It grows as a stout shrub that reaches a height of 170 cm. Like the tomato which belongs to the same family, it bears yellow flowers and red fruit, though its fruit is berry-like in size and shape. Ashwagandha grows prolifically in India,Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is commercially cultivated in Madhya Pradesh (a province in India).
In Ayurveda ashwaganda is considered a rasayana herb. This herb is also considered an adaptogen which is an herb that works to normalize physiological function, working on the HPA axis and the neuroendocrine system. 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-making" in Latin, indicating that to it are attributed sedating properties, 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.
Seven American and four Japanese firms have filed for grant of patents on formulations containing extracts of the herb Ashwagandha. Fruits, leaves and seeds of the Indian medicinal plant withania somnifera have been traditionally used for the Ayurvedic system as aphrodisiacs, diuretics and for treating memory loss. The Japanese patent applications are related to the use of the herb as a skin ointment and for promoting reproductive fertility. The U.S based company Natreon has also obtained a patent for an Ashwagandha extract.
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