Known as the King of the Ayurvedic herbs, ashwagandha is perhaps one of the most famous traditional healing herbs to make it to a Western audience. It has many health benefits to offer, but there are also lots of different products on the market and just as many ways to use them! We take a look at how to take ashwagandha to get the best results for you.April 26, 2021 4:54 pm April 29, 2021 4:47 pm
A recap on ashwagandha
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already familiar with ashwagandha. However, for those of you still on the fence about incorporating it into your routine, here’s a quick recap of its benefits. (You can find more detailed information in our article about the health benefits of ashwagandha.)
The first thing to mention is that ashwagandha is an adaptogen. These are special plants – usually herbs or mushrooms – which have the amazing ability of adapting to what your body needs at the time.
This might sound a bit too good to be true, but it actually has parallels with the way our own bodies work.
Modulating your systems
To function properly, we need to maintain a consistent environment for our bodily processes. This includes keeping our body temperature and hydration levels stable, among many other factors. This is called homeostasis.
Your body acts to modulate any changes in your body. So, if you become too warm, you sweat in order to cool yourself down and return to a normal temperature. Likewise, if you’re cold, you shiver to warm yourself up.
Adaptogens also modulate your body’s systems, but their work is focused on your stress response. They work to bring you back to a place of stability.
So, if you’re feeling really stressed out, they can help to calm you back down to your normal levels. On the other hand, if you’re feeling lethargic and lacklustre, they can help to reinvigorate and energise you.
Of course, all adaptogens have slightly different strengths, so let’s take a look at ashwagandha in particular.
Ashwagandha’s unique benefits
Like all adaptogens, ashwagandha targets your stress response. However its fans have noticed that it is particularly good at calming you down if you’re feeling emotionally stressed.
There is even some evidence that it can help with clinical anxiety. In a survey of 75 people with anxiety, the group taking ashwagandha had a decrease in anxiety symptoms of around 56.5%, significantly more than the control group.(1)
There’s also some evidence that it can help you get a good night’s sleep (and more on that below!) and may even be able to help with depression.(2)(3)
In fact, dealing with unbalanced mood and poor sleep are two of the main reasons people choose to take ashwagandha.
What’s more, it may help tackle inflammation and have benefits for your brain and heart as well.(4)(5)(6)
All good reasons to give this special herb a try. So, now you’ve decided it’s right for you, let’s look at all the different ways to take it.
How to take ashwagandha
When it comes to taking ashwagandha, you have a few options. Generally speaking the most popular are tea, powder or capsules. It’s also available as an oil, although this is intended for external use so it doesn’t have the same benefits we’ve mentioned above.
So, which one is right for you?
The traditional method: ashwagandha tea
Tea is quite a controversial method to include in our list. Here, we’re talking about teas which contain ashwagandha or are marketed as ‘ashwagandha teas’.
Be careful! Most brands on the market are using ashwagandha as what is called a ‘signal ingredient’. The amount of ashwagandha in the teabag is extremely small, and has more to do with marketing than health benefits.
Some teas, for example, contain around 1-5% ashwagandha. Once brewed in a tea, the amount you’re drinking is really too small to have any health effect.
The same goes for blended drinks and powders “with ashwagandha” which are designed to be drunk at night before bed.
While the simple act of setting some time aside to have a warm, relaxing drink before bed works wonders for many of us, the truth is that any relaxing benefits probably won’t be coming from the ashwagandha.
Check the ingredients list to be sure of how much ashwagandha is actually included.
When making ashwagandha brews at home, you will find that most recipes call for ashwagandha powder. More on that below.
The modern method: ashwagandha capsules
In our modern world, supplement capsules are often seen as something of a ‘cure-all’ when it comes to the stresses and strains of daily life.
And for some people they can be a helpful and convenient addition.
There are a few things to watch out for if you’re interested in taking ashwagandha in a capsule.
The first thing to mention is that, if you’re following Ayurvedic wisdom, you should note that traditionally ashwagandha is taken as a whole food powder. According to Ayurveda, ashwagandha taken in warm water helps digestion, for example, but we don’t know if ashwagandha capsules have this effect.
If Ayurvedic tradition is part of the reason you want to try ashwagandha, you may be better off following the traditional method of taking it.
Choosing a capsule
If you choose to continue with capsules, make sure you’re sourcing them from a reputable, organic supplier. By definition, hiding a product away in a capsule (often with a long and cloudy supply chain) means that transparency can be an issue. You can mitigate the risk by sourcing from a trusted supplier.
You should also consider whether taking a supplement fits in with your lifestyle. For example, the material used to make the capsule itself varies from product to product.
Some are suitable for vegans, while others are made using animal products. It may not be clearly stated on the label, so make sure you check the back of the pack before you buy.
What’s inside your capsule?
