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  Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal

Nomenclature I Family I Habitat I Morphology I Cultivation I Traditional Knowledge
Chemistry I Formulation I Usage I Commercial aspects I Patents I Bibliography


Botanical name:
Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal
Common Name
: Ashwagandha

Withania somnifera (L.) DunalVernacular names:

Sanskrit: Ashwagandha;
Hindi: Asgandha;
English :Winter cherry;
Arabian : Bahman;
Japanese : Ashwangandha;
Nepalese: Aasoganda;
Pusta: Kutilad;
Tamil: Amurkkuralekizhangu.
Tibetan: Ba-dzi-gandha;
Unani: Asgandh volaite;

Family : Solanaceae

Distributed throughout the drier region of India, especially in wasteland ascending to an altitude of 2000 m in the Himalaya. It is also cultivated.


Withania somnifera (L.) DunalA small or middle-sized under shrub, erect, greyish or hoary, branching, perennial about 30 cm to 1.5 m in height. Stem and branches covered with minute star-shaped hairs. One or more fairly long tuberous roots and short stem. Flowering nearly throughout the year. Leaves simple, up to 10 cm long, ovate, petiolate, and alternate. Bears small, about 1 cm long, greenish or yellow flowers; borne together in short axillary clusters. Fruit 6 mm diameter, globose, smooth, red enclosed in an inflated and membranous calyx.

Part used as crude drug
Roots (Dried)

Morphological characteristic of drug
Roots are 20-30 cms long and 6-12mm in diameter, with few (2-3) lateral roots of slightly smaller size, straight, unbranched. Outer surface is buff to Greyish-yellow with longitudinal wrinkles and in the centre soft, solid mass with scattered pores. Odour characteristics, taste bitter and acrid.

Cultivars (including improved Varieties)

Withania somnifera (L.) DunalA lot of intra-specific variability is reported in Withania somnifera growing in different parts of India. The characteristic genetic divergence is very much predominant within the distribution patterns of the genotypic and phenotypic variability. Five morphologically distinct ecotypes are reported. An improved strain WSR is developed and released for commercial cultivation by RRL, Jammu.


(a) Land preparation

Land is ploughed 3-4 times and planked twice to make the tilth fine and weed free. After leveling it is divided into beds of suitable size preferably 6 m x 4 m. having proper irrigation channels.

(b) Seed sowing
Under the climatic conditions of north-Indian plains, the seed is sown from August to September after the heavy rains are over. Sowing is done by broadcast or line sowing method, in the field having sufficient moisture. Germination of seeds varies form 60-65%. Seed takes 10-12 days to germinate and germination is complete within a month. 2-kg seed is enough to cover one-hectare area. When the seedlings are at 2-4-leaf stage, they should be thinned, maintaining a distance of 10 x 10 cm in the field.

(c) Irrigation
Ashwagandha is a rainfed crop and requires little irrigation after the crop get established. However, additional irrigation helps in better root growth.

(d) Fertiliser schedule
For this crop, application of chemical fertilizers is not recommended as its use invariably leads to a much branched and fibrous roots which are not good for commercial point of view.

(e) Pests and Diseases
Damping off is a major disease in Withania somnifera at seedling stage and results in heavy seedling mortality under field condition. However, it can be controlled by application of Dithane M-45 (0.3%) as foliar spray.

(f) Weed management
In the early stages of crop establishment, regular weeding is required, but once the crop picks up growth, the weeds are suppressed & weeding is done as and when required.

(g) Harvesting
The crop is harvested for roots in March-April, after six months of growth. The roots, after harvesting, are cleaned, cut into small pieces and graded according to diameter of the root. 1-2 cm diameter roots are the best category in the grading. 8-10 qtls of dry root/ha are obtained in case of WSR strain evolved by Regional Research Laboratory, Jammu.

Roots are collected 6 months after the sowing of crop.

Traditional Knowledge (Ethnobotanical / Folk-lores / House hold remedies / Self help mode)
Internally, it is used to tone the uterus after miscarriage and treatment of post-partum difficulties. Externally, it is applied as a poultice to boils, swellings and other painful body parts.

Withanolides are the most important bioactive constituents of roots of Ashwagandha. Roots and leaves of type WSR evolved by Regional Research Laboratory, Jammu contains Withanolide-A as the major constituent with appreciable quantity of Withanone and traces of Withaferin-A. The root is also rich in total alkaloid (0.20 to 0.36%).

