Species: W. somnifera
Common Name: Ashwagandha / Indian ginseng
Withania is a plant in the nighshade family growing as a shrub reaching about 160 - 180cm. Withania is in hte same family as tomatoes, thus the resemblance with yellow flowers and red fruit. Withania is being cultivated in Madhya Pradesh in India - natural habitat is India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Withania is better known as Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng. Other names are Winter cherry, Ajagandha, Kanaje Hindi and Samm Al Ferakh.
Withania is used for longevity and to increase health hence considered as a rasayana herb In Ayurveda. It works on a non-spesific basis and considered as an adaptogen. Withania is used to normalize physiological function, working on the HPA axis and the neuroendocrine system.
The parts used in herbal medicine is the berries and the roots respectively. It has been reported that Withania has anti-carcinogenic effects in animal and cell cultures by decreasing the expression of nuclear factor-kappaB, suppressing intercellular tumor necrosis factor, and potentiating apoptotic signalling in cancerous cell lines.
The chemicals listed below pertain to the root unless indicated otherwise.
Anaferine (alkaloid), anahygrine (alkaloid), beta-sisterol, chlorogenic acid (in leaf only), cysteine (in fruit), cuscohygrine (alkaloid), iron, pseudotropine (alkaloid), scopoletin, somniferinine (alkaloid), somniferiene (alkaloid), tropanol (alkaloid), withaferin A (steroidal lactone), withanine (alkaloid), withananine (alkaloid) and withanolides A-Y(steroidal lactones).
The main constituents of ashwagandha are alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Among the various alkaloids, withanine is the main constituent. The other alkaloids are somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withananine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo-tropine, 3-a-gloyloxytropane, choline, cuscohygrine, isopelletierine, anaferine and anahydrine. Two acyl steryl glucoside viz. sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII have been isolated from root. The leaves contain steroidal lactones, which are commonly called withanolides. The withanolides have C28 steroidal nucleus with C9 side chain, having six membered lactone ring.
The odor of it's root resembles the sweat of a horse, hence in Sanskrit means "horse's smell". Although Withania has also been used for sexual vitality (it is referred to Indian ginseng by herbalists) the species name somnifera means "sleep-making" in Latin, but it relate to the plant's sedating properties.
Some companies have filed for patent rights on formulations of extracts of Withania. The Ayurvedic system used the plant's fruit, seeds and leaves as diuretics for treating memory loss and as aphrodisiacs - Withania have been treated the same as viagra in the Eastern world.
There is a product called "Ashwagandha oil", which is a formulation of withania, rose water and almond oil. It is used as a facial toner.