Withania spp.

Ashwagandha (Ashvaganda); Indian Ginseng; Poison Gooseberry; Winter Cherry.

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Withania spp.

Botanical information

A perennial herb it grows to a height of 1.5m with a spread of 1m. The stem is green and erect; the leaves are ovate, green and alternate; the flowers are small, greenish white with a white stigma, occurring sessile on the stem; the fruit are red berries encased in a paperlike casing (similar to Physalis spp.). The seeds are 1-2mm in size, yellowy orange and elliptical in shape. The roots are smooth, 10-20mm thick and up to 40cm long.

Propagation is by seed sown in punnets or directly into the ground. Sprinkle tiny seeds onto the surface and rake in lightly. Supply water by misting regularly or by watering from the bottom. Surface must not dry out at any time until the seedlings have developed a deep root system, but must also never be wet as this will encourage fungal rot. High humidity is advantageous for initial germination, but will encourage fungal problems soon after. Seedlings may be transplanted when 10cm tall. Germination should be expected within two weeks. Water generously while young and more sparingly when older.

Traditional uses

As the name suggests, this herb has found great use as a sedative and narcotic. These uses are also described in ayurvedic medicine, along with its reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac (frequently prescibed together with Cannabis). Usually the root is used, however some reports suggest that the leaves can be smoked for a narcotic effect. In traditional Indian medicine and western hebalism a dose of 5 to 10g per day is used to treat stress and sleep disorders and anxiety. All parts of the plant are also used externally to treat inflammations, rheumatism and arthitis.


The root contains around 2.8% withanolides (steroidal lactones) as major active component. These include somniferin and withaferin A.

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