Ashwagandha is one of the most important medicinal plants in Ayurveda. It is traditionally used as a sedative for sleep disorders related to stress or strengthening the thyroid gland. We present the effects and possible uses of sleeping berries.
Ashvagandha, the plant that brings sleep
Ashvagandha (Vithania somnifera) is a plant from the evening primrose family. In Germany, it is also called sleeping berry, winter cherry, or “Indian ginseng.” The name Ashvagandha comes from Sanskrit and means something like: the smell of horses because the roots smell strongly of horses.
From a naturopathic point of view, the botanical name is more interesting. While Vithania describes the genus of plants to which some other species of Vithania belong, the term “somnifera” comes from Latin and means something like “bringing sleep” (Somnus = sleeping, ferre = bringing) and thus indicates one of the main areas of application of Ashvagandha – namely, sleep disorders.
Opium poppy also has this expression in its botanical name: Papaver somniferum.
Roots and leaves are used, not berries.
As an important medicinal plant from Ayurveda, Ashvagandha naturally comes from Asia but can now be found in many tropical and subtropical areas, e.g., in Africa, Spain, Greece, the Canary Islands, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Although Ashvagandha in German means berry berry, it is not the fruits used, ashwagandha’s roots and leaves. These parts of the plant contain so-called withanolides, the best researched active ingredients in Ashvagandha.
Confusion: Ashvagandha and Physalis
Ashvagandha berries are very similar to the fruits of Physalis Peruvian (Andean berry, Cape gooseberry), which also belongs to the evening primrose family. You can mix the berries of both plants under certain circumstances. Both are surrounded by a paper cover (dried petals that close the berries). Yes, sometimes Ashvagandha is called Physalis somnifera, which indicates a close connection even more clearly.
However, ashwagandha berries are not edible. While physalis has a refreshingly sweet taste when ripe, ashwagandha berries are very bitter and poisonous in large quantities due to their alkaloid content. Therefore, they are not eaten simply because of the unpleasant taste. But due to the high content of saponins, you can use them for the production of soap.
Effects of Ashvagandha
From the research in 2000. years with Los Angeles College of Chiropractic listed several therapeutic effects of Ashvagandha:
It promotes sleep
Effect against dementia
Promotes blood production
Anti-aging effect (increases DHEA levels, anti-aging hormone)
Positive effect on hormonal balance, heart and lung system, and central nervous system.
Simultaneously, the above-mentioned study states that toxicity studies have shown that ashwagandha is a safe remedy with few or no side effects. Please read below for possible side effects.
Ashwagandha acts as an adaptogen against stress.
In Ayurveda, Ashvagandha has been used for thousands of years for several ailments, such as insomnia, anxiety, joint pain, fertility problems, and impotence, and improved brain performance and brighten moods.
Due to its ability to increase stress resistance, Ashvagandha is one of the so-called adaptogens. The term refers to medicinal plants that make you more resistant to stress, which means that stress can no longer have such a strong effect on health under their influence. Other adaptogens are, e.g., B. Rhodiola rosea or ginseng.
Ashwagandha reduces the level of stress hormones.
Cortisol is an important stress hormone, which remains chronically elevated during long-term stress and can therefore be harmful to health. The consequences of too high cortisol levels can be sleep and concentration disorders, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, depressed moods, anxiety disorders, increased sensitivity to pain, and much more. Even diabetes can develop if the stress does not go away.
Our article on the natural lowering of cortisol levels presented a study from 2012. year in which Ashwagandha managed to reduce excessively high levels of cortisol. 64 participants received 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract or placebo twice daily. After two months, cortisol levels in the Ashvagandha group decreased significantly (by 30 percent). Not in the placebo group.
Subjective feelings of stress also dropped by 64 percent in the Ashvagandha group. Also, anxiety and insomnia decreased by almost 70 percent.
Ashwagandha has an anti-anxiety effect.
In experiments with rats, it was already 2000. Ashwagandha root extracts have shown a similar anti-anxiety effect in small rodents after only 5 days as conventional drugs (e.g., Lorazepam (benzodiazepine).
In the same year, the calming effect of sleeping berries was confirmed in humans. In a six-week double-digit, placebo-controlled study, 39 participants with anxiety disorders received either ashwagandha extract (250 mg per dose) or placebo twice daily.
Eighty-eight percent of the Ashvagandha group participants reported a significant improvement in symptoms compared with only 50 percent in the placebo group. There were no side effects.
In another placebo-controlled double-blind study from 2008. The effect of the ashwagandha root extract in chronically stressed people was investigated in 130 patients were divided into four groups:
Group 1 received 125 mg of ashwagandha extract once daily
Group 2 received 125 mg twice daily
Group 3 received 250 mg twice daily
Group 4 received a placebo
The entry lasted 60 days. Respondents’ stress levels were measured before the start of the study, in the middle of the study (day 30), and at the end of the study.
Cortisol levels fall, the anti-stress hormone DHEA rises
Even a small dose of Ashvagandha taken once a day managed to significantly reduce typical stress parameters such as blood pressure, pulse, and cortisol levels in group 1 compared to placebo.
Cortisol levels fell in group 1 by 14 percent, in group 2 by 24 percent, and in group 3 by 30 percent. In the placebo group, it increased by 4.4 percent.
At the same time, DHEA levels increased by 32 percent in groups 2 and 3 and by 13 percent in group 1 (they fell by 10 percent in the placebo group).
DHEA is considered an anti-stress and anti-age hormone. DHEA is a cortisol antagonist. If cortisol levels rise, DHEA levels fall and vice versa. If you have a healthy DHEA level, you are more tolerant of stress or resistant to stress. As cortisol levels rise and DHEA levels fall throughout life, measures to increase DHEA levels are important in any stress management.
The value of CRP, which can increase during stress and is an indicator of chronic inflammation in the body, also fell in the Asvhagandha groups. VLDL and LDL cholesterol levels also dropped, as did triglycerides (blood lipids), while HDL cholesterol rose slightly. In the placebo group, these values even worsened.