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By tamping down mental and physical stressors at their collective chemical source, ashwagandha pushes your system back in the direction of an acceptably centered configuration, a state called homeostasis.
Through chemical mechanisms still being studied, ashwagandha effectively modulates production of cortisol; the hormone whose presence marks a stress reaction—and a holdover from that era that often saw us running away from saber-toothed ... well, you name it. Saber teeth were all the rage for a while, and we humans ran from them with regularity.
But this “tender shrub” (as the encyclopedia tenderly calls ashwagandha) works plainer and more public magic when called upon to do so. Take, for instance, ashwagandha’s effect on the complexion - on acne in particular.
Face the Music
Acne is extremely common. It’s been estimated that fully 80% of the population between the ages of 11 and 30 experience outbreaks of acne.
Sorry to have to use the word ”pustules”, but here goes. Acne is typified by the presence of nodules, cysts, and pustules. What happens to turn a smooth-as-silk complexion to a reddened battleground?
The skin’s sebaceous glands get stopped up by the vey stuff they’re excreting (possibly an evolutionary engineering problem), and your body’s well-intentioned response is to surround the offending material and attack it. The result is a pus-filled pore on your face. Or many, many pus-filled pores, if you’ll pardon my saying so.
Ashwagandha ’s Anti-inflammatory Rescue
What could a tender shrub possibly do to ameliorate (yes; ameliorate) your acne? Well, ashwagandha is jumping with phytochemically active steroids. As absolutely everyone knows, these are withaferin A, 3-b-hydroxy-2, and 3-dihydro withanolide F.
These annoyingly difficult-to-pronouce compounds have anti-inflammatory properties that naturally work to reduce the swellings and porous infections that characterize acne. Ashwagandha also bears the sometimes useful gift of anti-androgens — which modulate those hormones most responsible for the extra sebum production that causes acne breakouts in the first place.
Ashwagandha: Ancient Ayurvedic and Brand New Healing Agent
Ayurveda! There, I said it— and emphatically, which adds drama! Ayurveda — a word that is used these days to sell everything from crystal balls to hemp scarves— is actually the name given to India’s amazingly effective, longstanding naturopathic practice of medicine—a natural pharmacology that has been in active use since 6000 B.C. or so. In the intervening 8,000 years (!) ashwagandha has proved itself a failsafe and hardy holistic response to a number of common ailments.
Through the ages, ashwagandha has been used as aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic (makes you go wee-wee), anthelmintic (killer of parasitic worms), astringent, thermogenic (producer of metabolic heat), and general “health tonic”.
The name “ashwagandha” derives from the Sanskrit word for “horse smell”, which in common usage has been gently reframed to mean "ashwagandha gives you the strength of a horse”. Which does make for a better marketing pitch than “this remedy smells like a horse’s ass”.
In any case, the best Ashwagandha supplements on the market today have been stripped of this olfactory “horse’s ass” quality, thank goodness.
As for “strength of a horse” Ashwagandha has indeed been used for millennia to rehabilitate weakened children and mitigate the loss of energy associated with the Autumn Years (old age).
Ashwagandha the Acne-Slayer
So … Ashwagandha. This stuff is crazy potent with naturally occurring antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which take your infected pores to task. Ashwagandha's anti-inflammatory superpower, when ingested as a supplement, has the generalized effect of smoothing out the terrain of your face’s ongoing battle with acne.
Happily (and none too surprisingly), ashwagandha in its powdered supplement form makes for a perfect facial compound, clearing blackheads and giving the skin clarity and a firm, glowing tone. Simply mix a quantity of the ashwagandha supplement powder with honey (preferably produced by bees in your local geography) or lime juice.
Mix to a consistency that will cling to the affected areas like … well, like mud. Let the ashwagandha poultice affix itself to your enflamed face for 15 - 20 minutes. Give the treatment a week or two to begin showing results. Remember, ashwagandha didn’t come out of a beaker, it sprang from the earth itself. Like you and your acne.
You and Ashwagandha: a Beautiful Friendship
This cortisol (stress) reducing shrub not only de-stresses your skin; its active antimicrobials battle the bad guys whose invasive habits infect your pores in the first place, while at the same time calming the redness and swelling of the hormonal battle for your face.
Yeah, okay — "nature provides". But you gotta wonder. At least we gotta wonder. Those nice stone-age people with their animal hides, fashionable mastodon-skin ankle booties, and aerodynamically-challenged spears? They didn’t bother wondering. They just figured out what worked and went with it, to our increasing benefit today.
As usual, science is following up 8,000 years of successful intuition with clipboard-cluttered investigations and peer-reviewed fine print. It’s all good. We want to know how the stuff works, after all. But still. 8,000 years of field testing counts for a lot.
One other thing: why is the plant kingdom so nice to us? This is a purely rhetorical question and has not been addressed in this essay.