Herb Profile: Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha root is a truly unique adaptogen and we are SO excited to share it with you! Ashwagandha strikes a unique balance: it is calming yet revitalizing, and libido-boosting without being too “over stimulating” (if you know what I mean…).
Ashwagandha offers an abundance of different health supporting actions! While we could try and rush through every clinical action, potential benefit, and traditional use of ashwagandha, in this herb profile we are giving you a “detailed glimpse” into just a few of the guiding qualities we use ashwagandha for, plus a few inspiring pieces we thought you might want to know.
The Yang to our Yin
Ok, 90s flashback here: remember the yin-yang keychains, T-shirts, and bandanas (*shudders*) that were all the rage back in the 90s? Don’t worry, they aren’t making a style comeback. But the symbol is actually a timeless representation of our inner balance between masculine and feminine energies. The “yin” represents our feminine, resting, and watery-energy body, and the “yang” represents our masculine, active, and firey-energy body.
Hold up: we have two energy bodies and both “masculine” and “feminine” energies regardless of our gender or sexual identification?! Inherently, yes... we all do! According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we all carry a divine balance between yin and yang energies that are constantly changing depending on the state of our body, mind, and spirit. So if you have a particular symptom, condition, or disease, these can all be explained relative to your personal balance between yin and yang.
How does this connect with the herb profile of the hour, Ashwagandha? Well, ashwagandha is well-known for its yang rejuvenating properties in the body. It has been used for CENTURIES as a rejuvenator in ancient India for supporting a healthy balance of active energy, or yang, in the body, and continues to be used that way today (Singh et al, 2011).
The Father of a Rasa fan agrees that Rasa is a great way to fill you need for Ashwagahanaahdanahaana!
Just so no one gets confused: although “yang” denotes the masculine nature, it does not directly equate with testosterone levels. So when you use an herb which tonifies or rejuvenates yang in the body, don’t expect a boost of testosterone like you might see, for example, when taking a bodybuilding supplement.
So what exactly does ashwagandha do as a “yang tonic”? In a nutshell, it promotes a more robust constitution, strengthens the body and mind (and semen in men), supports clearance of nervous debility, and potentiates reproductive hormones (Tierra, n.d.; Engels & Brinckmann, 2013). The less nervous you are and the more strong and able you feel in your body, the more energy you have to be active and creative for your passion. These are just a few of the yang qualities that ashwagandha can bolster up.
Life Beyond Suffering
Yes, it is true! You can live a life beyond suffering. Although you may not believe me at first...ashwagandha is an herb that can help you get there. Now now, don’t expect instant results—taking one dose of ashwagandha doesn’t mean you will never suffer again. And unfortunately, taking a super high dose of ashwagandha all at once will not help you get there either (and in fact might make you sick!) Like many herbs, the pace of “slow and steady wins the race” is most effective for using ashwagandha.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is one of the rasayana herbs which are traditionally used to promote youth, longevity, and a life without suffering (Engels & Brinckmann, 2013). (Fun fact: Rasayana was one of the inspirations for the name Rasa!) Think of this class of herbs as the inner body builders. They help revitalize body, mind, and spirit in various ways so that you can actualize a long life of youthfulness and peace. Since when we are truly balanced in our inner and outer selves...our life is free from suffering, right?
In Western herbalism, many rasayanas are considered adaptogens. As you might be able to tell by now...we kind of have a thing for adaptogens. But with good reason! Since adaptogens support our body’s ability to adapt to a variety of stressors in our life and environment, this naturally promotes a life that is more ease, less stress. We couldn’t feature an herb profile on ashwagandha without talking about these incredible calming adaptogenic qualities it has. This is another reason why Ashwagandha is such a truly unique herb and is even called “the wonder herb of India,” (Tierra, n.d.).
Herbalist Jim McDonald truly says it best: “Ashwagandha is exceptional for when your adrenal burnout isn’t something that’s happening but has happened (maybe a while ago). You’re exhausted, but you can’t sleep, and when you do, you don’t sleep deeply; maybe you’re troubled by dreams. You can’t think quite straight, your concentration is shot. You might find yourself more and more irritable. Perhaps your libido has also crashed or is in other ways unreliable (interested, but can’t focus). But you’re still doing doing doing because that’s what you do. And you’ll run yourself ragged before you let burnout stop you,” (Rose, 2008).
