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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Alkaloids

It consists of the dried roots and stem bases of Withania somnifera Dunal, belonging to family Solanaceae.






Withania root. Ashwagandha, Clustered Wintercherry.


Biological Source


It consists of the dried roots and stem bases of Withania somnifera Dunal, belonging to family Solanaceae.


Geographical Source


Withania is widely distributed from southern Europe to India and Africa.




The use of ashwagandha in Ayurvedic medicine extends back over 3,000–4,000 years to the teachings of an esteemed rishi (sage) Punarvasu Atriya. It has been described in the sacred texts of Ayurveda, including the Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas where it is widely extolled as a tonic especially for emaciation in people of all ages including babies, enhancing the reproductive function of both men and women.


Cultivation and Collection


Withania somnifera are propagated by division, cuttings or seed. Seed is the best way to propagate them. Seed sown on moist sand will germinate in 14–21 days at 20°C. Withania somnifera need full sun to partial shade with a well-drained slightly alkaline soil mix. Plants do best when the soil pH is 7.5–8.0. Soil mix consisting of two parts sandy loam to one part sand will to better. The plants are allowed to dry thoroughly in between waterings. In containers, too much water causes root rot. Plants are fertilized once during the year with a balanced fertilizer.




A low lying plant, often reaching only 1–2 ft, but occasion-ally 6 ft. It is a perennial, but can be grown as an annual. Plant and fruits resemble its relatives the ground cherry and Chinese lantern. Young roots are straight, unbranched and conical and in pieces of different lengths. Root thickness varies according to age and usually it is 5–12 mm below crown. Outer surface is buff to yellow and longitudinally wrinkled. Taste is bitter and mucilaginous.


                               Withania somnifera



Transverse section of root shows cork exfoliated or crushed; when present isodiamatric and nonlignified; cork cambium of two to four diffused rows of cells; secondary cortex about twenty layers of compact parenchymatous cells; phloem consists of sieve tubes, phloem parenchyma, companion cells, cambium shows four to five rows of tangentially elongated cells; secondary xylem hard forming a closed vascular ring separated by multiseriate medullary rays and a few xylem parenchyma.


     Transverse section of Withania root 

Chemical Constituents


The plants contain the alkaloid withanine as the main constituent and somniferine, pseudowithanine, tropine and pseudotropine, hygrine, isopellederine, anaferine, anahygrine and steroid lactones. The leaves contain steroid lactone, commonly known as withanolides.




All plant parts are used including the roots, bark, leaves, fruit and seed are used to treat nervous disorders, intestinal infections and leprosy. Ashwagandha is one of the most widespread tranquillizers used in India, where it holds a position of importance similar to ginseng in China. It acts mainly on the reproductive and nervous systems, having a rejuvenative effect on the body, and is used to improve vitality and aid recovery after chronic illness. It is also used to treat nervous exhaustion, debility, insomnia, wasting diseases, failure to thrive in children, impotence, infertility; multiple sclerosis, etc. Externally it has been applied as a poultice to boils, swellings and other painful parts. Withania is considered as an adaptogen and so is used in number of diseases.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparations known as Abana, Geriforte, Mentat, Mentat syrup, Reosto, Tentex forte, AntiStress Massage Oil, Nourishing Baby Oil, Nourishing Skin Cream, Anxocare, Galactin Vet, Geriforte Aqua, Geriforte Vet, Immunol, Speman forte Vet, Tentex forte Vet, Ashvagandha tablet (Himalaya Drug Company), Balarishta (Baidyanath), Aswagandha tablet (BAPS AMRUT).


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