Withania somnifera Open-pollinated. In Sanskrit its name means ‘the vitality of the horse’ and it imparts such energy; somnifera promotes sleep. An herb of wide value, generally known as the ginseng of Ayurvedic medicine. Upright shrub exceeds 2' with inconspicuous green-to-yellow flowers ripening to red berries. Roots are dried at the end of the growing season and used internally powdered or tinctured (other plant parts are toxic if eaten). Herbalist Deb Soule harvests the roots when the berries ripen in mid-October. Her delightful book, How to Move Like a Gardener, has more details about ashwagandha. One of the best rejuvenators, especially good for the elderly, it tones without overstimulating and can be used in all conditions of weakness and chronic debilitation. Needs warmth and light to germinate. Sow indoors in the spring and transplant out in June; prefers dry stony soil in sun or partial shade. Perennial in Zone 10, grown as an annual here in the north. ~1,000 seeds/g. ②
About medicinal herbs: Archeological evidence dates the medicinal use of herbs back 60,000 years to the Neanderthals. 85% of the world’s population employ herbs as medicines, and 40% of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. contain plant-derived materials. Fewer than 10% of higher plant species have been investigated for their medicinal components. Interest in traditional herbal remedies continues to grow.
Statements about medicinal use of plants have not been evaluated by the FDA, and should not be used for the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any ailment. Before using or ingesting any medicinal plant, consult a healthcare practitioner familiar with botanical medicine.
Culture: Some herbs are customarily grown from divisions because they cannot come true from seed, such as scented thymes and flavored mints. Some require fall sowing of fresh seed, such as sweet cicely and angelica.
Using herbs: Drying herbs at home is not difficult. Whole leaves retain their flavor at least a year. To substitute fresh herbs for dried in cooking, use triple the dried quantity called for in a recipe.
For the latest results of our germination tests, please see the germination page.