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Indian ginseng-Ashwaganda

Withania Somnifera is a perennial shrub from the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. It is also known as Ashwagandha, Winter Cherry, and Withania and because of its adaptogenic qualities also known as Indian Ginseng.

The name Ashwagandha is from the Sanskrit language and is a combination of the word 'ashva', meaning horse, and 'gandha', meaning smell. The root has a strong aroma that is described as "horse-like".

In Ayurveda, Indian, and Unani health education, Ashwagandha is described as "Indian ginseng". Ashwagandha is also used in traditional African health education. Don't confuse Ashwagandha with Physalis alkekengi. Both are known as winter cherry.

Ashwagandha is rich in iron, in glycowithanolides (antioxidants), tannins, glucose, potassium nitrate, alkaloids, fatty acids and numerous other substances. Ashwagandha also contains steroidal alkaloids: somnine, somniferine, anferine and withanolides. These alkaloids play a major role in the active ingredients of the plant. Ashwagandha also contains flavonoids, lactones, acyl steryl glucosides.

In Ayurveda it is the leaves that are most often used, but so too are the plant's roots, which contain the greatest number of salutary ingredients in the plant.

One of the chemically ingredients found in the leaves of Ashwagandha is withanolides. These phytochemicals appear to have a steroid-like effect, which means that they indirectly support the activity of steroid hormones such as testosterone and progesterone. Therefore Ashwagandha is known in Ayurvedic health education for its support libido and stimulate the sexual functions. Ashwagandha also helps with fatigue. Withanolides are important in the nervous system and are good for the co-ordination.


The leaves, berries and tubers of Ashwagandha have been in use for centuries in India as a home remedy and the extract is an important part of Indian Ayurveda.

Ashwagandha grows abundantly in India (especially Madhya Pradesh), Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka and parts of northern Africa.

Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng is one of the main crops in the Ayurveda and is widely used as a natural sedative and as nerve strengthening, which is traditionally regarded as safe even for use in children. The extract is obtained from the roots. The primary use, as described in Ayurvedic literature, is that it strengthens the vitality and gives more energy. And it is well-known that this plant has a beneficial effect on the health and contributes to a healthy life.

Ashwagandha is one of the best known and most researched Ayurveda herbs and holds a place in the Ayurveda traditions similar to Ginseng in Chinese therapies. For that reason, Ashwagandha has been often referred to as the "Indian Ginseng". Ashwagandha is used in various indigenous herbal preparations in support of health, to stimulate the immune system and as an anti-stress agent

Ashwagandha has been used in India for thousands of years to increase the vitality and as a protection against aging. Especially the roots of this shrub are in India for all age categories used to enhance the vitality and libido. Ashwagandha is very similar to the true ginseng.

TCM recommends the root as a natural tranquilizer, to nervousness, to promote sleep readiness, for maintaining flexible joints, to maintain a good iron levels in the blood, strengthen the vitality and stimulate the immune system.

ashwagandha struik Photo: Ashwagandha plant that mainly is cultivated in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It grows to approximately 1.70 metre.
ashwagandha wortel Photo: Ashwagandha pieces of roots that (grinded into powder or as an extract) are used.


Ashwagandha root is available in the market either in powdered form, dried form, or fresh root form. Nearly every part of the Ashwagandha plant can be used although the roots are used most. It is mainly used as a food supplement and as a functional ingredient in food and drinks.

Ashwagandha Tea: You can make a tea of Ashwagandha by boiling the powder in water for 10 minutes. Don't use more than a teaspoon of the powder in one cup of water. You could also take Ashwagandha root powder, along with a glass of hot milk before going to sleep.

The withanolide content of Ashwagandha is now measured and standardized. The current formulations available to the public in the health-food marketplace have the following dosages of withanolides: 1.5%; 2.5%; 4.5%; 8%.

Ashwagandha was already on the market and consumed to a significant degree before 15 May 1997 and is therefore, according the EU Novel Food Regulation, allowed to be used as or in food supplements and as or in food. Other specific legislation, however, may restrict the placing of Ashwagandha as a food or food ingredient on the market in some Member States.

The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide for herbalism, does not mention Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha is also not mentioned in the EHIA Inventory List of Herbals that are considered to be Food.

