Withania somnifera

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Withania somnifera
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Withania
Species: W. somnifera
Binomial name
Withania somnifera
(L.) Dunal
  • Physalis somnifera L.
  • Withania kansuensis Kuang & A. M. Lu
  • Withania microphysalis Suess.

Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha,[2] Indian ginseng,[3] poison gooseberry,[3] or winter cherry,[2] is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Several other species in the genus Withania are morphologically similar.[4] It is used as a herb in Ayurvedic medicine.


This species is a short, tender perennial shrub growing 35–75 cm (14–30 in) tall. Tomentose branches extend radially from a central stem. Leaves are dull green, elliptic, usually up to 10–12 cm (4 to 5 in) long. The flowers are small, green and bell-shaped. The ripe fruit is orange-red.


The species name somnifera means "sleep-inducing" in Latin.[5]


Withania somnifera is cultivated in many of the drier regions of India, such as Mandsaur District of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan.[6] It is also found in Nepal, China[7] and Yemen.[8]


Withania somnifera is prone to several pests and diseases. Leaf spot disease caused by Alternaria alternata is the most prevalent disease, which is most severe in the plains of Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. Biodeterioration of its pharmaceutically active components during leaf spot disease has been reported.[9] The Choanephora cucurbitarum causes a stem and leaf rot of Withania somnifera.[10] A treehopper feeds on the apical portions of the stem, making them rough and woody in appearance and brown in colour. The apical leaves are shed and the plant gradually dies.[11] The carmine red spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) is the most prevalent pest of the plant in India.[12]

Culinary use[edit]

The berries can be used as a substitute for rennet in cheesemaking.[6]


‹See Tfd›

The main chemical constituents are alkaloids and steroidal lactones. These include tropine and cuscohygrine. The leaves contain the steroidal lactones, withanolides, notably withaferin A, which was the first to be isolated from the plant.[citation needed] Tropine is a derivative of tropane containing a hydroxyl group at third carbon. It is also called 3-tropanol. Benzatropine and etybenzatropine are derivatives of tropine. It is also a building block of atropine, an anticholinergic drug prototypical of the muscarinic antagonist class. Cuscohygrine is a pyrrolidine alkaloid found in coca. It can also be extracted from plants of the family Solanaceae as well, including Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Datura inoxia and Datura stramonium (jimson weed). Cuscohygrine usually comes with other, more potent alkaloids like atropine or cocaine. Cuscohygrine (along with the related metabolite hygrine) was first isolated by Carl Liebermann in 1889 as an alkaloid accompanying cocaine in coca leaves (also known as Cusco-leaves). Cuscohygrine is an oil that can be distilled without decomposition only in vacuum. It is soluble in water. It also forms a crystalline trihydrate, which melts at 40–41 °C. There are also the alkaloids ashwagandhine, ashwaganidhine, and somniferine, all of which have been identified exclusively in the ashwagandha plant itself.

Traditional medicinal uses[edit]

Bioactive constituent withaferin A has shown potential in therapy for glioblastomas.[13] The plant's long, brown, tuberous roots are used in traditional medicine.[6][7] In Ayurveda, the berries and leaves are applied externally to tumors, tubercular glands, carbuncles, and ulcers.[6] The roots are used to prepare the herbal remedy ashwagandha. The traditional use is as a powder, mixed with warm milk and honey, and taken before bed. In Yemen, where it is known as ubab,[14] the dried leaves are ground to a powder from which a paste is made and used in the treatment of burns and wounds.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 25 Feb 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal". Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online Database]. Beltsville, Maryland: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  3. ^ a b "Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal". PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale) [Online Database]. Wageningen, Netherlands: Gurib-Fakim A. and Schmelzer G. H. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  4. ^ Gupta, A.; Mittal, A.; Jha, K. K.; Kumar, A. (2011). "Nature's treasurer: plants acting on colon cancer" (pdf). Journal of Stress Physiology & Biochemistry. 7 (4): 217–231. 
  5. ^ Stearn, W. T. (1995). Botanical Latin: History, Grammar, Syntax, Terminology and Vocabulary (4th ed.). Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-321-4. 
  6. ^ a b c d Mirjalili, M. H.; Moyano, E.; Bonfill, M.; Cusido, R. M.; Palazón, J. (2009). "Steroidal Lactones from Withania somnifera, an Ancient Plant for Novel Medicine". Molecules. 14 (7): 2373–2393. doi:10.3390/molecules14072373. PMID 19633611. 
  7. ^ a b Pandit, S.; Chang, K.-W.; Jeon, J.-G. (February 2013). "Effects of Withania somnifera on the growth and virulence properties of Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus at sub-MIC levels". Anaerobe. 19: 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2012.10.007. 
  8. ^ Hugh Scott & Kenneth Mason, Western Arabia and the Red Sea, Naval Intelligence Division: London 1946, p. 597 ISBN 0-7103-1034-X.
  9. ^ Pati, P. K.; Sharma, M.; Salar, R. K.; Sharma, A.; Gupta, A. P.; Singh, B. (2009). "Studies on leaf spot disease of Withania somnifera and its impact on secondary metabolites". Indian Journal of Microbiology. 48 (4): 432–437. doi:10.1007/s12088-008-0053-y. PMC 3476785Freely accessible. PMID 23100743. 
  10. ^ Saroj, A.; Kumar, A.; Qamar, N.; Alam, M.; Singh, H. N.; Khaliq, A. (2012). "First report of wet rot of Withania somnifera caused by Choanephora cucurbitarum in India". Plant Disease. 96 (2): 293. doi:10.1094/PDIS-09-11-0801. 
  11. ^ Sharma, A.; Pati, P. K. (2011). "First report of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal, as a New Host of Cowbug (Oxyrachis tarandus, Fab.) In Plains of Punjab, Northern India" (pdf). World Applied Sciences Journal. 14 (9): 1344–1346. ISSN 1818-4952. 
  12. ^ Sharma, A.; Pati, P. K. (2012). "First record of the carmine spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, infesting Withania somnifera in India" (pdf). Journal of Insect Science. 12 (50): 1–4. doi:10.1673/031.012.5001. ISSN 1536-2442. 
  13. ^ Dhami, Jasdeep; Chang, Edwin; Gambhir, Sanjiv S. (2016-11-11). "Withaferin A and its potential role in glioblastoma (GBM)". Journal of Neuro-Oncology. doi:10.1007/s11060-016-2303-x. ISSN 1573-7373. PMID 27837436. 
  14. ^ Hugh Scott & Kenneth Mason (1946). Western Arabia and the Red Sea. London: Naval Intelligence Division. p. 597. ISBN 0-7103-1034-X. 
  15. ^ "Herbal Medicine in Yemen: Traditional Knowledge and Practice, and Their Value for Today's World". Ingrid Hehmeyer and Hanne Schönig. Islamic History and Civilization. 96. Leiden: Brill. 2012. p. 200. ISBN 978-90-04-22150-5. 
  16. ^ Govindarajan R1, Vijayakumar M, Pushpangadan P (June 2005). "Antioxidant approach to disease management and the role of 'Rasayana' herbs of Ayurveda". J Ethnopharmacol. 99: 165–78. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.02.035. PMID 15894123. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Withania somnifera at Wikimedia Commons