Ashwagandha, also known as the Indian ginseng, is renowned for its medicinal value and considered a true gift of nature. A rejuvenative herb, it promotes energy and vitality and has been used for centuries for its restorative properties to remedy conditions of weakness. This ‘White Cherry’ improves the body’s ability to adapt to various types of stress. It is especially beneficial in disorders such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes and general debility. It is known as Asgandh, Punir and Askandhatilti in Hindi, Amukkira and Amukkiran Kizhangu in Tamil, Asvagandhi in Telgu, Kiremaltinagida in Kannada, Varahakarni in Sanskrit and Trittavu in Malayalam. A widely found wild plant, Ashwagandha proliferates in different climatic regimes of the Indian sub-continent, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and North Africa. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small erect, woody, perennial, much branched shrub that grows upto about 1.5 m in height. It is now widely cultivated in wet, irrigated areas of Karnataka, U.P, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, M.P, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana and in Orissa. The plant can be easily reproduced from seeds and has been found to grow well in sandy loam or light red well-drained soils. The plant is hardy even in drought conditions and resistant to major pests.
Active Constituents in the root
The curative properties of the plant lies in its root. Ashwagandha’s roots are alterative, aphrodisiac, deobstruent, diuretic, narcotic, sedative and restorative in nature. The total alkaloid content in Ashwagandha reportedly varies between 0.13 and 0.3, though much higher yields (upto 4.3 percent) have been recorded elsewhere. Many bio-chemical heterogeneous alkaloids including choline, tropanol, pseudotropanol, cuscokygrene, 3-tigioyloxytropana, isopelletierine and several other steroidal constituents are found in the roots. From these constituents, sitoindoside and withanolide, the biologically active compounds containing glucose molecule at carbon 27 are derived. Two main withanol ides, withaferin A and withanolide D. are therapeutically viable. In addition to alkaloids, the roots are reported to contain starch, reducing sugars, glycosides, dulcitol, withancil, an acid and a neutral compound. The amino acids reported from the roots include aspartic acid, glycine, tyrosine, alanine, glutamic acid and cysteine.
Pharmacological studies in India and other countries reveal Ashwagandha’s tremendous medicinal importance. A valuable herb in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for over 3000 years, its roots, leaves and fruits (berry) possess tremendous medicinal value. Touted to be the most famous Ayurvedic rejuvenative botanical product used in many tonics and formulas, Ashwagandha helps maintain proper nourishment of the tissues, particularly muscle and bone, while supporting the proper function of the adrenals and reproductive system. It is an exceptional nerve tonic and nourishes the nerves and improves its function to maintain calm during stressful conditions. It helps in providing progressive, long lasting results for various health concerns like aging, anaemia and slow growth, arthritis, fatigue, waning memory, encourages fitness and stress-disorders. Pharmacological research has also indicated that Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and haemopoeitic properties. Ashwagandha is high in iron and increases haemoglobin content in blood. The red berries are tonifiers that improves blood circulation and absorption of nutrients by the cells in the body. It is also used in spermatorrhea, to cure low sperm count, penile erectile dysfunction, female sterility and leucorrhoea. The leaves of Ashwagandha reportedly possess anthelmintic and febrifuge properties that are used for treatment of piles. A decoction of leaves may be used both internally and externally. An infusion of leaves may also be administered for fevers.
Claiming that the Ashwagandha has no side effects, Bhubaneswar (Orissa) based renowned Ayurvedic Physician Dr. S. N. Pattnaik says that so far it is the best remedy for stress related disorders. “It’s anti-stress adaptogenic action leads to better physical fitness and helps to cope with life’s daily stress”, he said. “Stress related patients nowadays prefer the herbal tranquilizer-Ashwagandha”. While outlining it’s innumerable medicinal importance, Associate Director of Research at Regional Research & Technology Transfer Station, Orissa University of Agriculture & Technology, Sunabedha (Orissa) Dr. Nimai Charan Mishra said “Both the State and
Union Government has enlisted W. Somnifera as a medicinal plant and the agriculture department is making an effort to promote it’s cultivation.” To sum up, Withania somnifera could prove to be a good natural source of potent and relatively safe radiosensitizer and chemotherapeutic agent. Studies on molecular mechanisms and pathways underlying the beneficial effects of Ashwagandha is going on. Further, study on anti-cancer characteristics of Indian ginseng is also on. If it’s anti-cancer properties are established, there would be great change in the treatment of cancer.