Withania (Ashwagandha)

Other Names: Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Asvagandha, Aswagandha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Hayahvaya, Kanaje Hindi, Kuthmithi, Physalis somnifera, Samm Al Ferakh, Samm Al Rerakh, Turangi-Ghanda, Vajigandha, Withania, Withania Coagulans,, Amukkrang Kilangu (in Tamil)

Scientific name: Withania somnifera

Common names: Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng, Poison Gooseberry

Ayurvedic names: Ashwagandha

Chinese names: Shui qie

Bangladesh names: Asvagandha

Arabic names: اشواغاندا ( Ashwagandha)

Japanese Names: Seiyouotogirisou, Sekitomehoozuki Indo chōsen ninjin Indianjinsengu

Rainforest names:

Family: Solanaceae (nightshade)

Approximate number of species known: 23

Common parts used: Root, fruit, leaf


Annual/Perennial: Perennial

Height: 1-1.5 metres

Actions: Adaptogen, alterative, anti-anemic, anti-inflammatory, hypnotic, mild sedative, tonic anti-rheumatic, diuretic, anti-stress, anti-tumour, immunomodulator, rejuvenator, hypotensive, Hemopoetic.

Known Constituents: Calcium, Phosphorous, Protein Steroidal compounds including lactones (withaferin A, sitoindoside IX, X (carbon-27-glycowithanolides) and acylsteryl glucosides (sitoindosides VII, VIII); alkaloids; iron Withanolides including withanoside IV, withanoside V, withaferin A, withanolide A, Withanolide B, Withaferin A (has been discussed for antitumour and anti-inflammatory properties.)

Bark: withasomnilide, withasomniferanolide, somniferanolide, somniferawithanolide and somniwithanolide

Constituents Explained:

Withanolides are a group of secondary metabolites of the Nightshade family that are naturally occurring steroids based around ergostane (a steroid hydrocarbon) They number at least 300, are produced through oxidation of steroids with the steroidal backbone bound to lactone or a derivative of same. It is thought that the withanolides may be a deterrent for herbivores and insect larva who attempt to eat the plant.


A shrub with flowers that are greenish-yellow. The stems are thin and furry. The leaves normally grow, two together. The leaves are normally dark and pointed. The seeds start out, green, the size of a pea, then turn orange in colour, and resemble more of a raspberry.

The roots are brown on the outside and white on the inside, and thick at the bottom and then thin at the top. To assess the quality of the root, the length, and the shine, is assessed when picked. It grows easily in dry areas.

Traditional Use:

An Indian Ayurvedic herb used for over 3000 years, which has been taken by many Indians daily, used to rebuild the body in times of persistent stress. It’s been commonly used by Indian herbalists in many herbal preparations.

The second part of the name in Withania Somnifera in Latin means ‘sleep-inducing’ which has seen it used in some cases with the purpose of inducing sleep. In Ayurveda it’s been called a ‘Rasayana’ herb which in its literal term means “Path (ayana) of essence (rasa)” but in more literal sense is often labeled to a herb which is thought to promote longevity.

It has gotten the name ‘Indian Ginseng’ because of its use for a wide variety of ailments in Indian medicine. The name Ashwagandha literally means Ashwa “Horse” and Gandha “smell” referring to the smell of the fresh root.

It has also been associated to being strong like a horse. Ashwagandha’s use has been associated with an increase in muscle mass, and for recovery from general weakness. It has been used in cases when children aren’t growing as much as wanted. It’s been used in cases of anemia with the goal of building hemoglobin.

It is believed to be more of a sedative than a stimulant, which has seen it used as an analgesic. Sometimes it is taken with the intent of building the immune system, and as an aphrodisiac.

Withania has been purported to be used as a tonic for the brain and nervous system, as an immune modulator, and in tumours. It’s use for the brain has seen it be used with the purpose of a ‘nootropic’. That is something with the purpose of cognitive enhancement, almost like a smart drug. It has been used for dementia.

It has been linked to the regulation of thyroid function and been suggested to be useful in cases of convulsions. The Indian’s have used it as a mood enhancer, for male sexual dysfunction (but it has been used for sexual dysfunction in both men and women). Other uses have included reducing stress-related infertility and increasing semen quality. It has application for the joints, with the fresh leaves being used externally for joint pain.

It has been used in combination with other nervines, or hormonal herbs. In India, the leaves and the seeds have been used for the respiratory system. It has been used as a general anti-inflammatory.

Some of the alkaloids it contains are meant to be toxic and studies on rats have been done to ascertain its toxicity.

