceives.
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