Ashwagandha | Withania somnifera

Source: Smart Cooky

Source: Smart Cooky



Ashwagandha, winter cherry, "Indian Ginseng", also known as Physalis somnifera


Sanskrit- Turangi-gandha; Hindi- Punir, Asgandh; Bengali- Ashvaganda; Marathi- Askandha tilli; Gujarati- Ghodakun, Ghoda, Asoda, Asan; Telugu- Pulivendram, Panneru-gadda, Panneru; Tamil- Amukkura, Amkulang, Amukkuram-kilangu, Amulang-kalung, Aswagandhi; Kannada- Viremaddlinagadde, Pannaeru, Aswagandhi, Kiremallinagida, Punjabi- Asgand, Isgand


Achuvagandi, Ajagandha Alkekengi,Amikkira-gadday, Amukkira-kilzhangu,  Amukran-kizhangu, Asagandha, Asundha, Bladder Cherry, Chinese Lantern Plant, Fatarfoda, Hirimaddina-gadday, Hirre- gadday, Pevette, Physalis, Sogade-beru, Withania, Kanaje, Samm Al Ferakh.


The Sanskrit name, Ashwagandha, comes from the unusual smell of its root, which is similar to that of a sweaty horse. Ashua= horse Gundha=smell.

The species name somnifera means "sleep-bearing" in Latin, indicating it was considered a sedative.

Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Withania
Species: Wilthamnia Somnifera

Ecological Status

Ashwagandha is native to the dry regions of south central Asia, and thrives in a Mediterranean-type climate such as Southern California.  It grows prolifically in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is commercially cultivated in Madhya Pradesh (a state in India).

Here is a list of where it is found natively:

Macaronesia: Cape Verde; Spain - Canary Islands
Northern Africa: Algeria; Egypt; Libya; Morocco; Tunisia
Northeast Tropical Africa: Chad; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Somalia; Sudan
East Tropical Africa: Kenya; Tanzania; Uganda
West Tropical Africa: Liberia; Mali; Nigeria
South Tropical Africa: Angola; Malawi; Mozambique; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Southern Africa: Botswana; Lesotho; Namibia; South Africa - Cape Province, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Transvaal; Swaziland
Western Indian Ocean: Mauritius

Arabian Peninsula: Arabia
Western Asia: Afghanistan; Iran; Iraq; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Syria; Turkey

Indian Subcontinent: India; Pakistan; Sri Lanka

Southeastern Europe: Greece; Italy - Sardinia, Sicily
Southwestern Europe: Spain

Plant Parts Used

Dried roots are used in Ayurveda in various formulations. Powdered roots are also used for its nutritive properties.


Ashwagandha root has been used in India for at least between 3,000-5,000 years, to enhance libido and sexual vitality, improve fertility and overall reproductive health, and to reduce stress. In ancient times it was drunk in buffalo milk.

Robin Lane Fox, an English scholar, mentioned Ashwagandha in his biography about Alexander The Great. According to the biography in the time of Alexander, wine prepared from Ashwagandha was in wide use. He and his army use to prepare this wine to gain energy and get rid of various ailments.

According to Anne Van Arsdall, a scholar of Medieval herbal remedies, Ashwagandha 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.

Ayurvedic Herbal Energetics

Rasa: Madhura tikta, kashaya
Guna: Laghu, Snigdha

Vipaka: madhura
Virya: ushna
Karma: medhya, nidrajanana, stanyajanana, vedanasthapana, balya, vajikarana, rasayana, Vatakaphahara


Ashwagandha was traditionally available as powder that was made after crushing roots of the plant thoroughly and then sieving it through a very fine cloth. Various other preparations were being made using this powder that is mentioned below. In today's global market Ashwagandha is available in powder, capsules, syrups and tablet forms. It is readily available.

Ayurvedic classical preparations

Ashwagandharista - a decoction that is prepared with Ashwagandha as a main ingredient.

Ashwagandhaghrta - an Ashwagandha preparation in which it is processed in the ghee.

Ashwagandha churna - a powdered preparation of Ashwagandha root.

