As naturopathic doctors, we have the privilege of witnessing the very intimate textures of people’s lives as they are lived. It is sometimes so raw and straining, and we see our patients brought to their knees by the hands of fate. While we can’t shepherd our patients through the bumps in life, we have many tools to make some of the challenges a bit more bearable. With stress, any number of endocrine functions can take a hit: thyroid, adrenal, reproductive function, neuro-endocrine function (ie serotonin). My favourite herb for supporting the body in times like these is Withania somnifera, also commonly known as Ashwaganda.
Withania is what is known as an adaptogenic herb. In Ayurvedic medicine it is a “rasayana” drug, which is an agent that prevents or treats disease by helping to restore a healthy balance. It is not stimulating the way Ginseng can be, but it does still support the adrenal gland. One of the beautiful things about Withania is that it also works with the nervous system. Have you felt that experience of “tired but wired”? That is the precise imbalance in the neuro-endocrine system that Withania addresses. It is excellent for anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
When a patient comes to me in a time of heavy duty stress, or when she/he has a condition that was brought on by stress, I almost always include Withania in the treatment plan. Withania is a tonic that helps with endurance: it will support you in doing what life is calling upon you to do, and it will protect your nervous system and endocrine system so that you are not depleted by the trials in your life.  For example, if a marriage is breaking up or an elderly family member dies and leaves a mess of family drama in his or her wake – these are excellent times for Withania to be employed.
 Romm, Aviva. “Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health,” (St. Louis 2010: Elsevier), pg. 201.