What is Ashwagandha?

Thousands of years ago, Indian herbal doctors recommended ashwagandha root for a whole host of ailments. It was thought to boost vitality of the mind and body. Fast forward to today, and 21st century science has proven many of the use cases for taking this powerful and healthful plant extract. Celebrities like Megan Markle and Jennifer Aniston swear by it, and for good reason too. Discover below the rich history of ashwagandha and the five incredible health benefits it can offer.


So, what is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, or withania somnifera, is one of the most popular herbs in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine system. Historians have been able to trace this traditional system of healing remedies as far back as 6000 years ago! The plant extract was commonly used thanks to its assumed far reaching health benefits.

Its name originated from two sanskrit words: ‘Ashva’ meaning horse, and ‘gandha’ meaning smell. This refers to the strong horse-like smell the root has. Having tried it ourselves, we didn’t equate the smell to horse, as such. It does has a mild earthy scent but we didn’t notice it when it is added to green smoothies or juices.

As mentioned, Ayurvedic doctors believed that ashwagandha could offer a host of health benefits. These are just some that it was used for: improved memory, better brain function, sexual balance, stress resilience, and even immunity.


Where it comes from

Ashwagandha is a small shrub and has yellow flowers. The plant is native to India as well as North Africa. Historically, practitioners would dry the roots and sometimes the leaves too, then grind it down into a fine powder.

However, this is a basic approach and the level of withanolides (the important active compound) and other important compounds can vary hugely. For example, KSM-66 ashwagandha extract has 5% withanolide content. It also maintains the same ratio of the other important plant compounds naturally found in the root. It requires a gentler water based extraction method, and this also knocks out the strong horse smell too.

Other extracts can have a stronger withanolide content, but the trade-off is less of the other plant goodness that is lost.


Five benefits of taking ashwagandha

#1 Stress relief

Stress is a major component of modern life. Most of us are taught that we must simply deal with it, like everyone else. However, lifestyle decisions as well as natural, plant based supplements can make a real difference to stress levels. And one of the main benefits of taking ashwagandha is to help with stress.

A 2008 clinical study measured the effect of taking ashwagandha over 60 days on chronic stress. Three randomised groups totalling 98 people completed the 60 day study. The results are remarkable, too. The researchers found that taking either 125 or 250 mg of ashwagandha extract daily  “significantly reduces experiential and biochemical indicators of stress without adverse effects”. By day 60, total stress and anxiety scores fell by 60-75%, with the higher dose giving the strongest reduction.


#2 Improved muscle mass and strength

In ancient times there was some belief that taking this “smell of the horse” root extract could also make you as strong as a horse, too. Interestingly, there is now scientific support for this ancient belief.

A 2018 clinical study measured whether taking ashwaganda extract would improve strength training results in recreationally active men. The study took place over a 12 week period involving a placebo group and a group taking 500 mg daily. Again, the results were encouraging, with muscle mass and endurance speeds both improving. Specifically, the group taking ashwagandha daily were able to bench press on average nearly 13 kg more at the end of the 12 week period. That was 60% better than the placebo group’s bench press improvement of just 8 kg.


#3 Reduced inflammation

Inflammation in the body can build up over time and contribute to a number of lfe threatening diseases. That’s why adding a healthy selection of natural, plant based anti-inflammatories to a wellness routine is so good for overall health. Some studies show that this plant extract is a capable anti-inflammatory, too.

In particular, a 2015 study assessed the effect of taking ashwagandha extract on rheumatoid arthritis in rats. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammation. Over 20 days, rats received 100 to 300 mg per kg of body weight. The results for those taking the extract showed “antioxidant and anti-arthritic activity and reduced inflammation”. While this is encouraging for arthritis, note that the dosage strength is very high. The average person weighing 62 kg would have to take more than 12 grams of ashwagandha per day. This would quickly get expensive.


