Withania somnifera is a adaptogenic herb that is used to improve overall physical health and increase longevity.

    Scientific Name: Withania somnifera
    Common Name: Ashwagandha
    Plant Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade family)

    Etymology: Withania is theorized to have been named after Henry Witham, a British geologist who studied fossil botany. Somnifera is Latin for “sleep-inducing.” “Ashva” means horse, and “gandha” means smell in Sanskrit, ashwagandha is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” deriving from the herb’s strong scent and its ability to potentially increase strength.

    Traditional Uses

    Ashwagandha plants are native to India, norther Africa, and the Middle East, however, it can now be grown in certain temperatures worldwide. Ashwagandha extract was used as a tranquillizing and adaptogenic herb in India. Also, the fruit is rich with saponins and can be a substitute for soap. The large roots were also heated and burned to repel wild animals (lions).

    Medicinal uses of Ashwagandha leaves, root, and berries are plentiful. Ashwagandha acts on the nervous and reproductive systems, increasing physical and mental health as well as increasing longevity. The roots of Withania somnifera are used in traditional Indian medicine for consumption, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and memory loss.

    Edible Parts

    Ashwagandha has minimal edible uses, however, the seeds are used to curdle plant-based milk to make vegetarian cheese. The roots and leaves can be dried and powdered, then taken as a supplement.

    Gathering and Using

    Ashwagandha is a perennial herb that thrives best in zone 6. Although this plant is native to India, it can be grown in other locations with correct care. The seedlings/propagations can be planted and then, after the fruit has fully matured (150-180 days), the roots are harvested and washed. The roots are harvested by gently pulling the plant out of the ground. Next, the roots are dried and usually powdered, which can then be used medicinally.

    Now, the powder can be added to milk and honey, which is traditional in Indian culture, or used in tea.

    Permaculture Functions and Considerations 

    Ayurvedic medicine for stress, arthritis, and other conditions. Edible herb, medicine, wildlife organic matter, and a pollinator habitat. The roots can be dried for medicinal use.


    You can expect to find Withania somnifera  growing in warm environments, they are extremely drought tolerant. It prefers well-draining dry soil once the seedlings are established in a warm environment, it is best to plant in a dry and sunny area, as ashwagandha grows best in temperature ranges of 70 F – 95 F.  

    How to Identify

    The ashwagandha plant is a small shrub that is usually short and plump with velvet leaves. The small evergreen has bell flowers that contain orange berries, similar looking to tomatoes or tomatillos. The leaves have smooth edges, are shaped like teardrops, and are in an alternate arrangement. Ashwagandha is propagated from seeds.

    Wildlife Support

    Ashwagandha is a wonderful medicinal plant for human and pet consumption, but it is not eaten by wild animals. It can however be given to household pets so they can reap the benefits of the plant. Its flowers attract bees and butterflies.

    Additional Information

    Ashwagandha increases heart health and can even help fight certain kinds of cancer including breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, lung, and brain cancers!


    Planting Considerations

    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 6
    • Native Range: India and Nepal
    • Forest Garden Layer: herbaceous
    • Growth rate: medium
    • Sun: full/part sun
    • Bloom: red and orange from midsummer onwards
    • Tolerates: drought, changing pH
    • Drawbacks: the plant needs 150-180 days of ideal conditions to flower, spider mites could attack the plant, leaf and stem rot could occur
    • Soil moisture: dry
    • Soil texture: prefers well-drained soil
    • Soil pH: pH level should be 7.5-8, neutral to slightly alkaline

    Plant profile by Rachel Beall '25