Al-Kindi, the famous Arabian herbalist, called this herb “Henbane” and used it as part of a formula to kill mice.

It sometimes looks similar to the Golden berry plant.

Clinical Studies:

Withania’s effects on anti-inflammatory, anti tumour, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulation, hemopoetic and rejuvenating properties

Research in fifty-eight studies left researchers believing they found indicators in Ashwaganda of anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, hemopoetic and rejuvenating properties, with little or no toxicity.

Preliminary studies have shown that Ashwagandha has various constituents that exhibit therapeutic effects with no toxicity.

This ingredient is best prescribed for conditions like musculoskeletal conditions (for example arthritis, rheumatism) and always plays an important role as a tonic to energize, health improvement and longevity and helps to prevent diseases in athletes and also during pregnancy.


Withania and glutathione peroxidase copper induced lipid peroxidation and protein oxidative modification

In a study on copper induced lipid peroxidation and protein oxidative modification in rats, Withania somnifera significantly decreased the activity of glutathione peroxidase in adult to aged mice.


Withania and Blood Pressure

There were depressant actions on higher cerebral centres with bradycardiac and prolonged hypotensive benefits in animal experiments.


Withania and heavy metal protection

Glycowithanolides, consisting of equimolar concentrations of sitoindosides VII–X and withaferin A, isolated from the roots of Withania somnifera Dunal, were reported to have an antioxidant effect in the rat brain frontal cortex and striatum.

This indicates that protective aspects of Withania Somnifera on the liver against heavy metals may be due to an antioxidant effect.


Withania, anti-stress and infertility

Withania somnifera has been documented in Ayurveda and Unani medicine systems for its stress-combating properties, which is the major cause of infertility in men.

At a dose of five grams a day, for three months, in sixty males, semen quality improved.


Withania and recovery in motor repair

Two groups of rats had deliberately induced ischemia. Treatment for 15 days with Withania Somnifera did not make any difference, however after thirty days, motor impairment was significantly decreased.


Withania and infertility

Levels of four specific indicators of infertility were reversed in infertile individuals in one hundred and fifty men.


Withania and thyroid function

Withania somnifera root extract (1.4 g/kg body wt.) and Bauhinia purpurea bark extract (2.5 mg/kg body wt.) for 20 days on thyroid function in female mice were investigated.
It appears that these plant extracts are capable of stimulating thyroid function in female mice.


Withania and the frontal cortex

Withania somnifera developed an increase in the frontal cortex markers of rats, but indicators were only evident after fourteen or twenty-one days of treatment.


Withania and total blood cell count

Total WBC count on the tenth day and bone marrow cells were increased after Withania Somnifera with an increase in Macrophages.

Treatment with Withania extract along with the antigen (SRBC) produced an enhancement in the circulating antibody titre and the number of plaque forming cells (PFC) in the spleen. Maximum number of PFC (985 PFC/106 spleen cells) was obtained on the fourth day.


Withania and isolated neurite outgrowth activity

Withania somnifera isolates resulted in neurite outgrowth activity


Withania forebrain and cortical activity

Withania somnifera, however, led to differential effects on AChE activity in basal forebrain nuclei: slightly enhanced AChE activity was found in the lateral septum and globus pallidus, whereas in the vertical diagonal band AChE, activity was reduced following treatment with sitoindosides VII–X and withaferin-A. These changes were accompanied by enhanced M1-muscarinic cholinergic receptor binding in lateral and medial septum as well as in frontal cortices, whereas the M2-muscarinic receptor binding sites were increased in a number of cortical regions including cingulate, frontal, piriform, parietal and retrosplenial cortex.


Withania tumours and anti-inflammation

The leaves of W. somnifera were used in the treatment of tumours and inflammation in several Asian countries. Researchers isolated twelve withanolides such as withaferin A (1), sitoindoside IX (2), 4-(1-hydroxy-2, 2-dimethylcyclpropanone)-2, 3-dihydrowithaferin A (3), 2, 3-dihydrowithaferin A (4), 24, 25-dihydro-27-desoxywithaferin A (5), physagulin D (1→6)-β-D-glucopyranosyl- (1→4)-β-D-glucopyranoside (6), 27-O-β-D-glucopyranosylphysagulin D (7), physagulin D (8), withanoside IV (9), and 27-O-β-D-glucopyranosylviscosalactone B (10), 4, 16-dihydroxy-5β, 6β-epoxyphysagulin D (11), viscosalactone B (12) from the leaves of this species. Compounds 1–12 and diacetylwithaferin A (13) were tested for their antiproliferative activity on NCI-H460 (Lung), HCT-116 (Colon), SF-268 (Central Nervous System; CNS and MCF-7 (Breast) human tumor cell lines. The inhibitory concentration to afford 50% cell viability (IC50) for these compounds was determined by MTT (3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2, 5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide) assay. Withaferin A and its derivatives exhibited inhibitory concentrations (50%) ranging from 0.24±0.01 to 11.6±1.9 μg/mL. Viscosalactone B (12) showed the 50% inhibition at concentrations ranging from 0.32±0.05 to 0.47±0.15 μg/mL whereas its 27-O-glucoside derivative (10) exhibited IC50 between 7.9±2.9 and 17.3±3.9 μg/ml. However, Physagulin D type withanolides showed either weak or no activity at 30 μg/mL. Therefore, incorporation of withanolides in the diet may prevent or decrease the growth of tumours in human.



