Ashwagandha is sometimes called Indian ginseng, not because it's related botanically (it's closer to potatoes and tomatoes), but because its traditional uses were similar. Like ginseng, ashwagandha was thought to be a "tonic herb" capable of generally strengthening the body. On this basis it has been used in hopes of prolonging life, improving overall health, enhancing mental function, increasing fertility and libido, augmenting physical energy, and preventing infections.

In addition, as its species name somniferum suggests, ashwagandha been used traditionally for inducing sleep.

Modern herbalists classify ashwagandha as an adaptogen, a substance said to increase the body's ability to withstand stress of all types. (See the article on Ginsengfor more information on adaptogens.) However, the evidence for an adaptogenic effect is limited to test tube and animal studies.3,4,6,7,9-13

Other proposed uses of ashwagandha are based on even weaker evidence, including: preventing cancer,1,2,14-17improving immunity,8,18enhancing mental function,19,20, rheumatoid arthritis,23 and combating anxiety and depression.21

Some traditional uses of ashwagandha are also invoked today, such as enhancing sexual function in men, increasing fertility in men22 or women, aiding sleep, andenhancing sports performance; however, there is no supporting scientific evidence for these uses.