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What is Withania Somnifera?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Withania somnifera is a perennial shrub native to Southeast Asia and hardy in many other regions of the world. Products from this plant are used in herbal preparations in several traditional medicinal disciplines, including Ayurveda in India. Commercially packaged products which contain Withania somnifera are readily available in some health food stores and health markets, especially if they have an ayurvedic focus.

Products from this plant are used in several different ways. The plant is treated as a general immune system booster and adaptogen, meaning that it is supposed to help people cope with physical and environmental stresses. For these reasons, it may be recommended to people who are often in stressful situations, or to people who are feeling rundown. This herb may also be prescribed to people as a diuretic, a treatment for memory loss, and an aphrodisiac.

In Ayurveda, this herb is known as ashwagandha. Various preparations are made with the plant, including tisanes and extractions which are designed to isolate the beneficial alkaloids found in Withania somnifera. It is also used in a preparation called ashwagandha oil, which is designed as a skin toner, rather than a medicine which is taken orally.

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This plant is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. It goes by a number of alternate common names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry. The plant produces small white flowers in fall and winter which develop into fruit during the winter months. Products used include the roots, leaves, and branches, which can be prepared in a number of different ways. In addition to being used on its own, Withania somnifera is also included in blends and supplements which are designed to have multiple effects.

Before taking Withania somnifera or any other herbal medicine, it is important to consult a primary care provider. She or he can determine that the medicine is safe to use, and make recommendations about dosages.

Several pharmaceutical companies have researched Withania somnifera and patented compounds found in this plant. While they hold patents, additional research is needed to narrow down the function of each compounds and to explore potential applications and dosages. The patenting of compounds found in traditional herbal medicines is not without controversy; some people feel that native herbal medicines should not be patented, but rather made available to all. Pharmaceutical companies argue that a patent is necessary so that they can be compensated for the research and development if a product derived from a compound found in a traditional medicinal herb makes it to market.

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