Herb Feature

Herb Feature


Would you like to feel calmer, happier, and stronger, able to withstand the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as William Shakespeare once said? In herbal medicine we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful group of plants known as adaptogens, which improve our resistance to a huge variety of stressors. A stressor is anything that can disrupt our normal dynamic state of health, also known as homeostasis. Adaptogens help to protect us from the negative effect of psychological stress, but also infections, radiation, inflammation, and even inadequate diet! So how can a humble plant have such a profound and wide reaching influence on our human physiology? Let’s examine one of our favourite adaptogens: Withania.

Withania Somnifera (also known as Ashwaganda) is a traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine used for a wide variety of conditions including inflammatory diseases like asthma and arthritis; anaemia, infertility, fatigue, poor memory, lower back pain, and immune deficiency[1]. Clinical trials have shown Withania to increase red blood cells, body weight, serum iron and grip strength in malnourished children; reduce elevated cholesterol and reduce inflammatory markers (ESR) in men; improve sleep, daytime wakefulness, alertness, and physical strength in mountaineers training at altitude; improve blood sugar control in diabetic patients; and reduce symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis flare ups.[2]

It is astonishing to think that plant medicine can have such profound and far-reaching consequences in the human body, until you look at some of the active constituents found in this remarkable herbal medicine. Withania contains substances which have steroid-like structures (glycosides and lactones) that help enhance the function of our endocrine systems. Before you get worried about illicit performance-enhancing chemicals, they are not anabolic steroids! But our body can use these compounds to provide an optimal balance of the tissue-building and repairing hormones, proteins and peptides so that we can cope better with environmental and psychological stressors in our everyday lives. Withania extracts have been shown to have significant anti-stress activity, promote endurance and enhance development and growth. Learning and memory are enhanced, white cell numbers are increased, inflammation is reduced, and pain is reduced. Withania is also safe for children, the sick and elderly. It is considered safe to take in pregnancy, but always consult your Naturopath/ Herbalist before taking anything new.

Unlike Korean (Panax) Ginseng, Withania does not have excessively stimulating effects on your nervous system. Panax can be a bit too “Yang” for people who are tired, but run-down. Withania has a calming, soothing effect on your nervous system, but doesn’t produce drowsiness. What an amazing plant! I love combining Withania with Licorice Root where people have adrenal exhaustion from years of chronic stress or inflammation. Your adrenal glands produce Cortisol, Adrenalin and a number of other hormones to help us adapt to stress and if our adrenals are “burnt out” we lose our capacity to cope with even minor stressors or infections. These two herbs can be combined with others depending on the needs of the individual, and you must always use quality extracts or you’ll be wasting your time, so ask your qualified practitioner about which combinations will be the best for you.  People who have been malnourished, stressed or sick for a long time can benefit greatly from Withania and other adaptogens, as it assists recovery right down to the level of our cells.

Withania or Ashwaganda is also known as Winter Cherry or Indian Ginseng and is native to India Nepal, China and India. It is described as a perennial shrub which grows to 75cm and its elliptical leaves are dull green and about 10cm long. The bell shaped flowers are small and green and open to reveal an orange-red fruit when ripe. The medicinal use of the root is incredibly popular with both Eastern and Western traditional herbal practitioners due to its safety and effectiveness. I have found that the benefits take a couple of weeks for people to feel them, but then they start to feel calmer, stronger, happier and more able to cope with all the crazy things that life throws at them. Withania helps us to “take up arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them”, to make us more resilient and more content.   See you next time!

[1] Bone,K. A clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs. P73-76.

[2] ibid

David Peirce is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

Bachelor of Health Science - Complementary Medicine

Contact: 07 4032 0038

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