If you’re familiar with the wellness world, you’ve probably heard of ashwagandha root, an adaptogenic herb. The powdered form has become particularly popular, often appearing in drinks and desserts. Of course, you might be interested in finding out what weed has to offer before trying it. Ahead, discover several benefits of ashwagandha and find out how to use it at home.
What is Ashwagandha?
Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is a small shrub that grows in Southeast Asia and India. It is part of the nightshade family, which includes products such as potatoes and tomatoes. According to Prajakta Apte, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Right Nutrition Works, ashwagandha – specifically its roots and orange-red fruit – has been used as a supplement for hundreds of years, including in Ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine in India. Traditionally, ashwagandha root is dried and ground into a powder, which can be added to foods or consumed as a supplement.
In case you missed it above, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a substance (in this case, an herb) that helps your body respond and adapt to stressors (think: fatigue and illness), according to Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN Regarding ashwagandha , the adaptogenic properties are associated with its high content of antioxidants, including flavonoids and phenolic compounds, according to an article by the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences. In fact, its main chemical compound – called withanolide – also has antioxidant properties and is associated with the many health benefits of ashwagandha.
Here is the nutritional profile for one teaspoon (about 3 grams) of ashwagandha powder, according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 12 calories
- 0 grams of protein
- 2 grams of carbohydrates
- 0 grams of sugar
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
As noted, ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. But currently, there isn’t much scientific research on the benefits of ashwagandha root and ashwagandha supplements in humans, and the available data isn’t conclusive enough, Pasquariello says. Experts are still learning about the herb’s effects on the body, but here’s what they’ve determined so far about the benefits of ashwagandha.
May reduce the risk of chronic disease
As mentioned, ashwagandha root is particularly high in antioxidants such as withanolides, flavonoids, and phenolics. This is notable because antioxidants fight free radicals, which are molecules that can damage your cells if they build up in your body, Apte says. This damage can lead to oxidative stress and increase your risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, notes Apte. However, antioxidants — like the withanolides in ashwagandha — can neutralize these free radicals, ultimately rendering them harmless and protecting your cells.
Manages stress levels
Turns out, lavender and chamomile aren’t the only stress-relieving herbs. Ashwagandha is thought to lower levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”), thereby calming the body’s stress response, Pasquariello says. It may work by regulating the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, or the series of interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal gland that controls our response to stress, according to an article by 2019 in the magazine Medicine. Another stress-related mechanism is thought to involve ashwagandholine, a compound in ashwagandha, which has a calming effect on the central nervous system, Pasquariello explains.
Promotes high quality sleep
If you’re looking for an all-natural way to get a better night’s sleep, you’ll want to experience the benefits of ashwagandha root. Ashwagandha can improve your body’s ability to deal with stress, potentially making napping easier, as Apte explains. Case in point: Ashwagandha root extract may help improve the quality and quantity of sleep (i.e. the number of hours spent sleeping) in people with insomnia, according to a scientific journal published in the journal Plos One. Ashwagandha root extract may also decrease sleep latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep after lying down and turning off the light, according to a study published in the journal priest.
Supports Immune Function
Another ashwagandha benefit involves your immune system, Pasquariello says. “Ashwagandha is also thought to improve bone marrow activity, potentially stimulating white blood cell production,” says Pasquariello. (ICYDK, white blood cells are immune system cells that attack disease-causing germs, such as bacteria and viruses.) The herb may also enhance the action of cytokines, which are proteins that control immune responses, adds- she.
Promotes athletic performance
Calling all athletes! The adaptogenic properties of ashwagandha can also boost your physical performance. The herb is believed to increase VO2 max, i.e. your maximum oxygen uptake, making it easier for your body to deliver more oxygen (i.e. fuel) to your muscles, according to Pasquariello. VO2 max is often considered a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. These effects may be linked to the antioxidant and adaptogenic properties of ashwagandha, which work by improving your physiological adaptation to training, according to Pasquariello. “Finally, ashwagandha taken over longer periods of time is thought to help improve sleep, which may promote better muscle regeneration and help [you] feeling more restored and energized,” she adds.
Potential Risks of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is considered “generally safe”, which means that it does not usually cause side effects, and if they do occur, they are usually associated with high doses and involve gastrointestinal problems, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and/or nausea. , according LiverTox: clinical and research information on drug-induced liver injury. That being said, when taking ashwagandha in any form, it’s important to follow the directions on the package. It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor or dietitian before consuming new supplements of any kind. They can confirm if there’s a risk of adverse side effects between ashwagandha and other supplements or medications you’re taking, says Pasquariell.
How to Buy and Use Ashwagandha
Since ashwagandha is primarily used as a supplement, you’ll often find it in capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, dried roots, or powders, which are designed to be mixed into drinks, according to Pasquariello. As for fresh ashwagandha root? It’s rare in the United States, although it’s not impossible to find, says Richard LaMarita, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. You may be able to buy it at specialty health food stores, Indian or Southeast Asian grocery stores, or farmers’ markets, depending on your area.
Ashwagandha capsules, tablets and liquid extracts are treated like any other supplement. In other words, they are consumed in addition to meals, and not as the main ingredient (like, for example, vegetables or cereals). The ideal dosage also varies from person to person, though the general recommendation is 500 to 600 milligrams per day, Apte says. If in doubt, follow the directions on the package and, again, talk to your healthcare provider. Meanwhile, the powdered form can be easily incorporated into various beverages, including smoothies, coffee, tea, juice, or even just hot water, Pasquariello says. Another option is to mix powdered ashwagandha root with ghee, honey and hot water or milk, which is the traditional preparation, Apte explains. You also find ashwagandha in prepared products, such as beverages. (Related: Adaptogenic Drinks to Sip for More Energy and Less Stress)
Whatever form you choose, be sure to choose a product from a reputable retailer and company, just as you would with any other supplement or food. Herbal products may be mislabeled or adulterated, potentially increasing the risk of serious side effects and liver problems.
How to Use Dried or Powdered Ashwagandha
If taking pills or extracts isn’t your thing, you can take advantage of the various health benefits of ashwagandha by adding the powder to your recipes. But take note: Ashwagandha has a potent, pungent smell, so it might take some getting used to, says LaMarita. It also has a bitter, earthy flavor, so it’s great for balancing sweet dishes and spicy notes, Apte says. Here are some easy ways to add dried or powdered ashwagandha to your rotation:
In desserts. Try mixing powdered ashwagandha into your favorite sweet desserts, recommends Apte. About a tablespoon of ashwagandha root powder will do the trick, as recipes such as these adaptogenic chocolate truffles from Nourished with Tish suggest.
In smoothies. Powdered ashwagandha can be mixed into smoothies, as Pasquariello mentioned. The earthy flavor works especially well with warming ingredients, such as turmeric or chocolate, but you can also keep it simple by adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon to a banana smoothie.
On salads and soups. Another way to use ashwagandha powder is to sprinkle it on salads and soups. Again, try pairing it with recipes with spicy, earthy, or comforting preparations, such as red lentil soup.
Like a tea. If you are able to find dried ashwagandha root, you can use it to make an earthy tea. “Boil a teaspoon of dried root in a cup of water or milk [of your choice]then simmer for 20 to 35 minutes,” says LaMarita. For even more flavor, try adding cinnamon, ginger, ghee, honey and/or date sugar, he suggests.” You can also try it simmered with chaga or reishi mushroom powder for a more flavorful drink,” adds LaMarita.