Winter 2004-2005

Withania somnifera, or ashwagandha
Withania somnifera, aka ashwagandha. Photo courtesy of Cal Lemke, Dept. of Botany and Microbiology, Oklahoma University.

By Deb Soule

This article is for information only; please consult a health care practitioner if you have a serious medical problem.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a member of the nightshade family. It grows as an annual in northern New England. This herb grows as a semihardy evergreen shrub in its native habitat of India, northern Africa and the Middle East. You can even find it at 6,000 feet in the Himalayas. Ashwagandha, also known as the winter cherry, has green-yellow flowers that bloom in midsummer in Maine. It’s easy to miss the flowers, as they are tiny and blend with the rest of the plant. In autumn, you can collect the bright red berries and save the seeds for next year’s planting. After the seeds are harvested in October, we dig the roots and dry them for tea or to make fresh tincture.

How to grow Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is one of the most important healing herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. In Sanskrit, it means, “vitality of the horse,” which refers to this plant’s ability to restore physical and mental strength and vitality. The plant is quite easy to start from seed. The seeds need warm soil for good germination because the plant is from a moderate climate. Ashwagandha seedlings will not grow well unless they are warm enough. After several years of testing, I found that placing the seed trays on a heat mat and watering them with warm water encourages growth. Then, transplant them into a sunny and protected part of the garden in June, after the last frost.

Ashwagandha mental health benefits

Often times, ashwagandha is a tonic used to ease anxiety, insomnia and mild depression. It can calm and liven up people who feel tired, have difficulty concentrating or poor memory, for instance. Ashwagandha builds muscle and is used to help people regain physical strength after an illness. A mixture of 1/4 to 1 tsp. of root powder with warm milk (cow, goat, almond, oat or rice) and a touch of honey is helpful for those who feels weak, tired or anemic. A root tea or tincture can be used if you don’t prefer milk. Take once or twice daily.

Warm milk with ashwagandha, honey, a pinch of cardamom powder and a touch of rose water is delicious. It’s one of my favorite evening rituals to calm my mind and spirit. Women who deal with stress, depression, insomnia or hot flashes from menopause can benefit from the daily use of this drink, especially before bed. Women with premenstrual stress and anxiety during their menstruating years can benefit from regular use of ashwagandha.

Benefits before, during and after childbirth

This herb is an aphrodisiac, which means it can improve the health of the reproductive tissues and enhance your sex drive. Ashwagandha can be used daily by men and women who have a hard time conceiving. In India, pregnant women use ashwagandha to give them strength, as well as stabilize their growing baby. But be careful to not use more than 1/2 to 1 tsp. of the powder daily. Consult a midwife or another health care provider who is experienced in using herbs with pregnant women to help create your own herbal mixtures before taking it. Ashwagandha is also an good healing herb for postpartum support. It helps to produce mil, ease stress and rebuild physical strength. Studies show that ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits. The root is an adaptogenic herb, which helps the body adapt to stressors.

Other health benefits

And there are even more health benefits! Ashwagandha can help reduce the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The herb can also help people with inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, lupus, ulcers and arthritis.

In conclusion, ashwagandha offers many health benefits and support during stressful times. Ongoing stress can wear down the body, mind and spirit. Nourishing tonic herbs, alongside a good diet and lifestyle choices though, can offer a simple way to promote a healthy life.

Other resources

In addition to cannabis salve recipes, we have loads of other recipes on our site to utilize your organic plants and vegetables.

About the author: Deb is the founder of Avena Botanicals and the Avena Institute in West Rockport, Maine. She is the author of A Woman’s Book of Herbs. You can visit her website at

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