Withania and an anxiolytic effect

Glycowithanolides (WSG), isolated from WS roots, in rats. WSG (20 and 50 mg/kg) was administered orally once daily for 5 days.

WSG induced an anxiolytic effect, comparable to that produced by lorazepam, in the elevated plus-maze, social interaction and feeding latency in an unfamiliar environment, tests. Further, both WSG and lorazepam, reduced rat brain levels of tribulin, an endocoid marker of clinical anxiety, when the levels were increased following administration of the anxiogenic agent, pentylenetetrazole. WSG also exhibited an antidepressant effect, comparable with that induced by imipramine, in the forced swim-induced ‘behavioural despair’ and ‘learned helplessness’ tests. The investigations support the use of WS as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression in Ayurveda.


Withania and reduction in chronic stress perturbation

Chronic stress perturbations were attenuated by Withania Somnifera when administered one hour before footshock for twenty one days.


Withania and protective properties in cardio toxicity

Withania may play a role in protection against cardiotoxicity in male Wister rats induced with necrosis and apoptosis.


Withania and anti microbial activity

The protein designated WSG (Withania somnifera glycoprotein) demonstrated potent antimicrobial activity against the phytopathogenic fungi and bacteria tested. Antifungal effect has been demonstrated in that WSG exerts a fungistastic effect by inhibiting spore germination and hyphal growth in the tested fungi. WSG showed potent antifungal activity against Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium oxysporum, F. verticilloides and antibacterial activity against Clvibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis. WSG is an acidic, non-toxic (trypsin-chymotrypsin) protease inhibitor. These results encourage further studies of WSG as a potential therapeutic agent for its antifungal activity.




Food consumption was increased by 70-80% in treated animals as against 41% in control animals after 90 days. Weight gain after 45 days was 25.13% -38.16% in treated group against 8.99% in control group. After 90 days, total weight gain was 31.24%-53.02% in treated group, which was significantly more (P O.Ol) as compared to control group i.e. 12.98% (Table II). There was an increase of 1.7-1.9 gm% ill haemoglobin which correlated with an increase of 2.0-2.1 million/cumm in RBC count. Total and differential leucocyte count did not vary much. Nothing abnormal was detected in urine microscopically or in physical characters. All biochemical parameters were found to be within normal limits in treated as well as in control group (Table III). Animals from group III and IV showed increase in liver weight after 45 days. After of spleen and kidneys.

Histopathology of brain, heart, lung, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, testis and ovaries was normal on gross examination as well as microscopically. All the animals appeared alert and in good health. There was no mortality in any of the drug-treated or control animals during the 90 day period of study.

Sharma et al (5) showed that Ashwagandha alone was devoid of any toxic effects even after 8 months of continuous daily administration in rats. Similarly, Trabucci (6) observed no toxicity in rats with Ginseng along after long term administration in rats.

In this study, no specific organ pathology was found except two incidental findings, wherein, one animal revealed emphysema on gross examination as well as microscopically. Similarly, one animal was found to have focal calcification in seminiferous tubules as an isolated finding. Normal bilirubin as well as serum enzyme levels indicate normal functioning of the liver. Increase in liver weight may be due to increased liver protein biosynthesis.


Alcohol extracts from the roots of W. Somnifera (‘Ashwaganda’ In Sanskrit) were screened for their acute (24 h) toxicity in conventional swiss albino mice and subacute toxicity (30 days) in wistar rats. A Single Intraperitoneal Injection Of 1100 Mg/Kg of the extract in mice did not produce any deaths within 24 hrs, but small increases led to mortality.


Withania somnifera developed an increase in the frontal cortex markers of rats but indicators were only evident after fourteen or twenty one days of treatment.

General studies: http://www.japsonline.com/admin/php/uploads/364_pdf.pdf