Boost your immune system with herbs – Ashwagandha
Eight Herbs for the Immune System
Common Names: Ashwagandha • Indian ginseng • winter cherry
Species Used: After intense fisticuffs it was decided that there are six species in this genus. Withania somnifera is the species most commonly known as an immune herb. However, two otherWithania species, Withania obtusifolia and W. coagulans, are used in much the same manner. W. obtusifolia has a long history of use in the Sudan while W. coagulans (especially the fruit) has long been used in Pakistan and India. W. coagulans is so termed because it is a powerful coagulating agent and is used in place of rennet by Indians to make cheese. (Obtusifolia is so named because its leaves are obtuse, that is, “lacking in insight or discernment,” and is used in place of aware perception by taxonomists.)
The root is almost exclusively used in Western practice (a few people are starting to use the berry), the whole plant in the rest of the world.
Preparation and Dosage
Dry root: 1:5, 70% alcohol, 30–40 drops up to 3x daily.
Fresh leaf: 1:2, 95% alcohol, 10–30 drops up to 3x daily.
Dry seed: 1:5, 65% alcohol, 15–30 drops up to 3x daily.
Fresh fruit: 1:2 (grind the whole mess well), 95% alcohol, 15–30 drops up to 3x daily.
Take 500–1,000 mg daily, though in Ayurvedic practice 3–6 grams are used daily.
Some people, sigh, are standardizing the root capsules to 1.5 percent withanolides. Others are producing both 1:4 and 1:2 tinctures. All may be stronger than the whole, not-altered root and root tinctures … but maybe not.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Avoid high doses in pregnancy, as it may be abortifacient in large doses. May cause drowsiness. Take the herb after dinner to find out just how sleepy it makes you before using it during the day. In rare instances: diarrhea, GI tract upset, vomiting at large doses.
May potentiate barbiturates (anecdotal); don’t use with sedatives and anxiolytics.
Habitat and Appearance
Ashwagandha is native to the dry regions of India and is now fairly prolific throughout northern Africa and the Mediterranean, essentially your warm, semi-arid climates that get some good rain during the rainy season. It’s a small, perennial, bushy, woody shrub to about 2 feet tall, though with a lot of care, water, and fertilizer it can grow to 6 feet. The plant produces orange-red fruits looking much like cherries (hence that common name) that are enclosed in a papery husk. Ashwagandha is similar in appearance to both ground cherry and Chinese lantern. The roots are long, tuberous, and brown.
Cultivation and Collection
The plant is little grown (or known) in the United States but is a rather common agricultural plant in its region. It does well in warm, semi-arid to arid climates as long as it gets some water now and then. Perfect for parts of Arizona and Southern California—good in zones 8 and warmer. It is a hardy evergreen perennial to temperatures to just above freezing (and can survive occasional drops to as low as 15°F) but does well as an annual pretty much anyplace it is warm enough. It needs at least a 200-day growing season to reach maturity but will produce a decent root system in 100 days if that’s all you’ve got.
Properties of Ashwagandha
Insomnia reliever (especially stress- or disease-induced)
Leaf and stem
Herb stores everywhere, the Internet. Excellent seed stock can be purchased from Horizon Herbs. The plant is very easy to grow.
Ashwagandha is propagated by seed and it grows easily. Sow in early spring indoors. Germination is in about 15 days. Plants really like full sun and fast-draining soil with some limestone in it (alkaline soil lover). The plants are intolerant of wet soils. Harvest the roots just after the cherries become ripe. Dry the cherries for use the next year as new seed stock. Cut the roots into smallish pieces, and dry out of the sun. Store in plastic bags when well dried, in plastic tubs in a cool, dark location. The leaves can be harvested at any time.
The major constituents are steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones: withanine, somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withaninine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo-tropine, ashwagandhanolide, cuscohygrine, anferine, anhydryine, sitoindoside 7 and 8, a lot of other stuff, and a bunch of steroidal lactones in the leaves called withanolides. Withaferin A in the leaves has tremendous antitumor activity.
Traditional Uses of Ashwagandha
The primary traditional uses of the herb have all been in the Ayurveda system in India.
A major plant in India for at least three thousand years, ashwagandha is considered to be tonic, alterative, astringent, aphrodisiac, and a nervine sedative. It has been used for TB, emaciation in children, senile debility, rheumatism, general debility, nervous exhaustion, brain fog, loss of memory, loss of muscular energy, and spermatorrhea. Its primary use is to restore vigor and energy in a body worn out by long-term constitutional disease or old age.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Unknown as far as I can determine.
WESTERN BOTANIC PRACTICE
A recent plant to the West, almost an herb-of-the-day.
There have been an increasing number of studies on ashwagandha since 2000; there are about 400 of them on pubmed as of 2011. Here’s a sampling:
Clinical trial, antistressor activity: 100 men and women in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. The herb significantly reduced stress in all who took the herb.
Clinical trial, hemoglobin effects: A double-blind study with 60 healthy children age 8 to 12 years. There was a marked increase in level of hemoglobin at the end of 30 days and in packed cell volume, mean corpuscular volume, serum iron, and hand grip at the end of 60 days.
Clinical trial, hemoglobin effects: A double-blind study with 101 healthy men age 50 to 59 years. Each took 3 grams per day of ashwagandha for 1 year. All showed significantly increased hemoglobin and RBC count, improvement in melanin, and decreased SED rate, and three-quarters of them reported increased sexual performance.
In vitro, antibacterial action: Ashwagandha does have some antibacterial actions; whole-plant extracts have been found active against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa,Salmonella spp., E. coli, and Bacillus subtilis.
In vitro/in vivo, rats/mice, antineoplastic activity: There have been over 50 studies on the antineoplastic actions of the plant, primarily using the leaves. Tumor growth is retarded, tumor cell proliferation is reduced, side effects of radiation and chemotherapy are reduced, and life expectancy is increased.
In vivo, mice, pain relief: Withaferin A, a constituent of ashwagandha, has been shown to be analgesic and antipyretic.
In vitro studies, cartilage effects: Found the root extract to be highly chondroprotective of damaged human osteoarthritis cartilage matrix. It also was significantly inhibitive of the gelatinase activity of collagenase type 2 enzyme.
In vivo, rats, central nervous system effects: Showed the herb to have anxiolytic and antidepressant actions. Strong antioxidant.
In vivo, mice, central nervous system effects: Showed the herb to correct scopolamine-induced memory loss in mice.
In vitro, central nervous system effects: Root extracts induce neurite extension and outgrowth in human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y. Stimulate neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction in damaged cortical neurons. Completely inhibit dendritic atrophy.
In vivo, rats, central nervous system effects: Treatment for 14 days significantly improved nitropropionic-acid-induced cognitive dysfunction and oxidative damage in rats. (Note: There have been at least 30 studies finding cognitive improvements in various animal species from the use of the root.)
In vivo, rats, anti-inflammatory: Strongly anti-inflammatory in various rheumatological conditions.
In vivo, dogs, cardiac effects: Hypotensive, bradycardic, respiratory stimulant actions.
In vivo, mice, white blood cells: Ashwagandha significantly reduced induced leukopenia in mice. White blood cell count significantly increased.
In vivo, mice, thyroid enhancement: Significantly increased thyroid production of T3 and T4.