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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera
), commonly known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is one of the most potent herbs in Ayurveda and has been used for more than 4000 years. The short perennial shrubs, 14–30 inches high with tuberous roots 2 ½ - 6 ½ feet long, are grown in the drier regions of India, China, Nepal and Yemen. The name is derived from the Sanskrit words for horse (ashva) and smell (gandha), due to the root’s horse-like aroma. While the leaves and fruit have valuable properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is most commonly used in the Western world.
The main bioactive compounds of ashwagandha root are alkaloids, the main ones being withanine and withanolides (steroidal lactones). Other constituents are saponins, choline, beta-sitosterol, chlorogenic acid, scopoletin, withaferin, withanolide glycosides, sitoindosides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Ashwagandha is low in fat, a source of dietary fiber and a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, copper, zinc and manganese.*