Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng and winter cherry, is a perennial shrub that belongs to the nightshade family of plants. Extracts taken from the roots of this stout shrub are used to treat a wide variety of ailments and conditions. What's particularly promising about Withania somnifera is that most of the therapeutic claims regarding its homeopathic value appear to be backed by sound medical science. This fact separates Withania somnifera from a host of other plants and herbs whose purported healing abilities have either not been fully researched or have not met with backing evidence as a result of research.
One of the more popular and well known benefits of Withania somnifera is its ability to act as a general sedative. This is particularly useful for those experiencing intermittent periods of stress, a general and inherent tendency towards anxiety and nervousness, and bouts of insomnia. The ability of Withania somnifera root extract to act as a soothing agent is reflected in its scientific name: "somnifera" is Latin for "soporific," which in turn means "tending to induce drowsiness or sleep."
While it might seem contradictory for a plant extract to be able to work as a sedative and a rejuvenating agent, Withania somnifera not only manages to help the body adapt to stress by calming it, but by simultaneously promoting overall vigor and vitality. Perhaps the best way to consider this particular aspect of Withania somnifera is to understand that the improved vigor it brings about is less along the lines of a stimulant such as caffeine, but more akin to a generalized strengthening of some of the body's various systems. In particular, Withania somnifera root extract has a beneficial effect on the cardiopulmonary, endocrine, immune and central nervous systems, helping them operate fluidly and to their fullest potential. Though studies have been conducted to determine exactly why Withania somnifera has this effect, the resultant data to date has not been entirely definitive in this regard. Part of the feeling of overall rejuvenation may be due in part to the boosting of the aforementioned systems, as well as the increased production of blood cells and platelets that comes with regular Withania somnifera root extract dosage.
Withania somnifera is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on swollen and painful tissue. This makes it an effective natural treatment for the pain and swelling resulting from such conditions as arthritis and rheumatism, though it should be pointed out that Withania somnifera root extract is not itself a cure for these underlying conditions. A study conducted at the Interactive Research School for Health Affairs (IRSHA), in which inflamed knee cartilage in chronic osteoarthritis patients was treated with Withania somnifera root extract, concluded that the plant extract significantly lowered nitric oxide levels in the inflamed tissue of roughly half of the patients to a significant degree. This lowering of nitric oxide levels, in turn, led directly to a temporary but marked reduction of pain and swelling.
US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: The relationship between chondroprotective and antiinflammatory effects of Withania somnifera root and glucosamine sulphate on human osteoarthritic cartilage in vitro.