It might seem like the easiest route to simply take a capsule once a day, but to make sure you’re getting good results, you need to do a bit of research.
What dosage of ashwagandha is included in your capsule? This varies hugely between different products, so make sure you check the amount, which must be displayed in milligrams or grams on the back of the pack.
Next, ask: is it organic? Has it been heavily processed or ‘standardised’? (Many extracts and ashwagandha products are standardised to ensure a consistent amount of bioactive components in each product, but it involves a lot of processing and blending of different ashwagandha plants.)
Is there anything else in your capsule, such as additional fillers, binders or starch?
Finally, make sure you look at the percentage of withanolides. These are the bioactive plant steroids found naturally in ashwagandha which are thought to be responsible for a lot of its health benefits. Again, this varies a lot from product to product.
"If you’re following Ayurvedic wisdom, you should note that traditionally ashwagandha is taken as a whole food powder."
The all-rounder: ashwagandha powder
If all that sounds like a lot of hard work, you might be better off with ashwagandha powder.
Of all the available options, this is the most versatile. You can use it to make a traditional (and effective) home-brewed tea or include it in your recipes.
Just as with supplements, you will need to take a bit of time to find a reputable supplier. We recommend looking out for the following things when you’re making your considerations:
- Is it organic? There’s no point in taking an adaptogen to improve your wellbeing if you’re also consuming potentially harmful pesticides! Make sure you go for a supplier who can guarantee there’s nothing in their product but pure ashwagandha.
- Are you eating roots or leaves? Some powders use the entire plant. However, health benefits are generally only associated with ashwagandha root, so choose a powder which contains only this.
- Is it a whole food powder or an extract? Whole food powders contain the whole root, while extracts aim to pull out certain bioactive compounds using water or alcohol. Our ashwagandha powder is a whole food powder, as we believe it’s better to consume plants in the way nature intended, with all their natural concentrations of nutrients in place.
Traditional methods of taking ashwagandha
To make a traditional ashwagandha tea, simply simmer a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder with water for around 15 minutes before straining into a mug.
It’s also very common in Ayurvedic practice to take ashwagandha with warm milk. In fact, in Ayurveda the ‘anupama’ or ‘vehicle’ for a herb is nearly as important as the herb itself.
Milk is thought to be cooling and sweet, and to have properties which are complementary to those of ashwagandha. As a result, they’re a perfect pair!
The traditional pairing involves cow’s milk, but if you follow a plant-based diet you could easily swap in your favourite plant milk.
Other ways to take ashwagandha powder
The flavour of ashwagandha is not to everyone’s tastes. In fact, many people say it tastes quite bitter! If that’s the case for you, you might benefit by including it in a recipe which will help balance its flavour.
We recommend taking any adaptogen in a warm liquid as this helps to extract the right compounds from the powder.
A really popular way of taking ashwagandha powder is in moon milk. This also plays into the Ayurvedic link between milk and ashwagandha.
What is moon milk?
At its essence, moon milk is a warm milk drink inspired by Ayurvedic wisdom and often contains spices, herbs or adaptogens. It’s most common to drink it at bedtime to help you relax and unwind before sleep.
While a warm, milky drink before bed goes way back into Ayurvedic tradition, the notion of moon milks as we know them now – beautifully coloured and undeniably instagrammable – is modern.
Part of the ritual of moon milks is whipping up a drink which appeals to you both visually and in terms of what your body needs. It’s a great way to explore adaptogens and be creative!
While there are many recipes online for moon milk, you can make a simple version by warming your choice of milk with half a teaspoon of ashwagandha and a pinch of cinnamon or turmeric. Sweeten with honey to taste.
If you want to get into creating colourful masterpieces, you can use natural ingredients such as powdered hibiscus or blue butterfly pea flowers, rose petals or spirulina.
What about the dosage of ashwagandha powder?
Depending on the powder you choose – and whether it’s an extract or a whole food powder – the dosage will be different.
For our powder, which is a whole food powder, we recommend taking half a teaspoon once or twice a day, ideally thirty minutes after a meal. You can mix it into a tea, moon milk or another warm, liquid recipe such as a soup.
When should you take ashwagandha?
There’s no particular time of day when you should take ashwagandha, and in fact many people take it several times a day.
You may find that taking ashwagandha on an empty stomach causes you some mild discomfort, which is why some experts recommend taking it around thirty minutes after a meal.
You could also vary the way you take ashwagandha powder over the day depending on the effect you’re looking for.
For example, a relaxing moon milk might be great just before bed, but you may prefer to brew it as a tea in the morning to help you energise for the day ahead.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t take ashwagandha?
Yes. Some groups of people should not take ashwagandha. Consult your doctor before taking ashwagandha if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder (such as type 1 diabetes or Crohn’s disease), are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a medical condition, or are taking prescription medication.
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