As Ayurveda, the healing philosophy of India, becomes more popular in the West, the herbs from that region also gain recognition. One of these herbs is Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera. Literally translated it means, “that which has the smell of a horse, as it gives the vitality and energy of a horse.”
We have grown a few crops of ashwagandha here in the foothill with good success. It takes a long growing season and can be harvested the first year after it goes to seed in late fall or early winter. The fresh roots are the medicinal part of the plant and have a very strong, earthy and acrid smell. In fact, the smell is so strong that we had to move the drying racks outdoors! From my reading, it is said that the seeds are poisonous. Because it is a new herb for us to grow and is quite foreign in many ways, it may take some time before growers are certain of the qualities and energy of Western grown ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is considered a rejuvenative tonic that is used for strengthening the whole body and especially for those who tend to be constitutionally cool, thin, dry and weak. For conditions of general debility, sexual debility, nervous exhaustion, convalescence, problems of old age, emaciation of children, loss or memory, loss of muscular energy and overwork, ashwagandha is the herb to use. Remember, many times such conditions as sleeplessness respond well to the herbs that build vitality. Sometimes a person does not have enough grounded energy to go to sleep and ashwagandha can help provide that especially when taken with warm milk. ( see below for recipe)
For healing damaged tissues, powdered ashwagandha can be made into a paste and used as a poultice on the afflicted area. You may want to use comfrey and calendula flowers along with it, also.
There are a number of ways to take ashwagandha. The traditional way is to take a tablespoon of the herb and gently simmer it for 15 minutes in organic milk or a milk substitute such as soy milk. Add a little natural sweetener as well as a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. These additional herbs help with circulation and assimilation. To administer to children, we have mixed a little ashwagandha with some almond butter and honey. This can then be spread on bread or crackers.