This herb is an indigenous plant of Southern
Africa and is also commonly called geneesblaarbossie ( Afrikaans), winter cherry
(English), ubuvimbha (Zulu), ubuvuma (Xhosa) and bofepha (Sotho).
It is an upright, evergreen shrub,
having both stems and pale green ovate leaves covered in velvety hairs. It
produces small green to yellowish flowers in short clusters in the leaf
axils all year long, followed by small round orange-red berries, enclosed in a
brown papery inflated calyx. Withania is frost hardy and drought
resistant. It grows in dry stony soil in sun or partial shade – so it prefers
little attention in the garden. It can be cut back in early spring to tidy up
Withania somnifera is found growing
throughout Africa, in the Mediterranean countries and the Middle East. It occurs
widely in India and is commonly known there as Ashwaganda, or “Indian
ginseng” as it a strong adaptogenic herb just like Ginseng. (It should not be
confused with the herb, Siberian Ginseng or Panax Ginseng or Ginseng, which are
from completely different plants.) The word Ashwaganda translates in
Hindi as “that which has the smell of a horse” – which not only refers to its
unusual smell, but equates it to the horse's strength – all in all a very
Harvest and parts used:
The leaves are harvested in spring and the fruit
and root bark in autumn. Decoctions, infusions or tinctures of the whole plant
are made to be taken internally, and poultices are made from the pulped leaves.
- Local scientific research has
proven the anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory properties of this plant, and
confirmed the centuries-old traditional uses of Withania in South Africa.
- It is applied externally as a
poultice or in an ointment to heal wounds, open sores, cuts, & abrasions,
burns, stings, & abscesses.
- It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and useful for
rheumatism, haemorrhoids and other inflammatory conditions.
- Ashwaganda is considered an invigorating, tonic and
rejuvenating herb. It has been
used in the Indian Ayurvedic healing system for centuries, and is considered one
of its most important tonic herbs. It has been the subject of intense scientific
study since 1965. Being classed as an adaptogenic herb, its wide range of
therapeutic properties are legend.
- Ashwaganda acts on the nervous system and
helps long-term stress by reducing over-activity and encouraging rest and
relaxation. It is prescribed as a calming and sleep-inducing remedy for
exhaustion. It therefore will reduce blood pressure and can
lower the heart rate.
- It is used as a tonic to
increase body weight and aid debility, convalescence, geriatric
complaints and wasting diseases. It is a restorative for the elderly and the
chronically ill and encourages healthy growth in children.
- Ashwaganda contains withanolides
that inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It slows the development of lung cancer
and encourages tumour regression.
- Withanolides are similar to the body’s own
steroid hormones and are anti-inflammatory – and can be used to aid chronic
inflammatory diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma, and
will help joint-, nerve- and rheumatic pain.
- It acts on the reproductive system and aids
impotence and infertility. Its fruit and leaves stimulate the uterus to induce
contractions in prolonged labour or retained placenta.
- Ashwaganda has a high iron content,
nourishes the blood and increases haemoglobin levels in anaemia.
- The Ashwaganda herb is freely obtainable in
capsule form at most health stores.
The seeds are used to
Although Ashwaganda is used
in veterinary medicine to relieve mastitis, the plants are toxic to livestock
and they ignore it when grazing.
I must mention however, that when the guinea
fowl discovered Withania
growing in our herb garden they visited everyday until they had eaten it
down to the ground.