Ashwagandha health benefits: for infertility, impotence and premature ageing

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Ashwagandha is a member of the potato family

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is also called Winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is not related to Chinese or American ginseng. It is the premier sacred Ayurvedic herb of Hinduism.

A native of Asia and Africa, it is also found growing wild in Southern Europe though it is best known for its medicinal properties in India, where it is as well regarded as ginseng in China.

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 3 feet (1m) but is not hardy, only able to withstand temperatures down to about freezing point.  In temperate areas, it should be grown as an annual or as a subject for the conservatory (though the roots will require a deep pot). It is a member of the same family as the potato, tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper, which also includes deadly nightshade. Do not eat any part of the plant.

Harvest the roots in fall, pare off the bark (discard the inner part )  and dry for later use by laying out in a single layer and placing it somewhere cool, dry and out of the sun. Check after a couple of days, and if not completely dry, turn over. Store in an airtight jar somewhere cool and dark.

Caution: do not use in large amounts. Toxic if eaten. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.

To make a decoction, use about a teaspoonful of root bark to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes, then strain off and discard the herb. Use a dose of up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Ashwagandha is a natural tranquillizer because of its strong sedative effect, used to treat chronic fatigue, debility, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It is a very good adaptogen (tonic) particularly effective for reproductive problems (impotence, infertility, spermatorrhea, and also for difficulties arising from birth or miscarriage) and is also used for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, bone weakness, constipation, failure to thrive in children, loose teeth, memory loss,  multiple sclerosis, premature ageing, muscle weakness, rheumatism, senility, tension, tumors, wasting diseases and to aid recovery after illness. The most important use is to increase the amount of hormones secreted by the thyroid, and it can also be used to support the adrenals.

Update: A long term study is currently underway in Kolar, India. Led by Dr. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chair of the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Neuroscience, it follows tests in mice which showed a reduction in amyloid plaques in the brain accompanied by memory improvement in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease and given ashwagandha.

As with all herbs used medicinally, it’s important to grow ashwagandha organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Blue vervain health benefits: for malaria and parasitic worms

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Blue vervain is more than twice the height of the European common vervain

Blue vervain is more than twice the height of the European common vervain

Blue vervain or American blue vervain, Verbena hastata, is closely related to the common (European) vervain, which is also sometimes called blue vervain. Other names by which it is known include swamp verbena, American vervain, false vervain, Indian hyssop, purvain and traveler’s joy; it shares the names simpler’s joy, wild hyssop and vervain with the common vervain. It is not related to hyssop or lemon verbena.

Blue vervain is a native of North America, whereas common vervain is a native of Europe. It reaches a height of 4’6″ (1.5m), more than twice the height of common vervain, and a spread of 2 feet (60cm). It requires moist, well drained soil and will not grow in shade.

Blue vervain is not quite as useful as common vervain, but it does have one unique property, which is that it is “antiperiodic“, which means it can be used to treat diseases like malaria. I don’t recall covering any other herb that can be used for this illness so far (though I may be wrong), and it’s true that currently this disease doesn’t often occur in the West, but with global warming it seems that this is only a matter of time. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to start growing this plant now, so that it will be well established in case of need!

Other uses for this herb are as an expectorant for coughs (taken warm), a tranquillizer, an emetic (to induce vomiting), a treatment for internal parasites, and externally as a wound herb. Don’t take too much at one time, or the emetic property will probably kick in. For all these purposes make a standard infusion using 2 tablespoonfuls of chopped root to 570 ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, then strain and take 75ml (1/3 US cup, 3 fl oz) up to 3 times a day. It can also be used as a tonic, for which the dose is 2-3 tsp up to 6 times a day.

As with all herbal remedies, to avoid adulteration by foreign chemicals, you should grow blue vervain organically. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.