Withania somnifera

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Withania somnifera
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Withania
W. somnifera
Binomial name
Withania somnifera
  • Physalis somnifera L.
  • Withania kansuensis Kuang & A. M. Lu
  • Withania microphysalis Suess.

Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha or winter cherry,[2][3][4] is an evergreen shrub in the Solanaceae or nightshade family that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Several other species in the genus Withania are morphologically similar.[3]

The plant, particularly its root powder, has been used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine. Although used in herbalism and sold as a dietary supplement, there is insufficient scientific evidence that it is safe or effective for treating any health condition or disease.[3][4]


This species is a short 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 (3.9–4.7 in) long. The flowers are small, green and bell-shaped. The ripe fruit is orange-red.[3]


The Latin species name somnifera means "sleep-inducing".[5] The name "ashwagandha" is a combination of the Sanskrit words 'ashva', meaning horse, and 'gandha', meaning smell, reflecting that the root has a strong horse-like odor.[3]


Withania somnifera is cultivated in many of the drier regions of India. It is also found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, China,[6] and Yemen.[7] It prefers dry stony soil with sun to partial shade. To propagate it can be grown from seed in the early spring, or from greenwood cuttings in the later spring.[8]

Diseases and pests[edit]

Withania somnifera is prone to several pests and diseases. Leaf spot disease caused by Alternaria alternata is the most prevalent disease, which occurs in a severe form in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. A decline in the concentration of its secondary metabolites occurs by leaf spot disease.[9] The leaves are also prone to Alternaria dianthicola in India.[10]

A treehopper (Oxyrachis tarandus) feeds on the apical portions of the stem, making them rough and woody in appearance and brown in colour.[11]

The carmine red spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) is the most prevalent pest of the plant in India.[12] In recent years, this plant has been serving as a new reservoir host for an invasive mealybug species Phenacoccus solenopsis.[13]


The main phytochemical constituents are withanolides – which are triterpene lactoneswithaferin A, alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tropine, and cuscohygrine.[3] Some 40 withanolides, 12 alkaloids, and numerous sitoindosides have been isolated.[3] Withanolides are structurally similar to the ginsenosides of Panax ginseng, leading to a common name for W. somnifera, "Indian ginseng".[3]

Adverse effects[edit]

W. somnifera may cause adverse effects if taken alone or together with prescription drugs.[3][4][14] Side effects may include diarrhea, headache, sedation, or nausea, and the product should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.[4][14]



  1. ^ "Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 25 Feb 2012.
  2. ^ "Withania somnifera". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ashwagandha". Drugs.com. 2 November 2020. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "Ashwagandha". MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine. 28 August 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  5. ^ Stearn, W. T. (1995). Botanical Latin: History, Grammar, Syntax, Terminology and Vocabulary (4th ed.). Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-321-6.
  6. ^ 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. PMID 23142795.
  7. ^ Hugh Scott & Kenneth Mason, Western Arabia and the Red Sea, Naval Intelligence Division: London 1946, p. 597 ISBN 0-7103-1034-X.
  8. ^ Deni., Bown (1995). Encyclopedia of herbs & their uses. Montréal: RD Press. ISBN 0888503342. OCLC 32547547.
  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 3476785. PMID 23100743.
  10. ^ Maiti, C. K.; Sen, S.; Paul, A. K.; Acharya, K. (2007-04-01). "First Report of Alternaria dianthicola Causing Leaf Blight on Withania somnifera from India". Plant Disease. 91 (4): 467. doi:10.1094/PDIS-91-4-0467B. ISSN 0191-2917. PMID 30781215.
  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". World Applied Sci. J. 14 (9): 1344–1346.
  12. ^ Sharma, A.; Pati, P. K. (2012). "First record of the carmine spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, infesting Withania somnifera in India". Journal of Insect Science. 12 (50): 1–4. doi:10.1673/031.012.5001. PMC 3476950. PMID 22970740.
  13. ^ Sharma, A.; Pati, P. K. (2013). "First record of Ashwagandha as a new host to the invasive mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis Tinsley) in India". Entomological News. 123 (1): 59–62. doi:10.3157/021.123.0114. S2CID 85645762.
  14. ^ a b "Ashwagandha". New York City: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 13 April 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.

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