Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a medicinal herb native to India where it has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for many thousands of years. Sometimes known as ‘Indian ginseng’ the roots of ashwagandha are used in herbal medicine to increase vitality in the body, reduce stress and improve quality of sleep. After the first or second year the roots may be harvested and can be used fresh or dried in teas and tinctures, or powdered and added to food.
Ashwagandha is an evergreen woody perennial shrub in its native habitat of the hot and dry topics. It grows to about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide in one season, and produces small light green flowers which then form attractive reddish-orange berries concealed inside transparent paper coverings. It prefers full sun, and average soil with good drainage. In zones 7 and cooler it is grown as an annual. At our farm (zone 8-9) we are able to grow Ashwagandha as a herbaceous perennial. Its leaves and woody stems are killed off by frost but, as long as the soil is not overly wet, its roots remain vital and will sprout new shoots in the spring.
If grown as an annual, Ashwagandha is best started early in the Spring to provide an extended growing season. This can be done anytime in April or May, with sizable roots forming by October. Once all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed the ashwagandha seedlings can be transplanted outdoors ~ we usually time this with the planting of other hot crops such as tomatoes and basil. We like to grow our ashwagandha plants in the greenhouse but this is not necessary so long as you provide a sheltered well drained spot with full sun.