Ashwagandha is sometimes called Indian ginseng, not because it's related botanically (it's closer to potatoes and tomatoes), but because its traditional uses were similar. Like ginseng, ashwagandha was thought to be a "tonic herb" capable of generally strengthening the body. On this basis it has been used in hopes of prolonging life, improving overall health, enhancing mental function, increasing fertility and libido, augmenting physical energy, and preventing infections.

In addition, as its species name somniferum suggests, ashwagandha been used traditionally for inducing sleep.

What Is Ashwagandha Used for Today?

Modern herbalists classify ashwagandha as an adaptogen, a substance said to increase the body's ability to withstand stress of all types. (See the article on Ginseng for more information on adaptogens.) However, the evidence for an adaptogenic effect is limited to test tube and animal studies.3,4,6,7,9-13

Other proposed uses of ashwagandha are based on even weaker evidence, including: preventing cancer,1,2,14-17 improving immunity,8,18 enhancing mental function,19,20, rheumatoid arthritis,23 and combating anxiety and depression.21

Some traditional uses of ashwagandha are also invoked today, such as enhancing sexual function in men, increasing fertility in men22 or women, aiding sleep, and enhancing sports performance; however, there is no supporting scientific evidence for these uses.

Dosage

A typical traditional dosage of ashwagandha is 1 to 2 g of the root (boiled in milk or water for 15-20 minutes) taken 3 times daily.

Safety Issues

Ashwagandha is believed to be safe; however, formal safety studies have not been reported. Therefore, it should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, young children, or those with severe kidney or liver disease.

According to one study in animals, ashwaghanda may raise thyroid hormone levels.5 For this reason, it should not be used by people with hyperthyroidism. In addition, based on traditional beliefs that ashwagandha has sedative effects, interactions with sedative drugs are a potential concern.

Interactions You Should Know About

If you are taking sedative drugs, you should not take ashwagandha at the same time except under your doctor's supervision.