Monday, December 1, 2008

Withania somnifera DUNAL.

Family : Solanaceae

Synonym(s) : Physalis flexuosa L., Physalis somnifera L.

English Name : Winter Cherry and Indian Ginseng


It is an erect, evergreen, tomentose shrub. The roots are stout, fleshy and whitish brown; the leaves are simple ovate, glabrous; the flowers are inconspicuous, greenish or lurid-yellow, in axillary, umbellate cymes; the berries are globose, orange-red when mature, enclosed in the persistent calyx and have yellow, reniform seeds.

Herb Effects

Abortifacient, adaptogen, antibiotic, astringent, deobstruent, narcotic, sedative, tonic, antitumor, stimulates the central nervous system, antihepatotoxic, antiinflammatory and antimicrobial (leaf); stimulates the secretion and/or flow of milk (plant); hypnotic (sedative), aphrodisiac, diuretic, antispasmodic, stimulates the immune system.

Active Ingredients

Chlorogenic acid, withaferin A, withanolide D (leaf); anaferine, beta-sitosterol, choline, nicotine, withananine, withanine, somniferine, tropine, somnine, pseudotropine (root); scopoletin (plant); cysteine (fruit).

Mechanisms of Action

The withanolides serve as important hormone precursors that can convert into human physiologic hormones as needed. Ashwagandha is thought to be amphoteric; i.e., it can help regulate important physiologic processes. The theory is that when there is an excess of a certain hormone, the plant-based hormone precursor occupies cell membrane receptor sites so the actual hormone cannot attach and exert its effect. If the hormone level is low, the plant-based hormone exerts a small effect. Ashwagandha is also considered to be an adaptogen, facilitating the ability to withstand stressors, and has antioxidant properties as well. Other studies have shown ashwaganda to have an immunostimulatory effect.

Medicinal Use

Rheumatism (root and plant); to coagulate milk (seed); as a uterine sedative, in dropsy, ulcers, scabies, asthma, cough and as a tonic (root); cancer and AIDS; “rasayana agent� in “Ayurveda� medicine (enhances sexual performance),to treat nervous exhaustion, debility, insomnia, wasting diseases, failure to thrive in children, impotence, infertility, multiple sclerosis, applied as a poultice to boils, swellings and other painful parts.

Drug-Botanical Interactions

There are anecdotal reports that ashwagandha may potentiate the effects of barbiturates; therefore, caution should be used if taking this combination.

Side Effects and Toxicity

Ashwagandha is generally safe when taken in the prescribed dosage range. Large doses have been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.


A typical dose of ashwagandha is 3-6 grams daily of the dried root, 300-500 mg of an extract standardized to contain 1.5 percent withanolides, or 6-12ml of a 1:2 fluid extract per day.


Pregnant women should avoid using this herb. since it may induce an abortion; also. avoid using the herb if congested.


  1. Chandel et al., Biodiversity in Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in India.
  2. Uniyal et al., Medicinal Flora of Garhwal Himalayas.
  3. Aphale AA, Chhibba AD, Kumbhaakarna NR, et al. Subacute toxicity study of the combination of ginseng (Panex ginseng) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in rats: a safety assessment. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1998;42:299-302.

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