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Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes—but, unlike the tomato, the quarter-inch, orange-red fruits of this herb are not the focus of its beneficial properties. The mature plant’s thick, gray taproot, which reaches 1 to 2 feet into the soil, contains compounds that act as a sedative, reduce anxiety, and induce relaxation.
Over the centuries, ashwagandha has been used for arthritis and colds, to improve sleep, as an aphrodisiac, and to treat many other conditions. One of the English common names for this species, Indian ginseng, refers to its power as an adaptogen, a name given to herbs that increase our immune function and help the body cope with stress. Botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are in different plant families, but they are similar in having medicinally active taproots with the ability, when ingested, to fight stress. Ginseng does so through its stimulant activity, while ashwagandha induces a more tranquil state of mind and body.
After a hard day, a cup of ashwagandha tea can help relaxation and promote sleep. I prefer to use chopped dried roots to make the tea, steeping a teaspoon in an 8-ounce cup of water or milk for 10...