The original verses of Ayurveda are said to be derived from the consciousness of Lord Brahma the Creator, and carefully internalised by his disciples. These were passed down among the Gods, until they eventually reached the three Great Sages – Dhanwantari, Bharadwaja and Kashyapa – who setup different schools of treatment and thought on Earth.
In the course of time, Ayurveda branched out into three categories, namely Shalya Chikitsa – Surgery, Kaya Chikitsa – General Medicine, and Kaumarabhritya – Paediatrics. Its detailed and methodical approach, now clearly accessible to highly trained vaidyans (physicians), paved the way for the Ayurvedic medical practices that are seen today.
The vaidyans used a lot of native herbs and roots that were easily available in the local forests. In these times of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these herbs & roots offer immunity boosting benefits, apart from treating other ailments.
In this series on the Health Secrets of Ayurveda, we start with one of the most valuable ingredients of Ayurveda: Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small shrub with yellow flowers and a red fruit, native to India, North Africa, and the Middle East. The extract is typically taken from the berries or roots of the plant. It is also referred to as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry.
Ashwagandha literally translates to "smell of horse".
Traditionally, it is believed that a person who consumes this herbal medicine will gain horse-like strength and vitality. It is used in Ayurveda for stress relief and to improve general health.
With an abundance of antioxidants, iron and amino acids, Ashwagandha has a rich history in Ayurveda for its wound healing abilities, especially for joint pains, skin sores and to reduce swelling.
Dr Elizabeth Isaac, Ayurveda Consultant to Vaidyaratnam and Dhanwantari says, “Ashwagandha is bitter, pungent and astringent in taste. It is a highly potent energy provider and enhances spermatogenesis. It balances the three doshas - especially kapha and vata. It gives balya (strength), has antioxidant properties so helps boost the immune system. Also helps to combat viral infections and allergies. It's a neuro tonic too, used in anxiety, depression and insomnia. Also to slow down growth of cancer cells.”
Ashwagandha is a rasayana i.e. a general body tonic to promote physical and mental health, restore the body and increase longevity. It is used in Chyawanprash, the all season common immunity booster in many Indian households.
In addition to boosting your overall immunity, Ashwagandha is used to:
To treat cancer
To reduce fatigue
To reduce joint pain
To reduce stress
To reduce anxiety
It’s generally safe to use Ashwagandha in food and tea. However, talk with your healthcare providers before taking supplements or higher amounts of the root.
Supplements are stronger than the raw form of Ashwagandha.