You are currently viewing Ashwagandha (Ubuvimba) – Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal

Ashwagandha (Ubuvimba) – Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal

  • Post comments:0 Comments
  • Reading time:17 mins read

Family: Solanaceae

Scientific name: Withania somnifera

Authority: (L.) Dunal

Common names: Ashwagandha (Hindi), Ubuvimba (Zulu)

What is ashwagandha? 

The name ashwagangha is derived from the word “ashwa”, which means “of a horse”, this is referencing the fact that the root apparently smells like a horse. The plant is called ashwagandha because consuming it gives you the power of a horse or ‘stamina’.   

Ashwagandha is scientifically known as Withania somnifera. It is a small shrub that grows to about 2 m in height. The plant’s most notable features are the short-fine hairs covering the branches, the simple alternate leaves with entire margins, yellow to green flowers, and berry-like fruits that are enclosed in a calyx. The berry fruits turn reddish-orange or red when ripe. 

This plant grows naturally in most arid regions of the world, this includes India, the Middle East, tropical parts of Africa and South Africa. The plant has also been introduced or naturalised in various parts of the world including Australia. 

Ashwagandha is commonly available as a churna, a fine sieved powder. This can be powder made only from the root powder or powder made using the whole plant. Ashwagandha is also available as a decoction or tonic and oil. It is also available as extracts of the plant for example, water, alcohol, petroleum ether, purified alkaloids, and glycosides. 

Because this plant is an important medicinal plant in Indian ayurvedic medicine and South Africa traditional medicine. This article will be split into three parts. The first part will be the plant’s properties, then how ashwagandha is used in India’s ayurvedic medicine, and lastly how it is used in South African traditional medicine.

Several studies have been done on this plants to determine its pharmacological (or medicinal) properties, in this video I will be referencing this article since its only reviewing the pharmacological properties. The article reported on the following properties: So, the first property is the: 

  • Anti-inflammatory property – this property enables the plant to help the body reduce inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s defence mechanism. Meaning, when there is a problem in your body, the body will send inflammatory cells to begin an inflammatory response in the area of the body where there is a problem. The result of that response will be pain, or swelling, or bruising or redness in that area. The foods or plant products with an anti-inflammatory property help your body in reducing inflammation, so it helps the body fight off the pain, swelling, bruising, and redness.
  • Antioxidant property – this property helps your body fight off free radicals. A buildup of free radicals in the body damages your cell causing you to age faster and can also lead to other age-related degenerative disease as well as various forms of cancer. Free radicals are unstable and very reactive molecules, I did a video on ghee and I explained that there are certain oils that are generally very good for you but when you burn them past their smoke point they produce free radicals. Your body naturally produces free radicals. Free radicals are not bad in small quantities, the problems come when they build up and become too many in the body. The build up can be due to the things you put inside your body and what you expose your body to. So, plants that have a significant amount of antioxidants help your body get rid of the excess free radicals.  
  • Hematopoietic property – this property helps with blood cell production, it helps ensure that you have a healthy supply of red blood cells to transport oxygen in your body and white blood cells to fight infection as well as platelets, which clot your blood when you are injured to stop bleeding.  
  • Immunomodulatory property – this property helps to boost your immune system. According to this research, the root of this plant helps to significantly increase the haemoglobin concentration, red blood cell count, white blood cell count, platelet count, and body weight. It doesn’t make you fat or obese, but if you are emaciated (like abnormally thin or weak) the plant helps you gain healthy weight. In India, a lot of bodybuilders use ashwagandha for this reason. 
  • Rejuvenating property – this property helps restore vitality in your body and gives you a youthful appearance. If you are a man of a certain age, this plant helps improve your virility and increases your stamina.
  • Effects on the Nervous system – according to the article the use of the plant enhances cognitive ability and memory and produces relaxation. 
  • Effects on the endocrine system – according to the article the use of the plant protects the liver from free radicals. The article says that when ashwagandha is used along with other plants such as giloy (Tinospora cordifolia), bhringraj (Eclipta alba), tulsi (Ocimium sanctum), katuki (Picorrhiza kurroa), and shilajit (a sticky substance that is collected from Himalayan rocks) – it helps with the management of diabetes – all these can be mixed to decrease streptozotocin-induced hyperglycemia (STZ), which causes diabetes. The article does emphasise that None of the herbs given individually can treat diabetes, however, together they can be used in the treatment of diabetes. 
  • Effect on the cardiopulmonary system –  I think the article says that the alkaloid compounds in the plant are useful for someone who has persistent low blood pressure and a slow heart rate. The plant also helps improve and increase breathing in people with breathing difficulty. 
  • General toxicity – the study says that:” No systematic study was found which included acute, sub-acute, sub-chronic or chronic toxicity of WS root powder, whole plant powder, or different extracts of the plant. This means that using the plant is not going to have adverse effects on you. 
  • Anti-stress property – means using the plant helps alleviate stress. The article says that the plant can be useful to people suffering from nervous exhaustion due to stress. 
  • Anticancer property –  With this property, keep in mind that there are different types of cancer. What makes something anticancer is the ability to impede or inhibit a particular process or step from taking place in the cancer cycle. So, to get a better understanding of how any anti-cancer drug works, find out which enzymes are blocked or which step or steps in the cancer life cycle are stopped from taking place. 

