By: Charlotte LaGuardia, Board Certified Nutrition Specialist, American College of Nutrition Member. Founder, Thrive East
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is an herbal supplement with deep roots in Arurvedic medicine. It has been used for thousands of years for many reasons ranging from soothing the nervous system to promoting athletic performance and longevity. The name ashwagandha literally means smell of horse, due to the somewhat off-putting scent of the powder. However, even with a strong smell and flavor, this root is still used regularly across the world. Traditional, uses include as an aphrodisiac, diuretic, a stimulant, and nervine but more recently, studies have been researching many other areas of benefit like anti-cancer, neurological support, and anxiety (1).
Additionally, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen meaning it can help with the body’s response to stress. By working on both a neurological and hormonal level, adaptogens can improve your ability to handle any stress that you may encounter. This means it can help bring you up when you are down but also down when you are up. This is why ashwagandha has such a wide variety of benefits from sleep to energy!
Benefits of Ashwagandha
- Reduced cortisol levels (2)
- Improve physical and athletic performance (3)
- Improved memory (4)
- Reduced anxiety (5)
- Improve cognitive function (4)
- Anti-inflammator7 (6)
How to consume
The root of the Withania somnifera plant is dried and ground into a fine powder. For internal applications ashwagandha is traditionally consumed with ghee and warm water. Ghee is clarified butter, which is butter heated to a high enough temperature that the milk solids can be skimmed off the top. This means ghee is very tolerable by those who experience a dairy sensitivity. (1) For external applications, like skin conditions or painful joints, the powder is mixed with water to form a paste and then applied directly to the skin.
How and when you choose to consume ashwagandha should depend on what you are looking to gain. For example, if I am stressed and having trouble sleeping a ashwagandha latte before bed will do the trick. But if I am prepping for a big workout or a crazy day of work, I will add it to my smoothie in the morning.
Whenever you consume ashwagandha there should always be a source of fat to increase the absorption. If you are making a latte ghee is a great option or you can use coconut oil. In a smoothie I would recommend a little avocado or maybe a tablespoon of chia seeds.
Here are my favorite ways to enjoy ashwagandha:
Brain Boost Smoothie
½ cup frozen blueberries
½ frozen banana
1 TBS chia seeds
1 serving vanilla protein powder
½ tsp ashwagandha powder
1 cup coconut milk
Ice cubes (optional)
Blend on high until smooth. Enjoy immediately.
1 cup coconut milk
½ tsp ashwagandha
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 cardamom pods
Dash black pepper
1 tsp honey
Place all the ingredients, except the honey in a small saucepan. Over medium heat bring to a simmer. Let the mixture lightly bubble for 5 minutes, remove from heat. Using a cheese cloth or fine sieve, strain the mixture into your favorite mug. Stir in the honey and enjoy.