Uses of Ashwaganda, or Winter Cherry
Our highlighted plant this week, Withania somnifera, is also called Indian ginseng and ashwagandha, or winter cherry. It is native to Asia and Africa, but sometimes cultivated in Israel, according to an online article from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Most of the plant is used in some fashion or another — the root, leaves, fruit and seeds: herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbal-fact-sheets/ashwagandha
is best known as an adaptogen. This means it is a substance that helps us ‘adapt’ to the stress in our lives. My personal favorite adaptogenic herb is holy basil and I am currently sipping on a cup of it.
The Herbal Safety article informs us that extracts from the root of this plant contain a substance similar to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). WebMD shares that GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low levels of GABA might be linked to anxiety or mood disorders, epilepsy and chronic pain. GABA may have a calming and relaxing effect on our nervous system: webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/gaba-uses-and-risks
UTEP shares that certain compounds in ashwagandha may possess an anti-anxiety effect similar to lorazepam, a prescription medication for anxiety. Ashwagandha is also said to be a mood stabilizer and memory helper, as well as possibly helping with certain cancers, microbial infections and neurodegenerative disorders: herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbal-fact-sheets/ashwagandha
An online service from Columbia University called Go Ask Alice! states ashwagandha is a common Ayurvedic herb. It is used for “rejuvenation and treating a wide variety of ailments,” including skin diseases, pain reduction, gastrointestinal issues and rheumatoid arthritis. Alice also reminds us there are precautions to using ashwagandha, so always talk to your healthcare provider before including it in your diet: goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/ashwagandha-cures-what-ails-you
There is more detailed information on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s website. They pass along that it is reported to reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue, but that larger human studies are needed. They also warn us that ashwagandha may affect lab tests: mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ashwagandha
It is possible to grow winter cherry here, but it will be an annual unless you want to overwinter this plant indoors. If you do decide to add this woody shrub to your landscape, here are some tips. It likes it hot and dry. It will grow to approximately three feet tall and two feet wide. It has small green flowers with reddish-orange berries and prefers full sun and well-draining soil.
Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether @gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.