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Ashwagandha - Indian Ginseng

Ashwagandha is quickly becoming a popular herb for use in the avian community. It is touted as an “adaptogen” having properties to help calm our beloved exotic birds.

Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means “horse’s smell,” probably originating from the odor of its root which resembles that of a sweaty horse. (1)

The botanical name of ashwagandha is:Withania somnifera (WS)

Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Withania
Species: W. somnifera
Bionomial name: Withania somnifera

Other names this herb may be known by are:

  • Indian Ginseng
  • Withania
  • Poison Gooseberry
  • Winter Cherry
  • Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asan, Asana, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashagandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwaganda, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Asvagandha, Aswagandha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Cerise d'Hiver, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Ginseng Ayurvédique, Ginseng Indien, Hayahvaya, Indian Ginseng, Kanaje Hindi, Kuthmithi, Orovale, Peyette, Physalis somnifera, Samm Al Ferakh, Samm Al Rerakh, Sogade-Beru, Strychnos, Turangi-Ghanda, Vajigandha, Winter Cherry, Withania, Withania somnifera. (3, 4)

Some of the main constituents (chemical composition) in ashwagandha are:

  • alkaloids (isopelletierine, anaferine, cuseohygrine, anahygrine, etc.)
  • steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins)
  • saponins

Among these are ative steroidal hormones “sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides” that act as anti-stress agents.(5)

On a scale from very low to extremely high:
The measurement for ashwagandha is very high. (6)
I insert the level of salicylates here due to the fact I have found this naturally occurring food constituent/food chemical triggers barbering, cutting, picking, plucking, and self-mutilation in birds who engage in feather destruction. I have even witnessed salicylates causing anaphylactic shock in certain birds. When too many foods containing high amounts of salicylates are feed to any given bird “stacking” these foods can cause a cascade of health problems including, but not limited to itching, picking, plucking, barbering, self-mutilation, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, seizures, lethargy, internal hemorrhaging, and even death. Many OTC (over-the-counter avian remedies contain laboratory-produced salicylates as buffers, fillers, thickeners and extenders). “Salic acid”, which is the base of salicylates, is the primary ingredient in aspirin obtained from the Willow Tree, but all plant matter contains this naturally occurring constituent to differing degrees, some very high to others at lower amounts. Simply stated salic acid is a blood thinner.

There are over 35 chemical constituents in the root of ashwagandha (the part used for most preparations). These constituents have been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, antibiotic, antioxidant, antiaging, anticonvulsant, nootropic (memory, neuro, cognitive), cardiovascular, immunity, endocrine and anti-carcinogen effects among other therapeutic benefits. (7) Ashwaganda is known to be a thyroid stimulant as well as an antihypertensive. Creatures with low thyroid could possibly benefit from this herb as could creatures with high blood pressure. However it could potentially have the opposite effect on blood pressure in the case of overdose raising blood pressure to lethal elevations.

Ayurvedic properties of Ashwagandha:
Vajikara- Increases sexual desire
Rasayani- Rejuvenates the body
Balya- Increases strength
Ati shukrala- Improves quality and quantity of semen
Shwitrapaha- Useful in management of white discoloration of the skin
Shothahara- Useful in management of edematous conditions. Iit helps clear impurities (Ama) from the various channels of the body.
Kshayapaha- Useful in treating emaciation and under nutritive conditions
Bio energetics:
Rasa (Taste)- Tikta (Bitter); Katu (Pungent); Madhura (Sweet)
Guna (Characteristics)- Laghu (Light); Snigdha (Unctuous)
Veerya (Potency)- Ushna (Warm)
Vipaka (Post digestion effect)- Madhura (Sweet)
Effect on Tridoshas (Three bio humors):
Pacifies Kapha and Vata Doshas i.e. it is useful in management of all diseases originating from aggravated Kapha and Vata. (8)

However, use of this herb does not come without considerations, warnings and extreme caution when utilizing it in connection with our companion birds.

Taking into account that exotic birds are small, delicate creatures with very efficient and uniquely designed digestive tracts we must remember to use diluted levels of all herbs, spices, and OTC remedies when treating or feeding our birds.

