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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
  • Alicabon somniferum (L.) Raf.
  • Larnax morrisonii (Dunal) Miers
  • Physalis alpini J.Jacq.
  • Physalis flexuosa L.
  • Physalis scariosa Webb & Berthel.
  • Physalis somnifera L.
  • Physaloides somnifera (L.) Moench
  • Withania arborescens Dunal
  • Withania chevalieri A.E.Gonç.
  • Withania kansuensis Kuang & A. M. Lu
  • Withania microphysalis Suess
  • Withania morisonii Dunal
  • Withania mucronata Chiov.
  • Withania obtusifolia Täckh.
  • Withania sicula Lojac.

Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha[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.[5] Ashwagandha supplements, typically containing root or leaf powder or extracts, are commonly sold.[4] Its use in herbal medicine and dietary supplements notwithstanding, there is insufficient scientific evidence that W. somnifera 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'.[6] 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]



W. somnifera is cultivated in many of the drier regions of India. It is also found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, and Yemen.[7][8] It prefers dry stony soil with sun to partial shade. It can be propagated from seeds in the early spring or from greenwood cuttings in the later spring.[9]

Diseases and pests


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. Leaf spot disease reduces the concentration of its secondary metabolites.[10] The leaves are also prone to Alternaria dianthicola in India.[11]

A treehopper (Oxyrachis tarandus) feeds on the apical portions of the stem, making them rough and woody in appearance and brown in colour.[12]

The carmine red spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) is the most prevalent pest of the plant in India.[13] In recent years, this plant has been serving as a new reservoir host for an invasive mealybug species Phenacoccus solenopsis.[14]



The main phytochemical constituents of W. somnifera are withanolides, a group of triterpene lactones that include withaferin A, alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tropine, and cuscohygrine.[3] Forty withanolides, twelve alkaloids, and various sitoindosides have been isolated from this plant species.[3][15] Because these withanolides are structurally similar to the ginsenosides of Panax ginseng, W. somnifera is commonly referred to as "Indian ginseng".[3]



Limited, low-quality clinical studies have found that supplementation with various ashwagandha extracts may decrease perceived stress and anxiety, and improve sleep.[3][4][16] Because the studies used different extract preparations, durations of use, doses, and types of subjects, it remains undetermined how ashwagandha may have effects in people, as of 2023.[3][4][16]

Adverse effects


W. somnifera may cause adverse effects if taken alone or together with prescription drugs.[3][4][17] A review of 30 clinical trials found that use of W. somnifera may cause problems with sleep, blurred vision, stomach pain, dry mouth, vertigo, among others.[18] The most common side effects include diarrhea, headache, sedation, or nausea, and the product should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.[4][17] Ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels which could adversely interact with cancer medications.[3][17][19]



  1. ^ Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2023). "Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  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 j k l "Ashwagandha". Drugs.com. 4 December 2023. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Ashwagandha". MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine. 8 September 2023. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  5. ^ Pasricha T (2024-03-02). "Advice | Should I take ashwagandha for sleep? Here's what the science says". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2024-03-07.
  6. ^ Stearn, W. T. (1995). Botanical Latin: History, Grammar, Syntax, Terminology and Vocabulary (4th ed.). Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-321-6.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Hugh Scott & Kenneth Mason, Western Arabia and the Red Sea, Naval Intelligence Division: London 1946, p. 597 ISBN 0-7103-1034-X.
  9. ^ Deni., Bown (1995). Encyclopedia of herbs & their uses. Montréal: RD Press. ISBN 0888503342. OCLC 32547547.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Gómez Afonso, Adrián; Fernandez-Lazaro, Diego; Adams, David P.; Monserdà-Vilaró, Aniol; Fernandez-Lazaro, Cesar I. (2023-07-10). "Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Hematological and Biochemical Markers, Hormonal Behavior, and Oxidant Response in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review". Current Nutrition Reports. 12 (3): 465–477. doi:10.1007/s13668-023-00481-0. ISSN 2161-3311. PMC 10444651. PMID 37428341.
  16. ^ a b "Ashwagandha: Is it helpful for stress, anxiety, or sleep?". Office of Dietary Supplements, US National Institutes of Health. 24 October 2023. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  17. ^ a b c "Ashwagandha". Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 21 March 2023. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  18. ^ Tandon N, Yadav SS (June 2020). "Safety and clinical effectiveness of Withania somnifera (Linn.) dunal root in human ailments". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 255: 112768. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2020.112768. PMID 32201301.
  19. ^ "Ashwagandha: Is it helpful for stress, anxiety, or sleep?". Office of Dietary Supplements, US National Institutes of Health. 24 October 2023. Retrieved 25 April 2024.