It grows as a stout shrub that reaches a height of 170cm. Like the tomato which belongs to the same family, ashwagandha bears yellow flowers and red fruit, though its fruit is berry-like in size and shape. Ashwagandha grows prolifically in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
All parts of the plant are used in herbal medicine. In Ayurveda, the fresh roots are sometimes boiled in milk, prior to drying, in order to leach out undesirable constituents. The berries are used as a substitute for rennet, to coagulate milk in cheese making.
Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means "horse's smell", probably originating from the odor of its root which resembles that of sweaty horse. The species name somnifera means "sleep-bearing" in Latin, indicating it was considered a sedative, but it has been also used for sexual vitality and as an adaptogen. Some herbalists refer to ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, since it is used in ayurvedic medicine in a way similar to that ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The product called "ashwagandha oil" is a combination of ashwagandha with almond oil and rose water designed to be used as a facial toner, therefore should not be
Robin Lane Fox, in his biography of Alexander the Great, claims Withania somnifera has been used in wine in ancient times.
According to Anne Van Arsdall, Withania somnifera was called apollinaris and also glofwyrt in The Old English Herbarium, and had a legend that Apollo found it first and gave it to the healer Aesculapius.
There are over 20 other species of the Withania genus that occur in the dry parts of India, North Africa, Middle East, and the Mediterranean. These include Withania coagulens and Withania simonii, the roots of which are sometimes used interchangeably with those of Withania somnifera.
Withania somnifera itself has been extensively domesticated from the wild form. In India, at least five different cultivars have been developed for increased root size and adaptation to different climates.
Other useful herb information: Artemisia | Cramp Bark | Psyllium | Hyssop | Arrowroot | Cats Claw | Witch Hazel
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