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Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, Winter cherry, Ajagandha, Kanaje Hindi and Samm Al Ferakh, is a plant in Solanaceae or nightshade family. There are over 20 other species of the Withania genus that occur in the dry parts of India, North Africa, Middle East, and the Mediterranean. These include Withania coagulens and Withania simonii, the roots of which are sometimes used interchangeably with those of Withania somnifera.
It grows as a stout shrub that reaches a height of 170cm. Like the tomato which belongs to the same family, yellow flowers and red fruit, though its fruit is berry-like in size and shape. Ashwagandha grows prolifically in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is commercially cultivated in Madhya Pradesh (a province in India).
In Ayurveda ashwaganda is considered a rasayana herb, which works on a nonspecific basis to increase health and longevity. This herb is also considered an adaptogen which is a nontoxic herb that works on a nonspecific basis to normalize physiological function, working on the HPA axis and the neuroendocrine system. The roots and berries of the plant are used in herbal medicine. In Ayurveda, the fresh roots are sometimes boiled in milk, prior to drying, in order to leach out undesirable constituents.
Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means "horse's smell", probably originating from the odor of its root which resembles that of sweaty horse. The species name somnifera means "sleep-making" in Latin, indicating that to it are attributed sedating properties, but it has been also used for sexual vitality and as an adaptogen. Some herbalists refer to ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, since it is used in ayurvedic medicine in a way similar to that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Seven American and four Japanese firms have filed for grant of patents on formulations containing extracts of the herb Ashwagandha. Fruits, leaves and seeds of the Indian medicinal plant withania somnifera have been traditionally used for the Ayurvedic system as aphrodisiacs, diuretics and for treating memory loss. The Japanese patent applications are related to the use of the herb as a skin ointment and for promoting reproductive fertility. The U.S based company Natreon has also obtained a patent for an Ashwagandha extract.
All chemicals listed pertain to the root unless otherwise specified, as the root is the part used.
Anaferine (alkaloid), anahygrine (alkaloid), beta-sisterol, chlorogenic acid (in leaf only), cysteine (in fruit), cuscohygrine (alkaloid), iron, pseudotropine (alkaloid), scopoletin, somniferinine (alkaloid), somniferiene (alkaloid), tropanol (alkaloid), withaferin A (steroidal lactone), withanine (alkaloid), withananine (alkaloid) and withanolides A-Y(steroidal lactones).
The main constituents of ashwagandha are alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Among the various alkaloids, withanine is the main constituent. The other alkaloids are somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withananine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo-tropine, 3-a-gloyloxytropane, choline, cuscohygrine, isopelletierine, anaferine and anahydrine. Two acyl steryl glucoside viz. sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII have been isolated from root. The leaves contain steroidal lactones, which are commonly called withanolides. The withanolides have C28 steroidal nucleus with C9 side chain, having six membered lactone ring.
There are few listed side effects for Withania Somnifera in humans, but a study on its effects on rats found unfavorable issues in their hearts and adrenal glands in extremely high dosages taken for a duration of 180 days.
- Withania somnifera information from NPGS/GRIN. URL accessed on 2008-02-16.
- van der Hooft CS, Hoekstra A, Winter A, de Smet PA, Stricker BH (November 2005). [Thyrotoxicosis following the use of ashwagandha]. Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde 149 (47): 2637–8.
- Panda S, Kar A (September 1998). Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 50 (9): 1065–8.
- Panda S, Kar A (November 1999). Withania somnifera and Bauhinia purpurea in the regulation of circulating thyroid hormone concentrations in female mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 67 (2): 233–9.
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