Ashwagandha Benefits, Uses, and History

You may have heard of ashwagandha as it has recently grown in popularity. Many coffee companies are adding the powder to their coffee for the touted health benefits. It is also referred to as Indian ginseng or Withania somnifera and is known as an adaptogenic herb. This is because it is believed to help the body adjust and adapt to elevated stress levels. 

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that is small and compact. The leaves are velvety and there are bell-shaped flowers with orange berries inside. This is why the plant is sometimes called a winter cherry in English. 

It is native to the Middle East, Africa, and India. The name is as a result of the strongly fragranced, tube-like roots which are said to mimic the odor of a horse. The Sanskrit word for horse is Ashva (or ashwa), and this is combined with gandha, meaning smell. The name is fitting as it was believed that consuming an ashwagandha tonic would give the drinker the power of a horse. 

Ashwagandha is a very bitter herb, which is why it is commonly added to coffee, where the taste is already bitter. The roots are dried after being harvested and then ground down into a fine powder. 


The main active compound in ashwagandha is a substance known as Withanolides. These are steroids that occur in nature and have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors and can act as a potent anti-inflammatory agent. They are also sometimes called steroidal lactones, and there are about 40 different types found in ashwagandha.

Each type of withanolide has a different neurochemical impact on your body. The ones in your supplement will vary depending on whether it has been extracted from the leaf or roots of the ashwagandha plant. 

They are biologically active and this is believed to be what gives the plant its medicinal properties. The concentration of withanolide contained within your ashwagandha supplements dictates how strong its effects are. The three main withanolides in ashwagandha are Withanolide A, Withaferin A, and Glycowithanolide. 

Withanolide A comes from the root of the ashwagandha plant. It has been tested on mice in laboratories and has been shown to help regulate the function of your immune system. It is also beneficial in terms of stress management. It can be extracted from the leaf too. This compound has been shown to have anticarcinogenic properties on human cells. This suggests that it can slow or halt the growth of cancers. 

Withaferin A is another of the active compounds in ashwagandha. This has stress-relieving properties. It has also been studied for its anticarcinogenic properties.

Glycowithanolide can be extracted from anywhere on the plant, but it is typically taken from the roots. Again, this has been shown to have stress-relieving properties. It has also been suggested that it can be used as a way to reverse the cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease. 

Withanolides have been proven to help regulate the levels of metabolic hormones within the body. It has been shown to particularly affect cortisol, the stress hormone. This means that people report feeling less stressed after consuming ashwagandha. It is believed that it can boost the secretion of hormones from your thyroid gland, therefore speeding up your metabolism. 

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that ashwagandha improves sprinting speeds and boosts personal motivation.


Ashwagandha has been studied extensively throughout history. The root is a tonic, aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, anthelmintic, astringent, thermogenic, and stimulant. In modern times, doctors have used it to treat rheumatism, leucoderma (also known as vitiligo), insomnia, constipation, goiters, and nervous breakdowns. 

It is recommended to use the leaves to treat painful swellings and fevers. The seeds are anthelmintic, meaning they force parasitic worms and other organisms out of your body. They kill off these parasites without harming the host’s body. The flowers are an aphrodisiac, depurative, diuretic, and astringent. 

Ayurvedic medicine

Ashwagandha has long been used as a staple element in Ayurvedic medical practices. Many different parts of the plant are used in Ayurvedic medicine, compared to the root extract that is commonly used in mainstream supplements. 

Traditional Ayurvedic treatments use the entire dried root of the plant. This is transformed into a powder and then steeped in milk to make a healing drink. This tonic is commonly used when refeeding starving and emaciated children.


As we have mentioned earlier, ashwagandha powder is commonly added to coffee. Some people choose to add in some coconut oil and ground cinnamon to their cup. This is to help disguise the flavor of the herb.  

Lower blood sugar levels

This response is seen in people with and without diabetes. A 4-week study was conducted using 25 participants. This showed fasting blood sugar levels were 3 times lower after consuming ashwagandha. 

Another study was conducted on the impacts of ashwagandha supplementation on people with type 2 diabetes. Taking a supplement consistently for a month lowered the participants’ fasting blood sugar levels as much as the oral medication they took. 

Dosages as low as 250 mg daily showed positive impacts. 

Boosting muscle growth

Studies have been conducted on the impact of ashwagandha supplementation on increasing muscle mass in male athletes. Participants were given 500 mg of ashwagandha daily and their muscle power increased by 1% when compared to the placebo group. 

A supplement of 600 mg daily for 2 months increased muscle strength by between 1.5 and 1.7 times compared to the placebo group. It also increased muscular size by between 1.6 and 2.3 times. The dosage was increased to 1,250 mg daily, although similar results were recorded. 

There is insufficient research into the same effects on women. It is believed that women would experience similar consequences, although all studies so far have used male participants. 