Chemical Markers
Majority of the constituents are withanolides (Steroidal lactones with ergostane skeleton) and alkaloids. These include Withanon, Withaferin A, Withanolide I, II, III, A, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, WS-I, P and S, withasomidienone, withanolide C , and alkaloid viz., cuscohygrine, anahygrine, tropine, pseudotropine, anaferine, isopellaterine, 3-trophyltigloate.

Withaferin A   Withanolide G 

Compound WS-VI(27-Desoxy-14-hydroxywithaferin A)

4ßHydroxy-1-oxoß-5ßepoxywitha- 2, 24-dienolide

4ßHydroxy-1-oxoß-5ß epoxywitha-2-enolide


Molecular Markers (Protein, DNA)
Chloroplast gene of Withania somnifera has been sequenced.

Molecular Markers (Protein, DNA)

Fig.1.  Optimisation of RAPD profile in Withania somnifera chemotype WSR using primer OP AN-02 and different template concentrations

Lane 1  1 kb DNA ladder
Lane 2  Empty
Lane 3  22.0 ng DNA
Lane 4  22.5 ng DNA
Lane 5  25.0 ng DNA
Lane 6  27.5 ng DNA
Lane 7  30 .0ng DNA
Lane 8  32.5 ng DNA

Molecular Markers (Protein, DNA)

Fig. 2 RAPD profile of Withania somnifera chemotypes WSR & 024 using primer OPA-08

Lane 6 W. somnifera WSR
Lane 7 1kb DNA ladder
W. somnifera 024

Under construction


Roots of the plants show antitumour and radiosensitizing effects in animal models. Total alkaloid fraction of the root extract exhibits hypotensive, bradicardiac and respiratory stimulant activities in dogs. It shows relaxant and antispasmodic effects against several plasmogens on intestinal, uterine, bronchial, treacheal and blood vascular muscles. Withanolides possess remarkable antibacterial, antitumour, antiarthritic and immunosuppressive properties and protective effect against carbon tetrachloride induced toxicity.

Under construction

Ethanolic or aqueous extract of the root alone or in combination with other herbal materials is used in many commercial herbal formulations under various trade names such as Mentat, Geriforte, Pepcaps, 30 plus, Stresscom, Ashwagandharisht, Ashwagandhadi-churan, Ashwagandha-rasayanrist, and Ashwagandha-ghrit etc.

General usage
The roots are the source of drug and have got a vast range of application in the treatment of different physiological disorders. The drug also holds a great promise as an adjuvant in radiation therapy treatment of cancer. The drug is classified under the group Rasayana' in Ayurveda which besides other properties, also checks aging.

Root powder 3-6 grams
Commercial aspects

(a) Production
The cultivation is confined to a limited area of Mandsore district of Madhya Pradesh. Annual production of drug is 10,000 tons both from wild as well as cultivated sources.

(b) Demand
The annual requirement of the drug in Indian market is about 2500 tons.

(c) Market Trends (Price)
Ashwagandha root has great demand in crude drug market. Present market rate of dried root varies from Rs 70-80 per kg. The wholesale rate is between Rs 4000-5000 per quintal.

(d) Trade Resource
The most important trade center of the country for availability of Ashwagandha is Nimach Mandi in Madhya Pradesh and other trade centers are Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Amritsar.

Major users
Herbal Drug Industry


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6. A process for preparation of an antidiabetic herbal drug from the plants Trichopus zeylanicus, Withania somnifera and Piper longum 305/mas/99

7. A process for preparation of 'jeevani' a novel immunoenhancing antifatigue antistress and hepatoprotective herbal drug from the plants Trichopus zeylanicus ssp travancoricus, Withania somnifera, Piper longum and Evolvulus alsinoides. 2356/MAS/98

8. A process for preparation of "jeevani" a novel immunoenhancing, antifatigue, antistress and hepatorprotctive herbal drug from the plants Trichopus zeylanicus ssp. Travancoricus, Withania somnifera, Piper longum and Evolvulus alsinoides. 959/MAS/96

9. Preparation of an antidiabetic herbal drug from the plants Trichopus zeylanics, Withania somnifera and Piper longum. 957/MAS/96

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