I'm back into the thick of it w/ Ayurveda school and I'm trying to really get down with my herbs, so I've decided to post a "HerbBlurb" about a different herb everyday in February. As I learn more about all of these wonderful herbs, I'll tell you about what the herb is used for in Ayurveda, what it looks, tastes & smells like, and about my (possibly limited) experience using it. Each day I will be carrying the herb around with me getting to know it, and then sharing whatever I learn with you. Most of my information comes from my textbooks, teachers, personal experience and the book "The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine," by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad. None of this is to be taken as medical advice, but as a way to learn a little more about herbs and Ayurveda. So, I hope you enjoy learning about herbs with me!
First, though, I highly recommend taking a moment to say "HerbBlurb" out loud to yourself. Pronounce the H and just say it a few times. It is extremely entertaining and might even cause you to giggle a little bit. If I wasn't so bad at computering and technology-ing, I would definitely make a sound-byte of this for you. Maybe by the end of the month...
So, here goes! First on the list is ashwagandha. So far, this is one of my favorite herbs. It has so many uses that it was actually my go to herb on my final exam for my first year of Ayurveda school. If I wasn't sure what herb to use, my plan was to write down ashwagandha, because there was a high probability that it would work and I'd at least get partial credit.
Ashwagandha, or winter cherry, is also sometimes referred to as Indian Ginseng due to its rejuvenative properties. It is related to the tomato and bears bright red fruit that sort of resembles a huckleberry in shape and size. Its fragrant root (the word ashwagandha literally means "the smell of a horse") is used to make teas, milk decoctions, powder(for tea and pastes) and medicated ghees/oils. The fresh root is said to smell like horse urine, but I find that the dried root has a sweet, earthy smell and taste. The dried root itself looks a lot like wood chips. (see below)
Ashwagandha is one of the most versatile and important Indian herbs, which is why it is such a great one to start this series off with. It is an adaptogenic herb and so it promotes homeostasis and normalizes physiological function. It is also a rejuvenative tonic so is best used for calming anxiety, tonifying and rejuvenating the body (especially in those w/ chronic weakness), and enhancing the libido. Folks with Kapha or Vata constitutions or imbalances will benefit the most, but those with Pitta dosha will also benefit as long as they don't take it in excess. Ashwagandha can also help lower blood pressure, increase respiratory function, increase Ojas (or immunity), alleviate chronic inflammation, reduce stress, help with infertility, improve psoriasis, aid in healing ulcers and can be used externally on wounds and sores. It is a very nourishing herb and really does seem to help with a little bit of everything!
Like any herb, there are a few precautions as well. It should not be used if you have high ama (or toxicity) or if you are severely congested. In high doses there some side effects have been seen that include narcotic-like nervous system depression and headaches.
So how do you prepare it? Well, I like to make tea out of it, because that's the easiest! I use 1 teaspoon of the root for every cup of water and let it steep for about 5 minutes. The fragrance is moderate (and delightful!), but the flavor is pretty mild. I am still in the experimenting phase, so have not yet experienced what it feels like to take it over the course of a few weeks, but that is usually what is recommended. I do find that you can feel it's mild anxiety reducing effects after just one portion (about 1/4 cup), so I usually take it at night time.
I really do enjoy the smell of this herb and have had a great time taking it out and sniffing it throughout the day. I can't wait til' we get to cardamom, because I actually keep a bag of it around just for sniffin'... But since we started with an A, I think tomorrow's herb should start with B. Hmmm... See ya then!