Immune boosting

A study conducted using mice showed that white blood cell production was increased. This helps to strengthen the immune system and has promising potential for doing the same in humans. This means that in the future, it could be used as a way to maintain human health for longer. 

Stress relief

Adaptogenic herbs are naturally occurring plants that have reportedly been used as a way to help the human body deal with stress. The stress-relieving effects of ashwagandha are as a result of its impact on cortisol production. 

A daily dose of between 125 mg and 5 g of ashwagandha for between 1 and 3 months can reduce cortisol levels by as much as 11 to 32%. It is also suggested that consuming ashwagandha reduces anxiety-induced insomnia. 


Pastes made from the crushed root of the ashwagandha plant are combined with water to make a soothing tonic. This helps to topically reduce inflammation at the sites of injury and around the joints. This can also be used for painful swellings, ulcers, and boils. 

As little as 12 ml of ashwagandha root extract daily can increase the levels of immune cells in the body. These are what fight off infections. A 2-month long study where participants consumed between 250 and 500 mg of ashwagandha was conducted. This showed a reduction in C-reactive protein levels of up to 30%. These are a marker of inflammation, therefore showing the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant. 

Improving memory

Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a way to improve your memory. Scientists have tested this theory, in an 8-week study with a small group of participants. 

They were given 300 mg of ashwagandha root twice per day and their cognitive function was compared to that of a placebo group. They showed significant improvement in memory, focus, reaction time, and performance. It has been determined that 500 to 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract is ideal for memory boosting. 


Ashwagandha root paste is commonly used in conjunction with other medications to treat venom. This could be in the case of scorpion stings and snake bites. 

Stomach problems

Ashwagandha root can also be used as a holistic treatment for stomach issues. These include worms, piles, and flatulent colic. 


The berries of the ashwagandha plant have been used as an emetic. This means that it makes the person who consumes the berries vomit. This is useful in the case of ingestion of poisonous compounds. 

Increased sperm count

Ashwagandha has been tested for its impacts on sperm and reproductive health. A 3-month long study was conducted on 75 male participants. They had all reported infertility prior to the study. Over the testing period, each participant consumed a 5-gram supplement of ashwagandha daily. 

This was shown to boost the motility and quantity of sperm. A second study was conducted off the back of this, using highly stressed male participants. By the time the study ended, 14% of their partners had fallen pregnant. 

How much ashwagandha should you take?

The dosage of ashwagandha should be noted somewhere on the packaging of the supplement that you choose. The recommended amount is often somewhere between 300 and 600 mg. 

As we mentioned earlier, the withanolides contained within the ashwagandha supplement are the most important factor. This is commonly stated as a percentage of the total supplement amount. Look for a figure between 2.5% and 10%, equivalent to about 10 to 50 mg of withanolides. 

Are there any dangers associated with ashwagandha?

Generally speaking, ashwagandha is considered to be safe for consumption and relatively non-toxic. It has been used safely for centuries, but as with any significant lifestyle change, consult your doctor before beginning to supplement. They will ensure you are taking a safe dosage and may be able to answer any further questions you have. 

Most side effects reported after consuming ashwagandha are mild and go away within a short period of time. You may experience stomach upset, diarrhea, and tiredness. Some people have reported experiencing blurred vision, skin rashes, vertigo, irregular heartbeats, and a lack of appetite. If you notice any of these, please stop consuming ashwagandha supplements and consult your doctor as soon as possible. 

There is evidence to suggest that you should not take ashwagandha supplements while pregnant. It is believed to be an abortifacient, meaning that you could inadvertently abort your fetus by consuming an ashwagandha tonic. This is only reported as occurring when higher doses are consumed, but in our opinion, it is not worth running the risk. There is little research into the safety of consuming ashwagandha while breastfeeding. 

Ashwagandha may interact with some antidepressants and other medications. These include barbiturates, anticonvulsants, and benzodiazepines. If you are taking medication to reduce your blood pressure or blood sugars, be wary when supplementing with ashwagandha. This can exacerbate the effects of your medication causing levels to drop dangerously low. 

As we have mentioned, ashwagandha has an impact on hormone levels within the body. It can result in your body producing excessive testosterone, which can be dangerous for people suffering from hormone-resistant forms of prostate cancer. If you have any kind of thyroid issue, it is very important to talk to your doctor before consuming ashwagandha. 

Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family, or the nightshade family. This is the same family of plants as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. People with allergies or sensitivities to these foods should take great care when supplementing with or consuming ashwagandha. 


Ayurvedic medicine is a traditional medical system that has been practiced in India since at least 6,000 BC. It has been used in the rejuvenation branch of the medical practice, known as Rasayana. This is commonly used when your body is worn out, such as when you have just recovered from an illness. It is rebuilding your body, ensuring both body and mind are strong and powerful. 

This therapy style was also believed to be a remedy for old age, a traditional anti-aging treatment. An ashwagandha tonic was used to build vitality in the body and soul, believed to rejuvenate your life force. Consuming it is said to promote youth and longevity.