Ashwagandhavaleha - a classical preparation in which Ashwagandha along with other herbs are processed to make it in a paste texture that can be licked.

Saubhagyasunthipaka - a preparation in which Ashwagandha and sunthi (dried ginger) are taken in major proportion with other herbs taken in smaller amounts.

Sukumaraghrta - an Ashwagandha preparation made in ghee. It is generally prepared for children.

Maharasnadi yoga - a Ashwagandha preparation that is widely used as pain killer by ayurvedic practitioners.


Dosage of various forms of Ashwagandha is given below considering a person of normal weight and height. These can vary from person to person.

Churna (powder) - 3 to 6 grams

Arisht (decoction) - 15 to 20 ml

Ghrit (ghee) - 3 to 5 ml

Capsules - (350 to 400 mg) - 1 or 2

Syrups -5 to 10 ml

Avleha (paste) - 3 to 6 grams


ADD/ADHD, Anorexia, anti-oxidant, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, consumption, cough, leucoderma, edema, asthenia, anemia, exhaustion, aging, immune dysfunction, impotence, infertility, insomnia, repeated miscarriage, paralysis, memory loss, multiple sclerosis, neurological diseases rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago.


Caution should be used with clients on anticonvulsants, and barbiturates. Ashwagandha is traditionally avoided in lymphatic congestion, during colds and flu, or symptoms of ama.

Ayurvedic Uses

  • It is used in formulations for its excellent anti inflammatory & pain relieving properties.

  • Application of soft paste or poultice made of leaves or roots or both of Ashwagandha is indicated in cases of goiter & glandular inflammations.

  • Oil prepared with infusion from roots of Ashwagandha is recommended in 'Daurbalya' (general weakness) to rejuvenate muscles & to strengthen joints and associated tissues and in Vata related disorders.

  • It is a rasayana herb & is used for rejuvenation and revitalization of musculo-skeletal system.

  • It is used in circulatory disorders for its hypotensive, brady-cardiac & depressant properties. It helps to control cardiac inflammation.

  • It helps in congestion & helps in breathing difficulty. Widely used in Ayurvedic formulations for asthma, chronic cough, allergic cough.

  • Ashwagandha has excellent diuretic properties. In females it is used in formulations for uterine inflammation, leucorrhea and menstrual disorders.

  • Ashwagandha is widely used in Ayurvedic formulations as a tonic for stimulating male genital system and in conditions such as loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, oligospermia & impotence.

  • It has sedative & mild hypnotic properties.

  • Root and bitter leaves are used as a hypnotic in alcoholism and emphysematous dyspnea.

  • Root is used in doses of about 30 grains in consumption, emaciation of children, senile debility, rheumatism, in all cases of general debility, nervous exhaustion, brain-fag, low of memory, loss of muscular energy and spermator rhoea. It infuses fresh energy and vigor in a system worn out owing to any constitutional disease like syphilis, rheumatic fever etc., or from over-work and thus prevents premature decay.

  • Leaves are used as an anthelmintic and as an application to carbuncles.

  • Fruits or seeds are used as diuretic, and to coagulate milk.

  • Root is used as an application in obstinate ulcers and rheumatic swellings.

  • Ashwagandha is an ingredient in chyavanaprash. Chyavanaprash is used as a treatment for kasa (cough), svasa (dyspnea), kshaya (consumption), svarabheda (voice problems) and hrdroga (heart problems). It is also used in a special type of rasayana therapy called kutipraveshika, employed after pancha karma, whereby the patient is housed in a specially constructed hut and consumes nothing except Chyavanaprash, rice, ghee for a specified period of time.

  • Ashwagandha is frequently a constituent of Ayurvedic formulas, including shilajit.

Specific Ayurvedic Remedies

  • A decoction of Ashwagandha root is useful as nutrient and health restorative to pregnant and elderly people. You can also take its powder with milk as an alternative.

  • Ashwagandha Ghrita promotes the nutrition and strength of children. For improving the nutrition of weak children, give for two weeks.

