Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is a plant in the nightshade family. It is cultivated in the drier regions of India, including Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. Ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers which bear a small red fruit. While the leaves and fruit are sometimes applied externally to ulcers, the long, tuberous roots are especially prized for their restorative benefits in Ayurvedic medicine.
In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” suggesting that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion. Ashwagandha contains a number of chemicals, including withanolides (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and sugars. Numerous studies have demonstrated antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic, antitumor, and cholesterol-lowering activities. Traditionally, it has been used to protect the immune system; reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; decrease sleeplessness; improve learning and memory; and increase sexual desire and potency. Ashwagandha is revered for its applicability to beauty, as it balances vata and has anti-oxidant and anti-aging effects.