When clinical studies were performed on rats and mice using ashwagandha it was determined that only 465 mg/kg (332-651 mg/kg) in rats and 432 mg/kg (299-626 mg/kg) in mice created toxicity.(9) Taking into account that our beloved birds are well under 2 pounds (kg) we can easily understand how quickly we can create an overdose using ashwagandha.

My suggestion when using ashwagandha in your bird’s diet? Try to find a standardized version. “Standardized” means that you can be sure you are serving the same dose each and every time you offer this to your bird given you are measuring correctly each time. Defiinition of “standardized” according to chemical standardization of solutions: “Any solution which has a precisely known concentration. Similarly, a solution of known concentration has been standardized.”(10) However, with natural supplements still in their infancy, finding standardized forms is not always possible. In this case I opt for liquid extracts and hope to find those that are alcohol-free. Even then those can be rare to find. If I cannot find alcohol-free at least using liquid extracts I find it easier to measure in the miniscule amounts necessary for such the small, delicate systems of our feathered friends.

I have found one alcohol-free source of the liquid extract of ashwagandha. I would probably opt for this if I were to use this herbal extract for any of my sanctuary birds: It packs a whopping 2000mg per serving (56 drops). Therefore I would only use ONE drop (36mg) per 85-100 grams of weight of bird I am treating per day for up to 7-10 days. I would administer it in my bird’s water dish of 5-7 ounces of drinking water in order to dilute the solution of the ashwagandha even further. As my bird ingests this it will build up in the nervous system having a more intense effect as each day passes. At the end of the 7-10 days (I would stop administering this sooner if I notice my bird is becoming sleepy, listless or lethargic) I would stop administering the solution and give my bird at least a 3-7 day rest before re-administering it for another 7-10 day period.

I cannot speak for any other brand because I am not familiar with the properties or dosages.

Due to the multiple steroidal hormones both quantified and qualified in ashwagandha I strongly caution any bird caregiver to be very careful about using this herb on a long term basis. The hormonal systems of birds are very tightly regulated and easily upset by any food, herb or other substance and even environmental changes.

We must also keep in mind when using ashwagandha that it contains high levels of tannins. These constituents bind the absorption of Vitamin B12 and iron and prevent them from absorption. Prolonged use of this herb, or used in combination of other foods, teas, herbs and spices also high in tannins may potentially prevent detrimental lack of absorption of Vitamin B12 and iron.

The above said, we always must keep in mind the “stacking” of nutrients whenever we add any food source to our birds’ already existing diet. Bioaccumulation of nutrients can easily cause over-nutrition, or hypervitaminosis creating a cesspool of toxicity in our birds’ liver and kidneys. If an acute toxicity builds up, especially in kidneys or a liver that is already suffering damage, or organs that are diseased but have not yet been diagnosed our bird could easily land in our veterinarian’s ER or even worse succumb to death.

Below is the mineral content found in ashwagandha root (11). It seems to be high in potassium, which is normal for most herbs. Therefore we need to be careful offering any herb with a high potassium level due to the fact that many of the foods we feed our birds on a daily basis are already high in potassium. In addition ashwagandha is very high in iron. If your bird has been diagnosed with ISD or IOD (iron storage disease or iron overload disease) or has been diagnosed with any liver damage whatsoever, I would caution against using this herb with your bird.

Ashwagnadha is also very high in the trace mineral bromine. While bromine is an important mineral for healthy thyroid function, it is needed only in very miniscule amounts. We could easily overdose bromine by offering ashwagandha to our birds if we fed this to our birds on a frequent and regular basis.

ORAC Values:
USDA’s statement regarding the ORAC value:
Personally I believe this statement is “bunk” and I believe the antioxidant properties in foods do matter.
And of course here the USDA is contradicting themselves only years earlier:
For this reason I will supply the ORAC value of each food, herb and spice when available.
ORAC value of ashwagandha: Potentially, apprx. 8,841.

Ref: (1);   (2); (3); (4); (5);(6);(7);(8); (9); (10); (11);

©1.24.16   Machelle Pacion   Passion Tree House LLC   All Rights Reserved
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