Withania somnifera

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Botanical Name
Withania somnifera
Solanaceae - The nightshade or potato family
with-AN-ee-uh som-NIF-er-uh
Common Name(s)
English: Indian ginseng; Poisonous Gooseberry; Winter cherry; Ashwagandha
Afrikaans: Bitterappelliefie ; Geneesblaarbossie
IsiXhosa: ubuvimba
IsiZulu: Ubuvimba; Umaqhunsula; isibhaha
Sesotho: bofepha
siSwati: Vimhepe
Other: Ajagandha, Kanaje (Hindi); Amukkara (Tamil)
Plant Group
  • Shrub A woody plant of relatively low height, having several stems arising from the base and lacking a single trunk; a bush.
Plant Size
  • Small to Medium
    Tree8m to 15m
    Shrub75cm to 1m
    Perennial/ground cover20cm to 40cm
    Bulb30cm to 40cm
    Succulent20cm to 40cm
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Attractive fruits, berries or seeds Brightly coloured fruits or berries increase and extend the visual impact of the plant and are especially attractive to birds and other small wildlife.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Tender A plant that will not survive any frost or low winter temperatures.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Withania somnifera has been used for thousands of years as a herbal remedy in Ayurvedic medicine in India and is more usually grown as a medicinal plant, rather than a garden subject. It is a medium shrub growing up to a meter tall. The branches are covered with a dense, woolly hairs and attractive foliage. The flowers are small and insignificant, forming a berry enclosed by a calyx, much like a gooseberry. The berry ripens to an orange red colour and can be seen through the now dry and papery calyx. The berries have a rather unpleasant and bitter flavor. The root takes the form of a long brown tuber. The plant prefers full sun but will also grow in light or partial shade, needing about 6 hours of sun a day. In very hot areas it may need some shade from blistering sun's rays. The Sanscript meaning of Ashwagandha is 'horse's smell' and is thought to refer to the odour of the root, which is likened to that of a sweaty horse.

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tiny, cup-shaped, topped with five pointed petals

  • All Year Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • Summer to Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • greenish yellow
Growth Rate
  • Very Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Border A strip of ground, at the edge of a driveway or path in which ornamental plants or shrubs are planted.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
  • Pioneer for new gardens A very fast growing plant, able to withstand hardship, that can be used to populate land that has recently been cleared of natural vegetation. These plants pave the way for slower-growing species by adding nutrients to the soil and creating leaf litter.
Distribution and Habitat

India, North America, Africa and the Mediterranean, in a wide variety of habitats

Planting Suggestions

Withania somnifera grows successfully in most well-drained soils, but will thrive with the addition of compost and a dressing of mulch. It grows best for me in slightly alkaline, dry, stony soil. In areas with frost, it is best grown as an annual, as it flowers and fruits in its first year. Water frequently while young and less as the plants becomes established. I found that additional water caused one of my plants to grow leggy, causing weak branches which broke off easily. Another specimen was growing in stony, dry soil with no other moisture than that which nature provided, and this shrub was denser, tougher and better shaped.

Medicinal Uses

In South Africa, Withania is used to treat fever, colds and 'flu, asthma, general ill health, infections, syphilis, diarrhoea and worms, as an aphrodisiac, as a sedative, externally for a variety of skin conditions and for animal health. The seeds can be used as a substitute for rennet, to coagulate milk in cheese making, and, being rich in saponins, can be used as a soap substitute. The leaves act as an insect repellent. Known as Indian ginseng, this plant is used as an important ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine in India. It is used for the same conditions as listed above, as well as for stress, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, cancer, candida, inflammation, rheumatism, tuberculosis and typhoid.

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