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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Withania
Species: W. somnifera
Binomial name
Withania somnifera

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng, Winter cherry, Ajagandha, Kanaje Hindi and Samm Al Ferakh, is a plant in Solanaceae or nightshade family.

It grows as a stout shrub that reaches a height of 170cm. Like the tomato which belongs to the same family, ashwagandha bears yellow flowers and red fruit, though its fruit is berry-like in size and shape. Ashwagandha grows prolifically in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Medicinal use

In Ayurveda ashwaganda is considered a rasayana herb, a herb that works on a nonspecific basis to increase health and longevity. This herb is also considered an adaptogen which is a nontoxic herb that works on a nonspecific basis to normalize physiological function, working on the HPA axis and the neuroendocrine system. The roots and berries of the plant are used in herbal medicine. In Ayurveda, the fresh roots are sometimes boiled in milk, prior to drying, in order to leach out undesirable constituents. {ref} The berries are used as a substitute for rennet, to coagulate milk in cheese making.

Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means "horse's smell", probably originating from the odor of its root which resembles that of sweaty horse.[1] The species name somnifera means "sleep-bearing" in Latin, indicating it was considered a sedative, but it has been also used for sexual vitality and as an adaptogen. Some herbalists refer to ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, since it is used in ayurvedic medicine in a way similar to that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Seven American and four Japanese firms have filed for grant of patents on formulations containing extracts of the herb Ashwagandha. Fruits, leaves and seeds of the Indian medicinal plant withania somnifera have been traditionally used for the Ayurvedic system as aphrodisiacs, diuretics and for treating memory loss. The Japanese patent applications are related to the use of the herb as a skin ointment and for promoting reproductive fertility. The U.S based company Natreon has also obtained a patent for an Ashwagandha extract.

Another US establishment, the New England Deaconess Hospital, has taken a patent on an Ashwagandha formulation claimed to alleviate symptoms associated with arthritis.[1].

The product called "ashwagandha oil" is a combination of ashwagandha with almond oil and rose water designed to be used as a facial toner, therefore should not be consumed.

Active Constituents

All chemicals listed pertain to the root unless otherwise specified, as the root is the part used.

Anaferine (Alkaloid), Anahygrine (Alkaloid), Beta-Sisterol, Chlorogenic acid (in leaf only), Cysteine (in fruit), Cuscohygrine (Alkaloid), Iron, Pseudotropine (Alkaloid), Scopoletin, Somniferinine (Alkaloid), Somniferiene (Alkaloid), Tropanol (Alkaloid), Withanine (Alkaloid), Withananine (Alkaloid) and Withanolides A-Y(Steroidal lactones)[2][3]


Robin Lane Fox, in his biography of Alexander the Great, claims Withania somnifera was used in wine in ancient times.

According to Anne Van Arsdall, Withania somnifera was called apollinaris and also glofwyrt in The Old English Herbarium, and had a legend that Apollo found it first and gave it to the healer Aesculapius.

The main constituents of ashwagandha are alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Among the various alkaloids, withanine is the main constituent. The other alkaloids are somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withananine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo-tropine, 3-a-gloyloxytropane, choline, cuscohygrine, isopelletierine, anaferine and anahydrine. Two acyl steryl glucoside viz. Sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII have been isolated from root. The leaves contain steroidal lactones, which are commonly called withanolides. The withanolides have C28 steroidal nucleus with C9 side chain, having six membered lactone ring.

Thakur ''et al.( 1987) has described Withania somnifera in their book on major medicinal plants of India, while Puri (2002) has given various recipes in which ashwagndha is an important ingredient

Puri (2003) in his book on RASAYANA has given monographic account of this adaptogenic plant. After botanical study, he has given various uses of this herb in Ayurveda, important Ayurvedic preparations and therapeutic indications and pharmacological activities. The author has cited about a hundred references.

Other species

There are over 20 other species of the Withania genus that occur in the dry parts of India, North Africa, Middle East, and the Mediterranean. These include Withania coagulens and Withania simonii, the roots of which are sometimes used interchangeably with those of Withania somnifera.

Withania somnifera itself has been extensively domesticated from the wild form. In India, at least five different cultivars have been developed for increased root size and adaptation to different climates.

External links


  • RASAYANA: Ayurvedic Herbs of Rejuvenation and Longevity. Puri, H.S. (2003) Taylor & Francis, London, (ashwagandha pages 46-58).
  • Major Medicinal Plants of India. CIMAP, Lucknow (India) (a monograph on Withania somnifera)Thakur, R.S., Puri, H.S. and Akhtar Hussain (1987)
  • Simple Ayurvedic Remedies. Puri, H.S. (2002) UBSPD, Delhi (India) (Use of ashwagandha in various recipes)
  • Prescription for Herbal Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch, Avery Publishing Group. ISBN 0-89529-869-4
  • Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox, Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-303513-4
  • Making Plant Medicine, by Richard A. Cech, Horizon Herbs. ISBN 0-9700312-0-3
  • Medieval Herbal Remedies: The Old English Herbarium and Anglo-Saxon Medicine, by Anne Van Arsdall, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93849-X
  • University of Connecticut, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Conservatory (accessed 11 October 2005)
  • Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs, Bone, K. (1996,) Phytotherapy Press, Warwick, Queensland, Australia. ISBN 0-646-29502-0
  • “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” David Winston & Steven Maimes. Healing Arts Press, 2007. A guide to adaptogenic herbs with overview, history, actions, health benefits, 21 monographs including ashwagada; and chapters on adaptogens as food and adaptogens for animals.



  1. Ashwagandha next on patent hunters list,Hindu Vivek Kendra archive of the Times of India May 16, 2001
  3. Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, 2007.

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