Ashwagandha, (Withania somnifera), is a member of the Solanacea family that also includes tomatoes, datura and potatoes. Unlike neem and the other Ayurvedic herbs we grow, both the roots and the leaves are used in traditional medicine.
Grow ashwagandha much like a tomato plant, in full sun and well-drained but fertile soil. Roots are traditionally harvested in the Fall although some reports indicate that it will overwinter if temperatures don’t drop below 20 degrees. It is an attractive bush that will grow to about three feet tall and produces small but bright-red berries that can be used as a seed source after the roots are harvested.
Insects don’t seem to harm ashwagandha although it does appear to be susceptible to root problems if soil is allowed to get overly wet and then dries out. Like tomatoes, it can get various leaf blights but they don’t seem to be a major issue.
To make a root extract, dig the roots carefully before the ground freezes, wash well and dry or freeze them. They also can be extracted and used as a tincture. (To make a tincture, wash and dry the roots, chop into ¼-inch chunks and cover in pure grain alcohol for at least two weeks. Many people leave root pieces in alcohol, only straining the tincture when they need it.)
Leaf tea can be made year-round by adding four to six fresh leaves to a cup of boiling water. Allow to cool and then drink.
In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is known as a strengthening tonic, somewhat like ginseng but it’s typically cultivated rather than harvested from the wild so that natural resources are not stressed. Although it has been touted as an aphrodisiac, herbalists typically call ashwagandha an overall energy booster. In Hindi, ashwagandha means “horse’s smell,” reflecting both its actual scent and the plant’s strengthening properties.
Multiple studies detailed on the National Institute’s of Health website indicate that it may become far more widely used in other cultures as research shows some truly amazing properties.
Avoid the use of ashwagandha if you are trying to conceive, pregnant or breast feeding.