#4 Improved brain function and memory

Are you the kind of person that is forever searching for your phone, or your keys, or both and everything in between? We’re talking about less than excellent spatial memory skills. This is what controls the ability to plan a route, remember where an object is, or where an event occurred. It can see improvement with memory games as simple as Snap, but it can have a helping hand from nature, too.

In 2012, researchers conducted a memory study. They tested whether ashwagandha extract could help fight oxidative stress in the brain which, in turn, might improve spatial memory. In conclusion, the study reveals that rats who receive the extract perform significantly better in the memory test. This was because the plant extract boosts the rat’s antioxidant system and helps to restore brain receptor density, and thus memory.


#5 Reduced cholesterol levels

The body needs cholesterol. However, high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Fatty deposits can build up in the blood vessels. This, in turn, puts unwanted stress on the heart as it becomes harder to pump blood around the body. Eating less saturated fats can go a long way to solving high cholesterol. In addition, the same study which demonstrated ashwagandha’s stress-busting properties also showed it can fight cholesterol levels too.

It could be that higher cholesterol is linked to elevated stress. So it would make sense that ashwagandha can benefit both. The same 2008 study revealed that individuals taking 250 mg daily for 60 days saw a 17% reduction in bad cholesterol. Additionally, they saw an 11% reduction in triglycerides. At high levels, triglycerides can help harden artery walls which can contribute to heart disease.


Choosing the right ashwagandha dosage

How many grams of ashwagandha per day is a question we often get from customers. Dosage recommendations vary widely, too. We suggest an ashwagandha dosage of 250mg to 600mg. This is because a 2019 study shows that a daily dose between 250mg and 600mg gives great results for reduced cortisol (stress) and better sleep quality.

The Wunder Workshop pure ashwagandha root powder available on GreenBox recommends a 500mg dose. While the Floradix ashwagandha liquid product includes a slightly higher dose of 600mg. A max does of ashwagandha could be as high as 1,500mg a day, but we think that might be unnecessary.

And finally, an ashwagandha dosage for sleep is also between 250mg and 600mg, as above.


Are there any ashwagandha side effects?

As with anything, you can take too much of a natural herb. It is always best to refer to the ashwagandha dosage. The good news is, ashwagandha root has been used throughout the ages. So, there is plenty of data. It is a safe plant extract without major adverse effects. Clinical studies support this, too. With very high uses however, there are rare cases of liver injury or jaundice. This is where the skin or whites of the eyes turn yellow. These side effects don’t lead to chronic injury by any means, though. And again, although it can occur, it is very unusual.

In terms of other side effects, there are a few. These tend to crop up in the odd case when someone is taking a very high dose. You might experience headaches, drowsiness, or even an upset stomach and nausea, as examples.

If you take medication already, you should consult your doctor before adding this ancient herb to your routine. This is the safest approach!


Your other ashwagandha questions answered

There’s lots to learn when it comes to taking ashwagandha the right way. We’ve compiled all our regular customer questions on this natural herb, below.


Does ashwagandha increase height?

Some customers do ask us which ashwagandha powder is best for height. There are quite a few blogs that say it does. However, we could find no scientific studies to support these claims. So, although we may all want to be taller, ashwagandha is not your solution for increasing height.


Ashwagandha root and weight loss

Are there ashwagandha benefits for weight loss? Many of us want to lose a few extra pounds, and a natural plant extract would be ideal. But is ashwagandha the answer? There is some proof to show that ashwagandha can help with weight loss when the root cause is chronic stress. It helps reduce stress levels, and can help curb the related food cravings too. Also, high stress levels lead to higher than usual levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol slows down the metabolism, and so makes it easier for us to gain weight from what we are eating. So the answer is yes, but only if the weight gain is down to too much stress in the first place.


How long does ashwagandha take to work?

As with any natural supplement, consistency is key. Ashwagandha can take up to 10 weeks for the full effects to show. But you should see the early benefits after 5 weeks. So you really need to build it into a daily habit to get the most from this one.


Do I take ashwagandha in the morning or night?

