Have you just heard of ashwagandha and are wondering what it is? Or maybe you’ve stumbled across it in other articles and have been meaning to read up about it at some point?
Park those queries, hold that research and read this article.
By the end, you’ll discover everything there is to know about ashwagandha, including the health benefits, how much to take, when to take it, the types of supplements and more…
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a small evergreen shrub that originates from parts of India, the Middle East and Africa.
Its unusual name relates to the way it smells – ashwagandha roots smell like a horse, with ‘ashwa’ meaning horse.1 These tube-like roots are harvested, dried and ground down into a powder.2
The ashwagandha plant is renowned for being one of the most powerful herbs, which spans back thousands of years.
As well as being an ancient herb, it’s also known for being an adaptogen - containing a mix of amino acids, herbs and vitamins that can help the body manage stress. 3
Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’ because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha aren’t connected to each other. 4
What is ashwagandha extract?
Various parts of the ashwagandha plant are used for medicinal purposes, but it’s ashwagandha extract – which is an extract of the plant’s roots – that’s found in most supplements.5
More traditional Ayurvedic treatments use the entire dried root of the ashwagandha plant, which is turned into powder and usually steeped in milk.
However, more modern ashwagandha supplements are ashwagandha extracts that are labelled as Withania Somnifera extract.
Ashwagandha extracts are more refined than ashwagandha powder and can be created using water or chemicals.6
The ashwagandha plant is one of the most powerful herbs. Various parts of the ashwagandha plant are used for medicinal purposes, with ashwagandha extract mainly being used in supplements.
What does ashwagandha do?
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a natural agent that reportedly helps the body cope with stress.
As a result, it’s believed to be effective at helping reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It may also therefore potentially help with anxiety and depression too.
Ashwagandha also contains a large amount of Withanolides.
What are Withanolides?
If you’ve checked out the Nature’s Way capsules (see below), then you may have spotted they contain 20mg of Withanolides in addition to 500mg of ashwagandha root extract.
For those of you who haven’t come across this phrase, Withanolides are the primary active ingredient in ashwagandha. The level of Withanolides, which are mainly found in ashwagandha roots, varies from one extract to the other.
Ashwagandha has been used for many things over the last 3,000 years.
The large list of ashwagandha health benefits includes relieving stress, aiding sleep, increasing energy levels and improving concentration.8
Overall, it’s earned itself somewhat of a big reputation over the years for coping with stress (thanks to the adaptogens) and improving thinking ability (e.g. attention and concentration levels).9
It’s been used in India for almost 5,000 years for conditions, such as rheumatism, constipation, insomnia, inflamed joints, chronic stress, parasites and hormone imbalances.10
It’s widely recognised for being a herbal medicine, as well as increasing energy levels and creating a general sense of wellbeing. As a result, the use of ashwagandha extends far beyond India for issues, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor memory
- Trouble sleeping
- Low libido
- Frequent illness or disease
- Low endurance (mentally or physically)
- Joint pain
- Neurological condition
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a natural agent that reportedly helps the body cope with stress. It’s widely recognised for being a herbal medicine, as well as increasing energy levels and creating a general sense of wellbeing.
Is ashwagandha safe?
After reading all the health benefits of ashwagandha, you might think is ashwagandha safe? Ashwagandha is a natural herbal treatment that is believed to be safe for most people.
Consider factors such as dosage and why you are taking ashwagandha as this could affect the safety of taking the supplement, however, if you are unsure speak to your GP.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ashwagandha should be avoided, and this has not been proven to be a safe supplement to take.
7 ashwagandha health benefits
The benefits of using ashwagandha are widespread and include: 14
- Reducing blood sugar levels – by increasing insulin secretion and improving insulin sensitivity within muscle cells.
- Increasing muscle mass – studies have found ashwagandha can increase muscle mass, reduce body fat and increase strength in men.
- Ashwagandha for sleep - ashwagandha can also improve sleep quality. The leaves of the ashwagandha plant contain the compound, triethylene glycol, which is sleep-inducing. (Try the recipe for sleep-promoting Moon Milk below).
- Maintaining normal cholesterol – a study in rats found that it lowered total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 53% and almost 45%.
- Supporting concentration and memory - an 8-week study involving 50 adults showed that taking 300mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day significantly improved general memory, task performance and attention.
