Common name: Winter cherry, Indian Ginseng
Scientific name: Withania somnifera (Linn.) Dunal.
Parts used: Roots and Leaves
Commercial importance: The root of Asvagandha is used in the form of powder to treat consumption, excessive emaciation, bronchial asthma, rheumatic ailments, insomnia, cardiac diseases, wound due to accident, suppression of urine, and for conception in sterility. Also used for inflammatory conditions , ulcers , and scabies in the form of external application . Leaves are used as a febrifuge and applied to lesions, painful swellings and sore eyes . Also used in rejuvenating preparations . Ashwagandha, if given in proper dose, can restore the neurotransmitters and hence can be useful in various mental disorders. Ashwagandha can be used by both men and women and it acts to calm the mind and promote sound, restful sleep. Ashwagandha works as an adaptogen, promoting the body's ability to maintain homeostasis and resist stress. It prevents or minimizes imbalances that may lead to disease, whether from poor diet, lack of sleep, mental or physical strain, or chemical toxins in the environment. It is especially beneficial in stress related disorders such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, general debility, etc. It has also shown impressive results when used as a stimulant for the immune system. Ashwagandha is a unique herb with anti-stress adaptogenic action that leads to better physical fitness and helps to cope with life's daily stress.
How to cultivate
Withania somnifera is cultivated in sandy loam or light red soils having a PH of 7.5 to 8.0 with good drainage. It is a late rainy season crop. It requires relatively dry seasons, and the roots are fully developed when 1-2 late winter rains are received. The areas receiving 65-75 cm rainfall are best suited for its cultivation.
Withania somnifera is mainly grown on residual fertility and hence no manure or fertilizers are recommended.
Direct sowing: Seeds can be sown directly in the field by broadcasting since it is largely grown as a rainfed crop, sowing is determined by the monsoon. After receiving pre monsoon rainfall, soil is brought to fine tilth and the crop is sown during the second week of July. A seed rate of 10-12 kg per hectare is sufficient when the crop is raised by this method.
Transplanting: About 5 kg of seeds is required to provide seedlings for an area of one hectare. The seeds are sown in the nursery just before the onset of the rainy season. The seeds are lightly covered with soil and germinate in about 6-7 days after sowing. When the seedlings are about 6 weeks old they are transplanted in the field in 60 cms wide furrows 60 cm apart.
In the directly sown crop, the plants are thinned at 25-30 days after sowing to maintain a plant propulation of 20,000-25,000/ha. Hand weeding at 25-30 days interval helps to control the weeds effectively.
Harvesting starts from January and continues till March (150-170 days after sowing). The maturity of the crop is judged by the drying of leaves and red berries. The entire plant is uprooted for roots which are separated from the aerial parts by cutting the stem 1 - 2 cm above the crown.
The roots are cut into small pieces of 7 - 10 cm to facilitate drying. The berries plucked from dried plants are threshed to obtain the seeds for the next crop. An average yield of about 400 - 500 kg of roots and 50 kg of seeds are obtained from one hectare.