Ayurvedic uses of ashwagandha

  • Ashwaghandha is said to be used as a rasayana or Sattvic Kapha Rasayana herb. Rasayana is described as a herbal or metallic preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness. These types of remedies are given to small children as tonics, and are also taken by the middle-aged and elderly to increase longevity.
  • Ashwaghandha is prescribed for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, such as rheumatism and arthritis. The article on pharmacological properties mentioned that osteoarthritis is treated using ashwagandha, boswellia (also known as Indian frankincense), Turmeric, and zinc complex (Yashad Bhasma – a mineral based medicine) (Jasada Bhasma)
  • Ashwaghanda is used as a tonic that is taken to increase energy, improve overall health and longevity, it is used to prevent diseases in athletes, the elderly, and during pregnancy. The ashwagandha tonic is also taken to:
    1. Treat the vitiated conditions of vata – vata is one of the three doshas and when vata is out of balance, it first affects the joints, which can cause joint problems. 
    2. To treat leucoderma or vitiligo – a skin disease that causes loss of melanin and leads to skin whitening. 
    3. To treat constipation. 
    4. To treat insomnia is a sleep disorder.
    5. To treat nervous breakdown, extreme mental and emotional stress.
    6. To treat goitre, a swelling of the neck from an enlarged thyroid.
  • Ashwagandha is used as an aphrodisiac, It also acts as a stimulant and increases the sperm count.
  • The ashwaghanda root powder can be mixed with water to make a paste that is applied to reduce the inflammation at the joints. The paste can also be applied topically on boils (carbuncles), ulcers and painful swellings.
  • The root combined with other drugs is prescribed for snake venom as well as in scorpion-sting. 
  • Ashwagandha can be used to treat pimples, flatulent colic, worms and piles. 
  • The bitter leaves of the plant are used in the treatment of fever and painful swellings. 
  • The flowers are astringent, depurative, and diuretic
  • The seeds are anthelmintic (meaning they are used to remove parasitic intestinal worms).
  • Ashwagandha can be used to help with hysteria, anxiety, memory loss, syncope (fainting), etc. 
  • Ashwahandha is used to treat syphilis, sterility in women, blood discharge, anemia with emaciation, multiple sclerosis, neoplasia, cancer, and fatigue.
  • The fruits and seeds are diuretics and are used in the coagulation of milk. 
  • Ashwaganda has been recommended in the treatment of polyarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lumbago, painful swellings, spermatorrhea, asthma, general debility, sexual debility, amnesia, anxiety neurosis, scabies, ulcers, and marasmus (which severe malnourishment in children).

Ubuvimba uses in South Africa

Ashwagandha is also used in South Africa and in the South African traditional market, it is known as ubuvimba.

In South Africa, ubuvimba is used to make an infusion (when you add hot water to plant material), a decoction, (when you boil plant material in water) and tinctures (when you add plant material to alcohol). 

Ubuvimba is used  in the treatment of fever, colds, asthma, general ill health and debility, syphilis, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, typhus, typhoid, proctitis, worms, cancer, candida, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis and as a sedative and hypnotic (Gericke, Van Oudtshoorn and Van Wyk, 2000:150; Iwu, 1993:259). The root of this plant is used to make ointments to treat various infected sores and abscesses. The root is made into a powder and then boiled with fat from the python snake. It is then applied directly on sores to aid prompt healing. (Pujol, 1990:78). 

  • Ubuvimba is used to treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes. It is also used against tuberculosis. 
  • It is used to treat leukaemia
  • It is used to treat arthritis. 

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) mentions the following uses:

  • The leaves are used to heal open sores as well as septic wounds, abscesses, inflammation, haemorrhoids, rheumatism and syphilis; a paste of leaves is applied or ointments are made with fat or oil.
  • The fruits and flowers are used by Bushmen as a charm when hunting lions.
  • The Bushmen burn the roots in a fire to keep lions away.
  • A root infusion is used to treat fever.

The name ashwagandha comes from the fact that the plant gives the user ashwa-power, the power of a horse. The name ubuvimba, means to block or prevent, and the plant gets this name from its original or traditional use which was to block unwelcome energies or spirits. The plant powder was originally mixed with other plants and animal fat such as crocodile or python oil to make an ointment that is similar to the commercial product known as Vimbela which is applied on their body to protect and block unwanted spirits or energies. 

How to use ashwaghanda?

  • You can drink the powder as an infusion. Add a teaspoon of the powder in a cup, add hot water, milk, and or honey for taste.
  • You can also mix the ashwagandha with milkshakes and smoothies. 
  • You can also add it to cooked oats in the morning, and add milk and jaggery, or sugar, or honey for taste.   
  • Some people mix it with honey and ghee.

Personally, I use the ashwagandha powder to help me with endurance. Endurance both a physical and a mental thing, hence ashwagandha improves physical strength and stamina and cognitive function.  

References and further reading:

  • Bharti, V.K., Malik, J.K. and Gupta, R.C., 2016. Ashwagandha: multiple health benefits. In Nutraceuticals (pp. 717-733). Academic Press.
  • Iwu, M.M., 1993. Handbook of African medicinal plants. CRC Press, Florida, USA.
  • Kambizi, L.G.B.M., Goosen, B.M., Taylor, M.B. and Afolayan, A.J., 2007. Anti-viral effects of aqueous extracts of Aloe ferox and Withania somnifera on herpes simplex virus type 1 in cell culture: research in action. South African Journal of Science, 103(9), pp.359-360.
  • Mhlongo, L.S., 2019. The Medicinal Ethnobotany of the Amandawe Area in KwaCele, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. University of Johannesburg (South Africa).
  • Mishra, L.C., Singh, B.B. and Dagenais, S., 2000. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative medicine review, 5(4), pp.334-346. 
  • Pujol, J., 1990. Natur Africa: The Herbalist handbook. Lean Pujol Natural Healers Foundation, Durban.
  • Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P. and Gilca, M., 2011. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 8(5S).
  • Van Wyk, B.E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. and Gericke, N., 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Verma, S.K. and Kumar, A., 2011. Therapeutic uses of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) with a note on withanolides and its pharmacological actions. Asian J Pharm Clin Res, 4(1), pp.1-4.

Leave a Reply