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Medicinal Plant Ashwagandha (withania somnifera)   Page 1


  Common Name
  Ashwagandha Plant
  Chemical Constituents
  Aeroponic system for cultivation
  Ashwagandha as Medicinal Herb
  Ashwagandha Side Effects
  Ashwagandha Benefits
  Recent research


    Ashwgandha plant

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng and as Indian Winter Cherry is an important ancient plant, the roots of which have been employed in Indian traditional systems of medicine, Ayurveda and Unani.

Ashwagandha stimulates the immune system and promotes the healthy functioning of the organism. Ashwagandha benefits the entire body and mind, protects the body from numerous diseases and helps to prevent cancer . Ashwagandha effectively combats all forms of stress and promotes good sleep.

Ashwagandha, the Indian ginseng or winter cherry has been used as a quiet valuable herb in the Ayurvedic and indigenous medical system for over 4000 years. The roots, leaves and fruits (berry) possess tremendous medicinal value. A famous Ayurvedic rejuvenative botanical used in many tonics and formulas, Ashwagandha is the best rejuvenative that helps maintain proper nourishment of the tissues, particularly muscle and bones, while supporting the proper function of the adrenals and reproductive system.

  Common Name

English -       Winter cherry
Latin  -         WITHANIA somnifera
Sanskrit -     Ashwagandha
Hindi -          Asgandh  
Tamil    -      Asuragandhi, Amukkira
Kannada -    Keramaddinagaddi
Telgu       -   Vajigandha, Pennerugadda
Malayalam-  Amukkuram, Trittavu. 
Marathi     -  Askandha
Marathi     -  Asgundh, Kanchuki, Askandha
Bengali     -  Ashvagandh
Punjabi     -  Asgand
Urdu         -  Asgandanagaori
Chinese   -   睡茄 (Shui Qie)

   Ashwagandha Plant

   Ashwagandha is an erect branched under shrub up to 1.25 m in height, minutely stellate tomentose. Root fleshy, tapering, whitish brown. Leaves ovate, flower greenish. It grows in dried parts in subtropical regions.

   Stem:  Ashwagandha stem  is terate, branched, cylindrical, solid, clothed with mealy, stellate-hoarytomentun

  Root:   Ashwagandha  roots are straight, unbranched, thickness varying with age. Its roots bear fibre like secondary roots, outer surface buff to gray yellow with longitudinal wrinkles. Stem bases variously thickened; nodes prominent only on the side from where petiole arises, cylindrical, greenwith longitudinal wrinkles; fracture, short and uneven. Roots odour is characteristic;bitter and acrid. The roots when dry are cylindrical, gradually tapering down with a brownish white surface and pure white inside when broken.

  Ashwagandha roots

  Ashwagandha dried roots

  Leaves:  Ashwagandha leaves are cauline and ramal, simple, exstipulate, petiolate, ovate, acute, entire  and up to 10 cm long. Petioles up to 1.25 cm long.

  Flowers: Ashwagandha flowers are ebracteate, pedicellate, complete, hermaphrodite, pentamerous,actinomorphic and hypogynous, gamosepalous, 4-6 mm in diameter, lucid-yellow or greenish. Its flowering time is in Winter

  Fruits : Ashwagandha fruitis a berry enclosed in the green persistent calyx, 5 mm in diameter, smooth, more or less globose, green when unripe, orange-red coloured in ripening stage

  Seeds  Ashwagandha seeds are bean shaped, endospermic, yellow andorange-red coloured, some what scurfy.

  Chemical Constituents

   The methanol, hexane and diethyl ether extracts from both leaves and roots of Ashwagandha were found. Alkaloid percentage in roots ranges from 0.13 to 0.31%.  The pharmacological activity of the root is attributed to the alkaloids and steroidals lactones. The total alkaloid content in the roots of Indian types has been reported to vary between 0.13 and 0.3. Many bio-chemical heterogeneous alkaloids, including choline, tropanol, pseudotopanol, cuscokygrene, 3- tigioyloxytropana, isopelletierine and several other steroidal lactories. Twelve alkaloids, 35 withanolides and several sitoindosides have been isolated from the roots of the plant have been studied.

   A sitoindoside is a biologically active constituent known as withanolide containing a glucose molecule at carbon 27. Indian ginseng  pharmacological activity has been attributed to two main withanolides, withaferin A and withanolide D.  Withaferin-A is therapeutically active withanolide reported to be present in leaves. In addition to alkaloids, the roots are reported to contain starch, reducing sugars, glycosides, dulcitol, withancil, an acid and a neutral compound. The amino acids reported from the roots include aspartic acid, glycine, tyrosine, alanine, glutamic acid and cysteine.


   W.somnifera grows well in sandy loam or light red soil, having pH 7.5-8.0 with good drainage. It can be cultivated between 600-1200 m  altitude. The semi-tropical areas receiving 500-750 mm rainfall are suitable for cultivation of this rained crop. The crop requires dry season during its growing period. Temperature between 200C to 350C is most suitable for cultivation. Late winter rains are conducive for the proper development of the plant roots


   Ashwagandha is usually grown in fields which are not well covered by the irrigation systems. The field on which food crops cannot be taken profitably for the above reason may be used for Ashwangandha cultivation. The soil of the field selected for Ashwagandha cultivation is well pulverized by ploughing, disking and/or harrowing. The field may be then leveled by the application pata.