  • For curing the sterility of women, Ayurveda practitioners often prescribe a boiled down decoction of Ashwagandha, milk and ghee. Take this for a few days, soon after the menstrual period.

  • For involuntary loss of semen, and loss of strength, a powder consisting of Ashwagandha, sugar, ghee, honey and long pepper is often given daily, with a milk and rice diet.

  • Ashwagandha root taken with milk or clarified butter acts as an aphrodisiac and restorative to old men. Ashwagandha - Vidari Combination is a herbal remedy for this condition.

  • The powder of Ashwagandha and rock candy, in ghee is often prescribed for lumbago, pains in the loins or small of the back.

  • Fresh green root of Ashwagandha reduced to paste with cow's urine or with water heated applied to the parts affected is useful for glandular swellings.

  • Narayana Taila, an Ayurvedic herbal remedy containing Ashwagandha, is useful for consumption, emaciation of children and rheumatism and as an enema in dysentery and anal fistulae.

  • A ghrita prepared with a decoction and paste of Ashwagandha root is used internally and an oil prepared with a decoction of the root and a number of aromatic substances in the form of a paste is used externally for rheumatism.

  • For skin diseases apply Ashwagandha powder well mixed with oil to the skin.

  • Also for skin diseases make a paste of 1 tsp Ashwagandha, 1/2 tsp Manjistha, and 1/2 tspTurmeric. Apply to Scaly eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.

  • For improving eyesight take a mixture of Ashwagandha powder, licorice powder and juice of amla.

  • Apply drops into the nose in deafness, and as an ointment over the body in hemiplegia, tetanus, rheumatism, and lumbago.

  • Use a decoction of the roots of Ashwagandha, and licorice, with cow's milk to promote lactation.

  • For vitiligo mix 1 tsp Ashwagandha and ½ tsp Red Sandalwood. Take internally + externally.

  • For Tuberculosis make a Yakshma, 1 tsp Ashwagandha boiled with goats milk, 1/16 tsp pippali

  • Take 1 cup goat's milk, add 1 cup water, put 1 tsp Ashwagandha + 1/16 tsp pippali, boil milk back to one cup. Give 1 cup morning + evening.

Medical Research


Researchers found that rats treated with an extract of Ashwagandha showed better stress tolerance in cold water swimming tests, a classic experimental model of adaptogenic activity (Archana and Namasivayam 1999).


An extract of the aerial parts of Ashwagndha had excellent anti-inflammatory effects in rats subjected to having cotton-pellets surgically implanted under their skin (al-Hindawi et al 1992).  An extract composed 80% of Ashwagandha displayed significant anti-inflammatory activity on rats that were exposed to a substance called carrageenan which is used to induce paw swelling (al-Hindawi 1989).


A root extract of Ashwagandha prevented the rise of experimentally induced free radical build-up in rabbits and mice (Dhuley 1998a). In tests conducted on rats' brains with an extract taken from Ashwagandha root, it was found that there was significant increase in three natural anti - oxidants. The natural antioxidants found were glutathione peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase. This ratio was constant in various repeated tests conducted. (Bhattacharya et al 1997).


The administration of Ashwagandha rasayana (an Ayurvedic formulation containing Ashwagandha) significantly reduced the lung tumor nodule formation by 55.6% in experimental animals (Menon et al. 1997).  An alcoholic extract of the dried roots showed significant antitumor and radio-sensitizing effects in experimental tumors in Chinese hamster cells, without any noticeable systemic toxicity (Devi 1996). Ashwagandha displayed significant antitumor and radio-sensitizing effects, inhibiting tumor growth and increasing survival in Swiss mice inoculated with Ehrlich ascites carcinoma, a specific type of cancer (Devi et al 1995; Sharad et al 1996).  The administration of an extract of Ashwagandha was found to significantly reduce induced leucopenia in lab animals, indicating its usefulness in cancer therapy (Davis and Kuttan 1998). 

Central Nervous system

Isolated constituents of Ashwagandha increased neuron receptor capacity, partly explaining the cognition-enhancing and memory-improving effects traditionally attributed to Ashwagandha (Schliebs et al 1997). A commercial root extract of Ashwagandha used repeatedly over nine days lessened the development of tolerance to the pain-killing effect of morphine and suppressed morphine-withdrawal jumps (Kulkarni and Ninan 1997).


The hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effects of roots of Ashwagandha were assessed in six patients with mild Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus and six patients with mild hypercholesterolemia.  The treatment consisted of the powder of roots over a 30 day period.  At the end of the study, researchers noted a decrease in blood glucose comparable to that of an oral hypoglycemic drug, and a significant increase in urine sodium and urine volume, coupled with a decrease in serum cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL (low density lipoproteins) and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) cholesterol, with no adverse effects noted (Andallu and Radhika 2000).


Myelosuppressed mice (those with decreased production of red blood cells) treated with an extract of Ashwagandha showed a significant increase in hemoglobin concentration, red blood cell count, white blood cell count, platelet count and body weight as compared to control groups. (Ziauddin et al 1996). Mice infected intravenously with Aspergillus fumigatus (a fungus which causes strong allergic reactions) and treated for 7 consecutive days with an oral preparation of an extract of Ashwagandha displayed increased white blood cell activity and prolonged survival time (Dhuley 1998).  The antifungal activity of Ashwagandha has been confirmed elsewhere, attributed to a component it contains known as withanolides (Choudhary et al 1995).


A formulation containing roots of Ashwagandha, the stem of Boswellia serrata (Indian frankincense), rhizomes of Curcuma longa (Turmeric ) and a zinc complex (Articulin-F), was evaluated in a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over study in clients with osteoarthritis.  The results produced a significant drop in severity of pain and disability, although radiological assessment did not show any significant changes.  Side effects were minimal and did not necessitate the withdrawal of treatment. (Kulkarni et al 1991)

 Classical References

Bhavaprakasa, Karsyadhikara, 40-9 Bhavaprakasa, Karsyadhikara, 40 Bhavaprakasa Nighantu, Guducyadi vara, 190 Bhavaprakasa, Rasayanadhikara, 73-13 Bhavaprakasa, Snayukarogadhikara 57-8 Bhavaprakasa, Yonirogadhikara 70-26 Cakradatta Cakradatta, Rasayanadhikara, 16 Cakradatta, Vatavyadhi cikitsa, 22-90 Cakradatta Vatavyadhi cikitsa, 22/141-145 Cakradatta, Yonivyapata cikitsa 26 Caraka Samhita, cikitsa 17-117 Caraka Samhita, cikitsa 27 Caraka Samhita, Siddhi 10-3 Caraka Samhita, Sutra 3-7, 8, Vimana 8-144 etc. Cikitsa 2-1, 34 etc. Siddhi, 3-37 etc.  Kaiyadeva Nighantu, Osadha varga, 1045-1047 Raja Nihantu, Satahvadi varga, 112 Raja Martanda  References Acharya Deepak Dr., Sancheti Garima Dr., Pawar Sanjay Dr., Shrivastava Anshu Dr. 2006-11-24. Traditional medicines of Gonds and Bharias - 28 - Herbal medicine for Paralysis

Other References

Abraham, A., I. Kirson, E. Glotter and D. Lavie.1968. A chemotaxonomic study of Withania somnifera (L) Dunal . Phytochemistry, 7: 957-62.

Al-Hindawi, M.K., I.H. Al-Deen, M.H. Nabi, and M.H. Ismail. 1989. Anti-inflammatory activity of some Iraqi plants using intact rats. J Ethnopharmacol. Sep; 26(2):163-8

Andallu B, Radhika B. 2000. Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root. Indian J Exp Biol. Jun;38(6):607-9

Aphale A.A., A.D. Chhibba, N.R. Kumbhakarna, M. Mateenuddin and S.H. Dahat. 1998. Subacute toxicity study of the combination of ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in rats: a safety assessment. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol Apr; 42(2):299-302

Archana, R. and A. Namasivayam. 1999. Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. J Ethnopharmacol. Jan; 64(1):91-3

Atal, C.K. and Schwarting, A.E., 1961. Ashwagandha - An ancient Indian drug. Economic Botany, 15: 256-263.