- Ashwagandha for stress - in a study of chronically-stressed adults, those who supplemented with ashwagandha reported significantly greater reductions in cortisol compared with the control group. Those taking the highest dose experienced a 30% average reduction
- Physical endurance - in a trial of 49 healthy athletic adults, ashwagandha extract improved endurance and self-reported physical health after 12 weeks.15
The health benefits associated with ashwagandha are widespread and range from managing stress and blood sugar levels, to supporting concentration, physical endurance and sleep quality.
Find out more about ashwagandha benefits for men from our detailed guide.
How to use ashwagandha
There are many different ways you can take ashwagandha to suit your preferences. Ashwagandha supplements come in forms such as capsules, gummies and tablets to easily enhance your everyday diet.
Ashwagandha powder can easily be mixed with smoothies, juice and milk as a great alternative to taking ashwagandha tablets. You can also get ashwagandha gummies and liquid, too.
How you choose to take ashwagandha is very much down to personal preference, and the amount you take depends on what you are taking it for.
Most clinical studies recommend taking ashwagandha two to three times a day for 1 to 3 months.
In terms of dosage, it’s best to start with a lower dose, or the dose advised by your GP, and see how your body responds to it.16
Standard ashwagandha root extract tends to be taken in 450mg to 500mg capsules once or twice a day. The recommended guidance for adults is one a day, preferably with food or water.
More specifically, if you are taking the:
Root extract: most clinical studies have used 120 to 1,000mg daily, with the most common dose being 300mg twice a day.
Whole root: clinical doses range between 2 and 10g of powdered root daily, with an average of 5g per day.
And if you are taking ashwagandha to reduce:
- Cortisol (stress hormone) levels - it’s recommended you take 500 to 600mg a day for six to 12 weeks.
- Blood sugar levels – you should take between 250mg to 300g split into two to three equal doses throughout the day.
When to take ashwagandha supplements
Depending on the reason why you are taking ashwagandha, will determine how often you take it. Generally speaking, it’s usually taken around twice a day after meals.17
Ashwagandha capsules tend to contain higher doses of the herb. Between 2 and 3 capsules can be taken a day with water after lunch and dinner.
Always consult your GP first before taking ashwagandha and to identify the correct right dose for you.
The best time to take it depends on the type of ashwagandha you’re taking:
- Ashwagandha tea can be consumed in the morning
- 1 to 2 ashwagandha tablets or capsules can be taken twice a day after meals
- 1/2 tsp of ashwagandha powder can be mixed with milk before bed to help with sleep
Ashwagandha doses and the time you take it are determined by what you are taking it for. It’s best to start with a lower dose, or the dose advised by your GP, and see how your body responds to it.
Ashwagandha side effects
As with taking any supplement, it’s important ashwagandha is taken in line with the manufacturer’s guidance.
Ashwagandha is believed to be safe for most people to take, although its long-term effects are unknown.
Typical doses, taken on a short-term basis, may cause mild to moderate side effects, such as headaches, sleepiness and stomach upsets.18
You should avoid taking it if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have an autoimmune disease, unless advised otherwise by your GP.
People who are taking medication for thyroid disease should also be careful when taking ashwagandha because it might increase thyroid hormone levels.
If you’re taking any medication, ask your GP before taking it, as ashwagandha’s impact on blood sugar and blood pressure levels may interfere with the dosage.
Ashwagandha is safe for most people to take on a short-term basis. It may cause mild to moderate side effects, such as headaches, sleepiness and stomach upsets.
Ashwagandha drink recipe
As well as buying ashwagandha in a power, capsule or liquid form, it’s possible to buy Ashwagandha teabags too.
Another popular way of consuming ashwagandha is to make Moon Milk, a recipe that reportedly helps encourage sleep and improve sleep quality.
Recipe for Moon Milk with ashwagandha powder
Suitable for: Vegan and vegetarians
Difficulty level: Easy
Equipment: A cup/mug, whisk and saucepan
- 1 cup milk of choice (whole, almond, coconut, etc.)
- 1/2 tsp ground ashwagandha powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup19
A 100g string of Moon Milk with unsweetened almond milk contains:
|of which saturates||1.4g|
|of which sugars||2.2g|
- Simmer the milk, then whisk in the ashwagandha, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
- Simmer for another five minutes before adding the coconut oil.
- Sweeten your drink with syrup or honey, if you like.
We hope you’re feeling more clued up about ashwagandha, especially when it comes to knowing what it’s used for and how to potentially start using it yourself.
If you do intend to use this powerful herb, speak to your GP first, always read the labels and follow the recommended intake levels.
Last updated: 7 June 2021