The short answer is, the best time to take ashwagandha root powder depends on your daily routine. If you take supplements in the morning already, that’s the perfect time to add ashwagandha. The key is to build it into your habits. Now, you might be taking ashwagandha in a capsule with other plant extracts. For example, we stock the Neat Nutrition Sleep + Relax capsules, which contain ashwagandha. This product contains other herbs to reduce stress and aid sleep. So in this scenario you should try and take ashwagandha before bed.


Should I take ashwagandha on an empty stomach?

Taking ashwagandha on an empty stomach may lead to discomfort or mild tummy aches. If you have a sensitive stomach you should be mindful of this. So, we recommend you take your supplement during a meal, or shortly after. Simply try out what works best for you and stick to that. Everyone is different! Some people swear taking it in the morning on an empty stomach gives them better effects.


Ashwagandha supplement types UK

So, what type of ashwagandha is best? It’s really down to personal preferences and your daily habits. We offer a fantastic range of different products and formats at GreenBox. So you will find the right product for you.


How to prepare ashwagandha powder

If you are looking for it in powder form, you want a black pepper and ashwagandha product. Why is this? The black pepper helps the body absorb all the withanolides within the ashwagandha. The product for you here is The Wunder Workshop Superior Ashwagandha as it has the black pepper. It also contains the top quality ingredient, ashwagandha 66 powder.

This plant extract is so easy to add into the daily wellness routine. Because it comes in powder form, simply add it to your daily superfood mix or smoothie, add it to a glass of water with squash, or even add it to your daily coffee. We do recommend that to stop it from caking, it is best to mix the powder with a little cold water first. Then use a milk frother to mix it well. finally, just pour it into whichever drink you like and enjoy!


Making ashwagandha tea

This is an easy way to bring ashwagandha into your daily regime. If you like an earthy and slightly bitter flavour in a tea, then this one is for you. If that’s not your thing, you can always add a small teaspoon of agave syrup for sweetness.

Here is how to make ashwagandha tea:

  • Pour enough water for one cup into a saucepan and bring to a boil
  • Add a teaspoon of pure ashwagandha root powder into your cup
  • Put a lid on and simmer for 15 minutes
  • Pour through a strainer into your favourite cup or mug
  • Now to make it your own: add agave syrup, turmeric and/or cinnamon

Then sit back, relax and enjoy your herbal and stress busting tea!


Can you mix 5 HTP and ashwagandha? Meet the Relax Capsules

You certainly can mix these two natural plant extracts. 5-HTP comes from the griffonia seed and is also natural. A brand available on GreenBox combines 5-HTP and ashwagandha in the aptly named Relax Capsules. These are a popular sleep product. Take two capsules two hours before bed. Over 4-6 weeks you should sleep better, feel less stressed, and feel less anxious too.

This really is a special plant extract, and highly deserving of a place in the plant based wellness routine. The more we learn about it, the more impressed we are that Ayurvedic practitioners identified it and swore by it all those years ago. And yet today, the western world is only just re-learning its promising health benefits again.


What is the difference between KSM 66 and ashwagandha?

KSM 66 ashwagandha is a branded ashwagandha ingredient. It offers the highest presence of the root’s extracts compared to other ashwagandha powders on the market. Of note, it has more than 5% concentration of withanolides. This is the root extract that gives the supplement all its special properties. The Wunder Workshop product uses KSM 66, for example!

The family owned business behind the higher quality ashwagandha 66 product is Ixoreal. It took the family 14 years of R&D to develop and refine this wonderful product! They have also done a large amount of clinical studies to date. Now, we are able to say that KSM 66 is clinically proven to:

  • Help reduce stress, anxiety, and cortisol levels
  • Help reduce stress-related food cravings
  • Support enhanced memory and cognitive function
  • Aid muscle strength, endurance and recovery rate
  • Enhance sexual performance in both women and men

Note that KSM 66 is not an organic ashwagandha powder. However, it is a full spectrum extract using only the quality root, not the leaves. It is also a vegan process they use. We believe it is among the highest quality products out there today.


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