And this is where ashwagandha comes in. To calm everything down before you unintentionally burn yourself out. But also to strengthen your vitality, core energy reserves, and natural ability to respond to stressors so that you can keep on keepin’ on.
What if we told that one of the benefits of ashwagandha is that it can help you sleep like a baby? Well, we can’t guarantee these exact results (although it does promote youthfulness remember!), drinking ashwagandha daily in your Rasa can help soothe frayed nerves, calm mental agitation, and relieve anxiety.
Since ashwagandha carries all of these nervous system balancing, inner calm-promoting qualities, it can also be effective for relieving insomnia. According to TCM, these actions are inherent since ashwagandha is a yang tonic with an affinity for the heart (Tierra, n.d.). Now, for most people, and even many herbalists, that explanation might sound like a mouthful!
Let’s bring it back to baby talk for a moment. When a baby is crying, often the only “fix” is being scooped up and resting on mom or dad’s heart. Often, almost instantly, they are calm and ready to sleep. This is the kind of heart affinity we are talking about here. When overagitation and mental stress has you worked up on so many levels that you have trouble sleeping at night (regardless of whether you actually end up having a meltdown or not), ashwagandha is there to help bring you back into a calm heartspace.
Unlike other sedative herbs (or sleeping pills for that matter), ashwagandha helps you enter a state of calm without putting you directly to sleep. It’s actually quite rare for herbs to systemically relax the nervous system in such a way without calming you so much that you do indeed fall asleep. So have no fear, drinking ashwagandha in your Rasa Koffee will not put you in the mood for naptime, but can set you up for deep restorative sleep later that night.
Let’s Talk About Sex
One of the most talked about uses for ashwagandha is its libido-enhancing character. Because, well...who doesn’t want to talk about sex?? While we do love a good herbal aphrodisiac, sometimes we’re not looking for an instant turn-on. Unlike other libido-boosting pills, ashwagandha helps prime us for “primetime” later on—days, weeks, or months down the road.
What’s really happening isn’t quite the same as other sexual enhancement drugs out there. Ashwagandha works over time by slowly building back up your “ojas,” or juicy vital energy stores (as they are known in Ayurveda). When your ojas is depleted, you feel drained, fatigued, burnt out, and definitely not in the mood for sex (sounds kind of like adrenal fatigue, huh?). Daily coffee consumption is one of those things that can deplete your vital reserves. Luckily for us, we have adaptogens like ashwagandha on our side to help get us in the mood for life and sex again.
Wait! What About…
Yes yes...ashwagandha plays more roles than the ones we talked about today! Not only does ashwagandha act as a yang rejuvenator, relaxing adaptogen, libido booster, and thyroid modulator, it also boosts our mood, balances depression and anxiety-based states, helps support healthy blood sugar levels, improves our memory, supports physical endurance, promotes respiratory health, and regulates our inflammatory response (Rose, 2008; Tierra, n.d.). Curious to learn more details about any of these actions? Drop us a comment below and let us know!
An Adaptogenic Note
With any good herb profile, it is important to note the times when you might not want to use the herb as well. In general, using building, adaptogenic or rasayana herbs are not meant for while you are sick. When the body is in a weakened state (i.e. colds, the flu, and other chronic illnesses), you first need to focus on acute recovery, and then once stable again, reintroduce your daily regimen of adaptogens such as ashwagandha.
Enjoying Ashwagandha Every Day
The best way to experience and learn the effects of an herb is through regular personal experimentation and use. So go brew yourself a cup of Rasa and let us know how you feel afterwards! We would love to hear.
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Engels, G. & Brinckmann, J. (2013). Ashwagandha. HerbalGram, 99, 1-7. Retrieved from: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue99/hg99-herbprofile.html?ts=1519777274&signature=68bce765afb8d2ff9684da80c6a5a4a9.
Rose, K. (2008). Winter cherry: Restoring Vitality. Retrieved from: http://kivasenchantments.com/the-winter-cherry-restoring-vitality.html.
Singh, N., Bhalla, M., Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An overview on ashwagandha: A rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 8(5 Suppl), 208-213. doi: 10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9.
Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Tierra, M. (n.d.). Ashwagandha: Wonder herb of India. Retrieved from: https://planetherbs.com/research-center/specific-herbs-articles/ashwagandha-wonder-herb-of-india/.