Bhattacharya, S.K., K.S. Satyan and S. Ghosal. 1997. Antioxidant activity of glycowithanolides from Withania somnifera. Indian J Exp Biol. Mar; 35(3):236-9

Choudhary, M.I.,  Dur-e-Shahwar, Z. Parveen, A. Jabbar , I. Ali, Atta-ur-Rahman. 1995. Antifungal steroidal lactones from Withania coagulance. Phytochemistry Nov; 40(4):1243-6

Dash, Bhagwan.  1991. Materia Medica of Ayurveda.  New Delhi: B. Jain Publishers.

Davis, L. and G. Kuttan. 1999. Effect of Withania somnifera on cytokine production in normal and cyclophosphamide treated mice. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol Nov; 21(4):695-703

Davis L. and G. Kuttan. 1998. Suppressive effect of cyclophosphamide-induced toxicity by Withania somnifera extract in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. Oct; 62(3):209-14
Devi, P.U. 1996. Withania somnifera Dunal (Ashwagandha): potential plant source of a promising drug for cancer chemotherapy and radiosensitization. Indian J Exp Biol. Oct; 34(10):927-32

Devi, P.U., A.C. Sharada, and F.E. Solomon. 1995. In vivo growth inhibitory and radiosensitizing effects of withaferin A on mouse Ehrlich ascites carcinoma. Cancer Lett. Aug 16; 95(1-2):189-93

Dhuley, J.N. 1998. Effect of Ashwagandha on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals. J Ethnopharmacol. Mar; 60(2):173-8

Dhuley, J.N. 1998b. Therapeutic efficacy of Ashwagandha against experimental aspergillosis in mice. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. Feb; 20(1):191-8

Ayurvedic Pharmacopiea of India. E-book

Frawley, David and Vasant Lad. 1986. The Yoga Of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine.  Santa Fe: Lotus Press.

Kulkarni, S.K. and I. Ninan. 1997. Inhibition of morphine tolerance and dependence by Withania somnifera in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. Aug; 57(3):213-7

Kulkarni, R.R., P.S. Patki, V.P. Jog, S.G. Gandage and B. Patwardhan. 1991. Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study.  J Ethnopharmacol. May-Jun; 33(1-2):91-5

Kuttan, G. 1996. Use of Withania somnifera Dunal as an adjuvant during radiation therapy. Indian J Exp Biol. Sep; 34(9):854-6

Lane Fox, Robin. 1974. Alexander the Great New York: E P Dutton

Mehta, A.K., P. Binkley, S.S. Gandhi, and M.K. Ticku. 1991. Pharmacological effects of Withania somnifera root extract on GABAA receptor complex. Indian J Med Res. Aug; 94:312-5

Menon L.G., R. Kuttan, and G. Kuttan. 1997. Effect of rasayanas in the inhibition of lung metastasis induced by B16F-10 melanoma cells. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. Dec; 16(4):365-8

Nadkarni, Dr. K.M.  1954.  The Indian Materia Medica, with Ayurvedic, Unani and Home Remedies.  Revised and enlarged by A.K. Nadkarni. 1954. Reprint. Bombay:  Bombay Popular Prakashan PVP.

Schliebs, R., A. Liebmann , S.K. Bhattacharya, A. Kumar, S. Ghosal, and V. Bigl. 1997. Systemic administration of defined extracts from Withania somnifera (Indian Ginseng) and

Shilajitu differentially affects cholinergic but not glutamatergic and GABAergic markers in rat brain. Neurochem Int. Feb; 30(2):181-90

Sharad, A.C., F.E. Solomon, P.U. Devi, N. Udupa, and K.K. Srinivasan. 1996. Antitumor and radiosensitizing effects of withaferin A on mouse Ehrlich ascites carcinoma in vivo. Acta Oncol. 35(1):95-100

United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service
Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) 30-Aug-1999

Van Arsdall, Anne. 2002. Medieval Herbal Remedies: The Old English Herbarium and Anglo-Saxon Medicine. Routledge.

by Shaw Lathrop

Related articles