Scientific Name: Withania somniferia
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 the bush.
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 powerful herb.
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 longterm 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 coagulate milk.
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.