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Satish Lele
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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Introduction: Ashwagandha has been used as an herbal remedy for hundreds of years. It has many applications, and has been used by Native Americans and Africans to treat inflammation, fevers, and to protect against infection or illness. It has also been used to boost the immune system, improve memory, and to promote overall wellness. Ashwagandha, winter cherry, is a shrub that flourishes in India and North America. The roots of the ashwagandha plant have been employed for millennia by Ayurvedic healers. Ashwagandha has many beneficial elements, including flavonoids and members of the withanolide class. Numerous modern studies have found that Ashwagandha shows great promise for being effective in reducing inflammation, decreasing stress, increasing mental activity, invigorating the body, and as an antioxidant.
Roots are used for medicinal purposes. It derives its named "Ashwagandha" because of two reasons. First reason is that its root smells like horse and the other reason is that it vitalizes body to provide strength just like a horse possess.

Applications / Uses

It is considered as most important adaptogens in ayurvedic system of medicine.

  • It works in suppressing pains of any sort. It possesses this property due to its ushan virya potency, which helps in eradicating vata that is the reason of initiation of pain in body.

  • Good results have been seen in diseases like Amavata (rheumatoid arthritis), sandhi gata vata (Osteoarthritis), vatarakt (gout), gridhasi (sciatica) and other vata dominant diseases.

  • Works as anti-inflammatory substance, therefore helps in reducing swellings and restoring blood supply.

  • Its local application also has tremendous results in lymphadenopathy, goiter and on any body part, which is supposed to have inflammation and pain.

  • Possesses great healing properties, and therefore has great effects in healing wounds and injuries.

  • It relieves stress due to presence of vata suppressant properties, which helps in nurturing nervous system.

  • Helps in promoting calmness and mental satisfaction in mind due to its good penetrating powers, which helps to counter negative adaptogens.

  • Helps in promoting calmness and mental satisfaction in mind due to its good penetrating powers, which helps to counter negative adaptogens.

  • It helps in relieving feel of numbness and burning sensation in extremities.

  • Helps in providing nourishment to the brain for its better function and greater ability to work.

  • It is often given to a person, who regularly suffers from vertigo, uncautiousness, and depression as it helps in curbing mental and physical weakness.

  • It improves mental ability, helps in gaining and retaining power and improves mental concentration.

  • It increases muscular endurance and helps in building up of stamina.

  • It revitalizes body and decreases untimely fatigue caused due weak body strength, and accumulation of negative energies in the body.

  • It works as a substance that helps in preventing early aging and rejuvenates whole body to provide youth.

  • It works as powerful immune booster that helps in fighting any foreign invasion in the body.

  • Its antioxidant properties helps in avoiding symptoms of early aging.

  • A powerful aphrodisiac thereby helps in enhancing the sexual powers and long lasting endurance.

  • It also helps in increasing sperm count and also the quality of sperms.

  • It gives good results in leucorrhoea, as it possesses the properties that suppress kapha.

  • It is considered as one of the most commonly used herb in relieving hypertension with excellent results.

  • It has also been found excellent supplement that helps in proving strength to heart muscles and keeps heart working normally.

  • It also possess the properties which helps it to behave as an diuretic, therefore is very helpful in treating urinary tract infections.

  • It is a wonderful remedy for increasing physical endurance and is used extensively in physically weak people or people who are recovering from long illness as in case tuberculosis or surgeries.

  • Good results have also been seen in upper respiratory tract infection and in asthmatic condition with wonderful results.

The Demand

It grows in dry and sub-tropical regions. Being hardy and drought tolerant species with its enormous bio-compounds, its use is forever regarded and continuous to enjoy the monopoly in many parts of India, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. It grows in dry parts in sub-tropical regions. Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are the major states of India producing Ashwagandha. In Madhya Pradesh alone, it is cultivated in more than 5,000 hectare. The Neemuch and Mandasaur markets of Madhya Pradesh are popular world over for Ashwagandha. Importers, buyers within the country, processors, traditional practitioners, Ayurvedic and Siddha Drug manufacturers throng these markets for procurement of Ashwagandha roots every year. The estimated production of Ashwagandha roots in India is more than 1,500 tonnes and the annual requirement is about 7,000 tonnes necessitating the increase in its cultivation and higher production.

Cultivation Process

Soil: Ashwagandha grows well in sandy loamy or light red soil, having pH of 7.5 to 8.0 with good drainage. Black soils or such heavy soils are suitable for cultivation.
Climate: It is grown as late rainy season (kharif) crop. The semi-tropical areas receiving 500 to 750 mm rainfall are suitable for its cultivation as rainfed crop. If one or two winter rains are received, the root development improves. The crop requires relatively dry season during its growing period. It can tolerate a temperature range of 20oC to 38oC and even low temperature as low as 10oC. The plant grows from sea level to an altitude of 1,500 meter above sea level.
Varieties: The Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalay, Madhya Pradesh, has released one variety with high alkaloid, "Jawahar" which is short in stature and most amenable for high density planting. The variety yields in 180 days and yields a total with anolides content of 0.30 per cent in dry roots.

Plantation

It is a shrub, normally found everywhere in India especially in northwestern part of the sub continent, but is now a days cultivated in fields because of its great commercial demand. Plant size varies from 1 to 5 ft.

  • