Ashwagandha: an ancient herb with 21st century power

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In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is known as a ‘rasayana’ meaning a rejuvenative. Rasayanas enhance both the quality and quantity of life, stimulate the mind and enhance vigour. This has made ashwagandha one of Ayurveda’s most prized herbs as a truly superior rejuvenative tonic to the whole body and mind. Interestingly the Sanskrit word ‘ashwagandha’ is translated as ‘the smell of a horse’ which reflects its ability to bring you the essence of a horse; strength and stamina. Ashwagandha’s botanical name, Withania somnifera, gives us a clue; somnifera is translated as ‘sleep-inducing’ reflecting its relaxing and sedative properties that bring us energy through supporting deeper rest.

Origins

Interestingly, ashwagandha plants thrive in arid conditions in poor quality alkaline soils; an environment in which most plants would suffer from severe stress.

All of Pukka’s ashwagandha is grown in an arid region of north Karnataka (South West India), where farmers are poorer than average, mainly due to the harsh farming environment and the limited choice of crops that can be grown. Few farmers can afford to dig wells for irrigation, which means that ashwagandha, which is remarkably drought-resistant, is perfect for areas difficult to irrigate.

The plant

Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade family – the same family as tomato and potato. Perhaps the most revealing family feature is its small red berry, which is not unlike a tiny cherry tomato. The small fruits are also the likely source of its other common name, ‘winter cherry’.

In the wild, ashwagandha is a perennial plant that can grow up to almost a metre in height. When cultivated it is usually treated as an annual and seeds are sown at the beginning of the monsoon and harvested approximately five months later.

Spaced out seedlings

The way in which herbs are grown on the farm can have a significant influence on the quality and cost of the final product. In the case of ashwagandha, the spacing of the seedlings in the field is a surprisingly important factor.

The distance between the plants, combined with the time of harvest, determines the thickness, shape and fibre content of the root; this influences the method used by the farmers to separate the stem from the root. Thicker fibrous roots also make it harder to produce a uniform, fine powder. If the seedlings are too far apart, or left in the field for too long, it's likely that there will be problems with the consistency of the powder.

This is just one example of many of why it’s so important for us to maintain a close relationship with the farmers. Only with regular communication and feedback can we understand and respond to their challenges, just as they understand and respond to ours, and we get the correctly spaced out seedlings producing perfectly powderable ashwagandha.

Our Farmers

Over the years we have returned to the ashwagandha fields many times and know the farmers well. Monish, in the photograph with Sebastian below, is a master ashwagandha farmer who has been producing top quality Pukka plants for a number of years.

A little bit of chemistry

Ashwagandha contains alkaloids, phytosterols, saponins and iron but perhaps its most interesting chemical constituents are steroidal lactones. These primary constituents are a family referred to as, withanolides. We make sure our ashwagandha meets the British Pharmacopoeia standards containing no less than 0.01% withanolide A and 0.01% withaferin A.

Ashwagandha Chemistry

Wholistically extracted Pukka Ashwagandha 

Pukka uses a ground-breaking new technology called ‘wholistic extraction' to extract all the goodness from our organic ashwagandha. This process captures the ‘whole’ goodness of the plant, creating a broad-spectrum ‘wholistic’ extract and ultimately a purer and more potent supplement.

 

Interesting Facts and Figures

The ashwagandha fields of north Karnataka are also the source of other important Ayurvedic herbs; andrographis and tulsi, thrive as cultivated plants alongside gokshura, bhumiamalaki and musta, all growing naturally as ‘weeds’ in the organic fields. The farmers encourage them to grow to full-size and harvest them throughout the year.

This finely powdered root is specially blended by our master herbalist, Sebastian Pole, to create the Wholsitic Ashwagandha food supplement in our Organic Wellbeing range.

We hope you love ashwagandha as much as we do – it has many fans here in the offices of Pukka HQ

Meet the author

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Ben Heron, Sustainable Herbs Manager

My main responsibility at Pukka is to make sure the herbs we source are Pukka – in other words, that they are grown, collected and processed in ways that meet our sustainability, quality and Fair for Life standards. This means that I spend a lot of time visiting and working with our suppliers, and am often behind the camera taking photos and videos for the website. With a background in plant conservation, I am passionate about driving Pukka’s vision of ‘conservation through commerce’.

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