Withania somnifera is a miraculous herb that is a nature’s gift to mankind. Withania is having excellent medicinal properties and can serve as a remedy for several health conditions. Traditionally, in Sanskrit, Withania somnifera is known as Ashwagandha or “smell like a horse”. This unique name was attributed to the herb considering the smell of the roots, which is similar to the smell of a horse. Scientifically, according to the Linnaeus classification, the plant is known as Withania somnifera (L.)Dunal. The name “Dunal” was attributed to the popular French botanist Michel Félix Dunal. The use of Ashwagandha is dated back to centuries in Ayurveda and Unani medicine. Ayurvedic scriptures documented abundant use of the plant for general wellbeing and in ailments. Similarly, in Unani medicine, recommendation of this herb is recorded in the book “Kitab-ul-Hashaish” during Dioscorides (78 AD).
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a perennial shrub and is known as Indian ginseng, and winter cherry. The herb belongs to the nightshade or Solanaceae family. Traditionally, Withania somnifera root extract is used for the medication and as a supplement. Generally, consumption of the Withania root extract in a capsule or powder form is advised with milk or water. The herb is generally abundant in the drylands of India and the African region. It is also found in other Asia Pacific countries. For thousands of years, this herb is serving as the premier source of medicine in Ayurveda. The herb received enormous consideration due to the benefits it renders to human health. Taxonomically, the plant belongs to the clade Angiosperms, Eudicots, Asterids, and the order is Solanales, family Solanaceae, genus Withania, and species somnifera. The plant grows between 15 and 30 inches and bell-shaped green flower, and orange fruits are its phenotypical characteristics.
Digest: Withania plant* Small ~30 inch plant of Solanaceae or the nightshade family.
* Having bell shaped green flower and orange fruit.
* Grows in the drylands of Western India or Northern African region abundantly.
* Scientifically, in the binomial nomenclature of the plant honored French botany Prof. Michel Félix Dunal. and the plant is named as Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal.
The plant is also known as Ashwagandha, winter cherry, and Indian ginseng.
Numerous health benefits can be received through the consumption of Withania in a different form, especially the root extract. The presence of several phenolic compounds, lactone triterpenoids, especially withanolides, has a considerable role in the health benefits.
Up regulationIn modern experiments, it has been proven that Ashwagandha is an amazing modulator of multiple biochemical and physiological parameters. It does so in a synchronized fashion that attributed this herb as the best “Rasayana”, and a miraculous medicinal plant. The evidence available till now suggest that Withania somnifera can induce testosterone level in male, enhances the strength, increases the immunity, anaerobic exercise capacity or cardiorespiratory outputs, augments the luteinizing hormones in women, improves motivation, elevates mood and social functioning in general, significantly increases overall wellbeing, improves alertness, enhances the antioxidant level, cognition, dieresis, motor control, improves the activity of the natural killer cells, surges mental processing, enhances general quality of life, improves certain WBC cells types, and many other biochemical and physiological factors.
Down regulationOn the contrary, the herb is having the potential to reduce the number of factors that include several symptoms of diseases, serum albumin, reaction time, pain sensation, muscle damage, lipid peroxidation, insomnia, fat deposition, inflammation and irritability, C-reactive proteins, weight, LDL, Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), fatigue, depression, blood glucose, total cholesterol, stress, and anxiety.
These many positive outcomes are rarely achieved by other natural supplements, herbs, and medicines. Moreover, Ashwagandha is known to be generally safe to use since ancient times, at it could be used with a varying range of dosages. So far, the observed side-effects are limited, and severe adverse effects are almost none. Therefore, this time-tested medicinal plant could be our elixir and can have an application in health and wellness in a multipurpose way.
The consumption of Ashwagandha predominantly considers the root extract from ancient times. Most of the time, as single or part of a polyformulation, Ashwagandha is consumed with water or milk only to harness the maximum benefit. The roots are dried and ground into powder form for consumption. In modern times, capsules or tablets use such dried yellow powder of the roots as the active ingredient.
We have discussed the immense benefits of this plant. The question arises, what is the secret ingredient? How does this herb become so effective? Scientific investigations suggest that the phytochemicals present in the herb made it so.
As part of plant metabolism, especially secondary metabolism, several large and complex ring structured chemical compounds are naturally produced by the plant. Those are known as phytochemicals. The purpose of these chemicals as a byproduct of the plant is often used for the plant’s defense from harmful animals including insects, predators, and others. Phytochemicals are helpful for human health, growth, and defense against disease conditions and are used as an effective medication. However, essentially not all phytochemicals are beneficial; harmful phytochemicals are known as phytotoxins that have a toxic effect on humans and other animals. However, the purpose of the plant to produce the phytochemical is almost the same, to save itself from outside harmful impact.
Research outcomes suggest that Withania is having many phytochemicals that are produced as the byproduct of the plant’s secondary metabolism. An array of ~40,000 different chemical molecules is present in Withania. An optimum level of phytochemical production in the plant depends on the environmental stress, soil conditions such as soil moisture stress . The root extract of the plant contains a range of alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Chemical constituent analysis of those alkaloids and steroid lactones suggested most of them are Withanine, somnine, anahydrine, withananine, pseudo-withanine tropane, somniferine, pseudo-tropine, choline, somniferinine, anaferine, and isopelletierine . The most important components present are various types of Withanolide and Withaferrin as shown in Figure 1.
Digest: Phytochemicals* Phytochemicals serve as the secret ingredient for the medicinal properties or as active pharmaceutical ingredients (API).
* There are more than 40,000 compounds found in Withania.
* Phytochemicals are mostly alkaloids and lactones structurally.
* Major compound in Withanolide, Withanolide A, and Withaferin.