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.
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,1,2,14-17improving immunity,8,18enhancing 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.
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.
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.
If you are taking sedative drugs, you should not take ashwagandha at the same time except under your doctor's supervision.
Devi PU, Sharada AC, Solomon FE, et al. In vivo growth inhibitory effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on a transplantable mouse tumour, Sarcoma 180. Indian J Exp Biol. 1992;30:169-172.
al-Hindawi MK, al-Khafaji SH, Abdul-Nabi MH. Anti-granuloma activity of Iraqi Withania somnifera. J Ethnopharmacol. 1992;37:113-116.
Kupparanjan K, et al. Effect of ashwaganda ( Withania somnifera Dunal) on the process of aging in human volunteers. J Res Ayurveda Siddha. 1980;1:247-258.
Bone K. [No title available]. MediHerb Professional Review. 1998;30.
Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998;50:1065-1068.
Archana R, Namasivayam A. Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera.J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64:91-93.
Dhuley JN. Therapeutic efficacy of ashwagandha against experimental aspergillosis in mice. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 1998;20:191-198.
Ziauddin M, Phansalkar N, Patki P, et al. Studies on the immunomodulatory effects of Ashwagandha. J Ethnopharmacol. 1996;50:69-76.
Dhuley JN. Effect of ashwagandha on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals. J Ethnopharmacol. 1998;60:173-178.
Singh N, Nath R, Lata A, et al. Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), a rejuvenating herbal drug which enhances survival during stress (an adaptogen). Int J Crude Drug Res. 1982;20:29-35.
Dadkar VN, Ranadive NU, Dhar HL. Evaluation of antistress (adaptogen) activity of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha). Indian J Clin Biochem. 1987;2:101-108.
Dhuley JN. Adaptogenic and cardioprotective action of ashwagandha in rats and frogs. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;70:57-63.
Singh B, Saxena AK, Chandan BK, et al. Adaptogenic activity of a novel, withanolide-free aqueous fraction from the roots of Withania somnifera Dun. Phytother Res. 2001;15:311-318.
Davis L, Kuttan G. Effect of Withania somnifera on DMBA induced carcinogenesis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001;75:165-168.
Prakash J, Gupta SK, Kochupillai V, et al. Chemopreventive activity of Withania somnifera in experimentally induced fibrosarcoma tumours in Swiss albino mice. Phytother Res. 2001;15:240-244.
Russo A, Izzo AA, Cardile V, et al. Indian medicinal plants as antiradicals and DNA cleavage protectors. Phytomedicine. 2001;8:125-132.
Singh DD, Dey CS, Bhutani KK. Downregulation of p34cdc2 expression with aqueous fraction from Withania somnifera for a possible molecular mechanism of anti-tumor and other pharmacological effects. Phytomedicine. 2001;8:492-494.
Gupta YK, Sharma SS, Rai K, et al. Reversal of paclitaxel induced neutropenia by Withania somnifera in mice. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2001;45:253-257.
Dhuley JN. Nootropic-like effect of ashwagandha ( Withania somnifera L.) in mice. Phytother Res. 2001;15:524-528.
Jain S, Shukla SD, Sharma K, Bhatnagar M. Neuroprotective effects of Withania somnifera Dunn. in hippocampal sub-regions of female albino rat. Phytother Res. 2001;15:544-548.
Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, et al. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:463-469.
Ahmad MK, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK, et al. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertil Steril. 2010;94(3):989-996.
Khanna D, Sethi G, Ahn KS, et al. Natural products as a gold mine for arthritis treatment. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2007;7(3):344-351.
Winters M. Ancient medicine, modern use: Withania somnifera and its potential role in integrative oncology. Altern Med Rev. 2006;11(4):269-277.
Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(4):334-346.
As of 6/7/2011, additional research published on ashwagandha does not warrant any changes to this article.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.