Anyone who knows me will vouch for the fact don’t subscribe to a “this herb is good for that” school of medicine. I rarely recommend a single, stand-alone remedy for any particular condition, because herbs are not like drugs. Unlike the isolated, active ingredients used in modern pharmaceuticals, plants have their own synergy; the whole being more than the sum of the parts. Like musicians in an orchestra, herbs perform best when they’re part of a carefully blended formulaHaving said that, not everyone has the means to visit an herbalist who can put together a customised formula to help them with their health issues. As I’m of the opinion that plant medicine should be available to everyone, regardless of their personal circumstances, I’d like to introduce you to some of the herbs I frequently use in my own formulas. There are several that anyone coping with panic attacks, social phobias, stress, worry or any other anxiety related conditions should really become acquainted with. In my professional experience, one of the safest yet effective plants to support the nervous system and help relieve the symptoms of anxiety is ashwagandha. 

What Is Ashwagandha? 

Ashwagandha (withania somnifera)is an ancient plant with an impressive 3000 year safety record. It’s highly prized by ayurvedic practitioners, and has become a firm favourite with western herbalists due to its reputation for strengthening the nervous system and increasing a person’s ability to cope with stress. 

Ashwagandha grows wild across India and Asia. You might be surprised to learn that it’s related to the tomato plant, and bears fruits that grow to the size of small raisins. All parts of the plant are used for their therapeutic benefits; however, the roots are preferred in the West, while the leaves are more popular in India. It has a reputation for boosting the immune system after long periods of illness or stress. Like garlic, the plant can be identified by its distinctive smell. In fact, ashwagandha is Sanskrit for “the smell of a horse” not just because of its pungent scent, but because of its legendary ability to impart the strength of a stallion. 

Adaptogens: 

Ashwagandha is classed as an adaptogenAdaptogens are powerful supportive agents that help your body adapt to stress by activating your inbuilt defence mechanisms and boosting immunity. Unlike synthetic chemicals that target a particular tissue or system, adaptogens have a broad spectrum effect, which means they make for excellent tonics. In order to be classed as an adaptogen an herb must be completely safe and non-toxic, have broad uses for health, and must specifically reduce both mental and physical stress. In a nutshell; adaptogens help you adapt. In ayurvedic medicine, adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and ginseng have special value and are known as rasayanas, which roughly translates to “tonic herbs.” 

Ashwagandha For Anxiety And Depression: 

Ashwagandha has a calming and sedative effect on the body. Its most famous for its rejuvenating and nourishing qualities. By supporting the proper functioning of the adrenal glands, boosting immunity and improving brain function, it’s been used for many years as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety and stress. 

In recent years, scientific trials have shown ashwagandha to be as effective as some prescription tranquilizers and antidepressant drugs. One study showed that taking ashwagandha for 5 days offered as much relief from anxiety as the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam (Ativan®), and had antidepressant effects similar to those of Imipramine (Tofranil®). 

In other trials, scientists studied the plant’s ability to reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol (the hormone responsible for regulating your body’s response to stress.) The results showed that after taking a standardised supplement, participants reported reduced fatigue, improved sleep, and most impressive of all, a 26% reduction in cortisol levels. This has implications for many modern stress related conditions such as adrenal fatigue and burnout. 

Other Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has a reputation among athletes for helping to increase stamina and performance. For this reason, it may be of use for people who are in training, or who have physically demanding jobs, (particularly people whose long working hours are a significant contributing factor to their stress levels.) Ashwagandha is also known for its amazing ability to help improve memory and cognitive function, so it may also be helpful for students during stressful exam periods. Some studies show it may even be beneficial in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 

Not only is ashwagandha an excellent tonic for the nervous system, it’s also considered to be an important herb for boosting immunity and enhancing sexual potency in both men and women. Its anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating, and anti-stress properties have also brought it to the attention of the pharmaceutical companies as a possible candidate for the treatment of cancer. 

How To Take Ashwagandha 

The easiest way to take ashwagandha is in capsule or tincture form. It can also be taken as a tea (although the taste isn’t all that pleasant.) If you’re buying over the counter products, the instructions for dosage should be clearly stated on the label.  

When prescribing a tincture I usually use a 2:1 strength preparation (two parts herb to one part liquid) and the dose (depending on the person and the nature of the condition) is between 10 – 30 ml per week.  However, in my experience, the best way to take ashwagandha is in its raw natural form and eaten as a food. This is the way it’s traditionally prescribed by ayurvedic practitioners. The powders can easily be mixed into a yogurt, mushed up with food, or stirred into a milky drink or smoothie. I’ve had amazing success with ashwagandha taken in this way, with clients reporting that their anxiety has literally “melted away”, almost as if it had never been there. 

My own personal ashwagandha mix (which also includes herbs such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) is a tried and trusted formula designed to nourish your nervous system back to a place of resilience and balanced wellness. Benefits include a reduction in the frequency and intensity of panic attacks, improved sleep, a much calmer mind, and a more positive outlook on life. Unlike prescription drugs, ashwagandha is not addictive, yet the effects are long lasting. Unlike some pharmaceutical drugs, the herb works to support your body instead of  suppressing symptoms. Unlike caffeine and other stimulants, it helps to keep you going without depleting vital energy stores. 

Buy practitioner strength ashwagandha tincture from the apothecary tincture bar 

Here’s one client’s response to taking ashwagandha for just 10 days: 

“For the first time in ages I feel like me again. Since starting the herbs I’ve only had a couple of very small wobbly moments – apart from that, I’ve been socialising all weekend. I’m eating really well and am not craving any sweet foods at all. I no longer have the ‘dread’ when I wake up, and my sleep is so much better. My husband can’t believe the difference in me.”    Emma – Cornwall. 

Interested in learning more about how this wonderful plant can help you banish anxiety for good? 

The following article may help: 

The beginners guide to Ashwagandha 

Safety note: 

In the interests of safety, please speak with your GP or herbalist before taking any supplements. This is particularly important if you have a long standing medical condition, are pregnant or trying to conceive, or are already taking prescription drugs.

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