withania somnifera

Withania Somnifera is a perennial shrub from the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. It is also known as Ashwagandha. The herbal root extract has been traditionally used as a tonic and as a sedative but recent research shows that the leaf extract contains Withanolides which have been found to have regenerative properties on brain-cell synapses in mice and in human cell lines in laboratory studies.

Classification of the Plant

  • Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade family)
  • Genus: Withania
  • Species: Somnifera
  • Scientific Name: Withania Somnifera (Dunal)


Withania Somnifera grows abundantly in India (especially Madhya Pradesh), Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka and parts of northern Africa.


  • Height: usually 30-60 cm but can grow up to 170 cm.
  • Shape: upright and stout shrub with central stem.
  • Branches: star-shaped branching; branches are covered in fine hairs.
  • Leaves: alternate and ovate, up to 10 cm long and up to 5 cm wide.
  • Flowers: yellow petals on the inside but with a green outer-covering layer.
  • Fruit: red berries in papery protective covering (calyx).
  • Roots: long, fleshy tubers.
Withania Somnifera
withania somnifera

Environmental Niche and Cultivation

  • Niche:
    • found naturally in dry areas and in waste areas
    • Soil: sandy loam to light red soils
    • Climate required: dry climate having 65-75 cm per annum of rain and temperature of 20-38 C.
    • Altitude: up to 1500 m above sea level
  • Cultivation:
    • Furrows: 60 x 60 cm; hand seeding
    • Cultivation time: 1 year - when the leaves are dry the plant is uprooted and the roots are separated from the aerial parts.
    • Fertilizers: none required
    • Diseases of the plant: leaf spot disease

Synonyms for Withania Somnifera

  • Physalis somnifera
  • Indian names: Ashwagandha ("horse smell" in Sanskrit); Kanaje (Hindi); Amukkara (Tamil).
  • English name: Winter Cherry; Indian Ginseng.
  • Chinese Name: 睡茄 (Shui Qie).

Extracts of Withania Somnifera

  • Ashwagandha Root: this contains the traditional herbal tonic marketed as "Ashwagandha".
  • Ashwagandha Leaf and Root Extract (mixture): the leaves contain significant withanolide and withanoside content; these molecules in ashwagandha leaf and root extract are now measured and standardized. The current formulations have the following dosages of withanolides: 1.5%; 2.5%; 4.5%; 8%. These products are marketed as "Ashwagandha Extract". Particular constituents (withanolide A, withanoside IV, and withanoside VI) have shown significant effects on the re-growth of brain-cell synapses, axons and dendrites in mice and in human cell lines in the laboratory. Further research is under way in Japan to test withanolide type molecules before testing them clinically.
  • more on Withanolide
  • see also Turmeric Extract which may complement the work of Ashwagandha (in the case of Alzheimer's disease).

Dosage of Withania Somnifera

Dosage depends on the strength of the Withanolides in the extract. Thus various manufacturers recommend one of the following doses:
  • 1.5% withanolides: 450-1350 mg per day.
  • 2.5% withanolides: 500-1500 mg per day.
  • 8% withanolides: 200-250 mg per day.

Historical Uses of Withania Somnifera

The leaves, berries and tubers of Ashwagandha have been in use for centuries in India as a home remedy and the extract is an important part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine. The benefits of Ashwagandha are:
  • General tonic and "adaptogen", helping the body adapt to stress, especially for geriatrics; to promote strength and vigor;
  • used as sedative or calming agent and for insomnia: the species Latin name "somnifera" means "soporific"/"tending to cause sleep";
  • Sexual vitality;
  • Liver tonic;
  • Anti-inflammatory agent; it is used to treat rheumatic pain and arthritis;
  • Coagulant: the berries are used as a substitute for rennet, to coagulate milk in cheese making.

Publications on the Subject of Withania Somnifera

  • Dhalla, N.S., K.C. Gupta, N.S. Sastry and C.L. Malhotra: "Comparative studies of Withania somnifera Dunal and Withania ashwagandha Kaul", in Indian Journal of Pharmacy 23, 5, 126--127, 1961.
  • Sandhya Singh, Sushil Kumar: Withania somnifera: the Indian ginseng ashwagandha, Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, 1998.

Old Herbs - New Science

Ananain and Comosain (from Pineapple stem)

Cinnamon Extract

Curcuma Longa


Ficain (from Fig Trees)

Licorice Root Extract

Petty Spurge and Euphorbia Peplus

Rosmarinic Acid (from Rosemary, Sage)

Spanish Sage

Turmeric Extract

Vineatrol (from Grapevine shoots)

Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha)

Withanolide (from Ashwagandha)

Zerumbone (from Ginger)
This website acknowledges Pubmed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) as source for medical research abstracts.

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