   The crop can be sown either by broad casting or in lines. Live to line method is preferred as it in creases root production and also helps in performing intercultural practices properly. The seeds are usually sown about 1-3 cm deep in June- July in nursery. A light shower after shower after sowing ensures good germination. About 500-750 gm seeds are sufficient for 1 ha. field. Seeds can be treated, with Thiram or Indofil or Dithane medicinal plants - 45 (@ 3 gm/kg seed), before sowing to protect seedlings from seed borne diseases. The seedling after 25-35 days after sowing can be transplanted in the field marinating 60 x 60 cm. Spacing between the plants & the rows. It may be noted that since 'Asagnadh' is a rainy season Kharif crop, the time of sowing is decided by date of arrival of monsoon in that area.


   The seeds sown by broadcasting or in the line in furrows should be thinned out by hand at 25-30 days after sowing to maintain a plant population of about 30-60 plants per square meter (about 3.5 to 6 lakh plants/hectare). The plant density to be used may depend on the nature and fertility of the soil. On the marginal land the population is kept high. If some fertiliser (N:P:K::20:20:0) is applied then the population should preferably be kept at a lower level. One hand weeding at an early stage is sufficient to enable the Ashwagandha plants to take over the growth of weed which get suppressed by its smothering effect.


   The medicinal plants have to be grown without chemical fertilizers and use of pesticides. Organic manures like, Farm Yard Manure (FYM), Vermi-Compost, Green Manure etc. may be used as per requirement of the species. To prevent diseases, bio-pesticides could be prepared (either single or mixture) from Neem (kernel, seeds & leaves), Chitrakmool, Dhatura, Cow's urine etc.

   Withania somnifera is prone to several pests and diseases. Leaf spot disease caused by Alternaria alternata is the most prevalent disease, which is most severe in the plains of Punjab , Haryana , and Himachal Pradesh. In some cases insects or mite infestations are noticed. To spray pest repellents such as roger or nuvan 3 per cent diluted in one litre of water three times a week to control this infestation.

   Damping off is a major disease in Withania somnifera at seedling stage and results in heavy seedling mortality under field condition. However, it can be controlled by application of Dithane M-45 (0.3%) as foliar spray.


   Light shower after transplantation ensures establishment of seedlings. There is no need of irrigation if rainfall is at regular intervals. Excessive rainfall/water is harmful to the crop. Life saving irrigations may be applied, if required.

  The plants start flowering and bearing fruits from December onwards. The crop is ready for harvest in January- March at 150 to 180 days after sowing. The maturity of crop is judged by drying out of leaves and yellow red berries. The entire plant is uprooted for roots which are separated from aerial parts by cutting the stem 1-2 cm above the crown. The roots are then either cut transversely into small pieces (7 to 10 cm) or dried as it is in the sun. About 650-800 kg roots can be obtained from 1 ha on drying it comes to 350-435 kg. Berries are hand plucked separately. They are dried and crushed to take out the seeds.

   The dried roots, entire or transversely cut into smaller pieces, have to be further cleaned, trimmed and graded. The roots are beaten with a club which removes adhering soil and breaks off the thin, brittle lateral rootlets. Lateral branches, root crown and stem remains on roots are carefully trimmed with the help of knife. Roots are collected 6 months after the sowing of crop.

  Aeroponic system for cultivation

   Ashwagandha  traditionally grown outdoors in soil, the UA team decided to use an entirely nontraditional method - aeroponics - to produce bulk amounts of withaferin A needed for biological evaluation. In aeroponics, plants are set over enclosed chambers where their suspended roots are misted with water and nutrients, instead of growing in soil. The withania plants grew about five times larger using this method than if they had been grown in soil.

   "Using the aeroponic system for cultivation, we were able to produce more than 20 grams of withaferin A in a single greenhouse. It normally costs around $195 for just 10 milligrams," Gunatilaka said. "Also, it usually takes two to three years to mature to sizeable roots to be commercially viable, but here it takes just six to nine months."  Not only did the aeroponic method yield bigger plants faster, with more withaferin A than usual, it also unexpectedly stimulated the plants to produce large amounts of the new natural product - a water-soluble sulfate form of withaferin A.


   On an average, the yield from 1 hectare of commercial cultivation is approximately 3 to 5 q./ of dry roots and 50 to 75 kg of seeds. A maximum yield can be procured upto 6.5 to 7.0 q/ha. There are instances where farmers have achieved root yields as high as 1 tonne. Commercially, 6 to 15 mm diameter and 7 to 10 cm length root species are better. Alkaloid percentage in roots ranges from 0.13 to 0.31%. n an average yield from one hectare land under commercial cultivation is approx 3-5 quintals of dried roots and 50-75 kg seeds.

Processed ashwagandha
This uniquely processed ashwagandha today goes by the name of KSM-66 ashwagandha and it has gone on to open up new frontiers for the use of ashwagandha in pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, food and beverages, and sports nutrition.     
KSM-66 ashwagandha is the only available ashwagandha extract in the world to possess the highest withanolide content derived from roots alone.

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