Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is also called Winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is not related to Chinese or American ginseng. It is the premier sacred Ayurvedic herb of Hinduism.
A native of Asia and Africa, it is also found growing wild in Southern Europe though it is best known for its medicinal properties in India, where it is as well regarded as ginseng in China.
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of 3 feet (1m) but is not hardy, only able to withstand temperatures down to about freezing point. In temperate areas, it should be grown as an annual or as a subject for the conservatory (though the roots will require a deep pot). It is a member of the same family as the potato, tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper, which also includes deadly nightshade. Do not eat any part of the plant.
Harvest the roots in fall, pare off the bark (discard the inner part ) and dry for later use by laying out in a single layer and placing it somewhere cool, dry and out of the sun. Check after a couple of days, and if not completely dry, turn over. Store in an airtight jar somewhere cool and dark.
Caution: do not use in large amounts. Toxic if eaten. Not suitable for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone trying for a baby.
Ashwagandha is a natural tranquillizer because of its strong sedative effect, used to treat chronic fatigue, debility, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It is a very good adaptogen (tonic) particularly effective for reproductive problems (impotence, infertility, spermatorrhea, and also for difficulties arising from birth or miscarriage) and is also used for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, bone weakness, constipation, failure to thrive in children, loose teeth, memory loss, multiple sclerosis, premature ageing, muscle weakness, rheumatism, senility, tension, tumors, wasting diseases and to aid recovery after illness. The most important use is to increase the amount of hormones secreted by the thyroid, and it can also be used to support the adrenals.
As with all herbs used medicinally, it’s important to grow ashwagandha organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.