In the United States, Ashwagandha is not listed as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) for any uses in conventional food products, nor does it appear in FDA's GRAS Notice Inventory database. Ashwagandha is permitted, however, for use as a dietary supplement component, requiring FDA notification within 30 days of marketing a product (if a "structure-function" claim is made) and product manufacturing according to dietary supplement GMPs. USP has developed dietary supplement quality standards monographs for "Ashwagandha Root," "Powdered Ashwagandha Root," and for "Powdered Ashwagandha Root Extract".

Ashwagandha is sometimes also used as a ingredient in cosmetic products. Cosmetic uses are nourishing, toning, moderately stimulating. A paste of the roots and crushed leaves is applied on to a red and sensitive skin to cleanse the skin.

Concerning its use in cosmetic products, the European Commission Health and Consumers Directorate lists several defined withanolide somnifera ingredients (root powder, root extract, leaf and root extract, and flower extract) for skin-conditioning function (maintains the skin in good condition). Withania somnifera leaf extract, however, is approved for several functions in cosmetic products, including antioxidant (inhibits reactions promoted by oxygen, thus avoiding oxidation and rancidity), bleaching (lightens the shade of hair or skin), emollient (softens and smoothed the skin), and humectant (holds and retains moisture).

Extracts of Ashwagandha for use in cosmetics however, are as such not mentioned in EU Decision 96/335/EG from EU Cosmetic Directive 76/768/EEG and/or 2006/257/EG.

Beneficial for:

Ashwagandha is an important plant in Ayurvedic health education (Indian). It is good against stress, strengthens the vitality and gives energy. According to Indian experts, who uses it for centuries, Ashwagandha is also effective in increasing libido and helps to improving the sexual functions.

Ashwagandha is like ginseng an adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances that non-specifically enhance and regulate the bodily functions. This allows the body to be more resistant to stress and increases its performance and stimulates the immune system.

The plant keeps the joints supple, promotes sleep readiness, is an anti-oxidant. Ashwagandha also acts as a tonic which increases energy, improves overall health and prolongs life.

According to the Dutch Guidelines KOAG / KAG allowable terms, related to this product, are: See website of the Authority for any authorized health claims: http://ec.europa.eu/nuhclaims/?event=search

So far, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not approved any of the submitted health claims for this product or its components, and these should therefore not be used in the EU.

Industrial application

The berries of the Ashwagandha shrub can be used in cheese making as a vegetable alternative for the, to the milk added, enzymes of animal or artificial origin. The juice of these berries has a coagulating effect and due to this, can separate milk in coagulant and whey.


In acute toxicity studies the LD50 of a Withania somnifera alcohol extract was found to be 1750 mg/kg body weight (BW) (p.o.) in albino mice.

The acute LD50 for Ashwagandha extract (2% pure alkaloids) was found to be 465mg/kg BW in rats and 432 mg/kg BW in mice.

Another study, in which an alcohol extracts from the roots of Ashwagandha was used, showed that a single intraperitoneal injection of 1100 mg/kg BW of the extract in mice did not produce any deaths within 24 hours, but small increases led to mortality. The LD50 value was calculated as 1260 mg/kg BW.

A dosage of dried Ashwagandha roots as a food supplement range from 0,5-2,0 grams per day. From a concentrated extract powder with a content of 1,5% withanolides and 8% withanolides, a dosage of respectively 100-500 mg and 25-100 mg daily is advised as a food supplement.

As a dosage 3-6 grams of root powder in divided doses is recommended, which equals to about 700-1400 mg of a standardized extract powder containing 1,5% withanolides and to about 125-250 mg of a standardized extract powder containing 8% withanolides.

For cosmetics, there is no established recommended dosage, although impact would have to increase as the dose is increased.


Even though Ashwagandha is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken orally, there are some remarks, warnings and precautions that should be taken into account: This document is for professionals only. It is the responsibility of the user to refer to the laws in force in the country of sale and determine the relevance of the products for the intended use. This ingredient is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease. The allegations have not all been evaluated by EFSA, they are not intended to be labelled on a commodity to the consumer.

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Copyright 2011 Benseng Foodsupplements BV, Veghel, The Netherlands. See: www.benseng.com

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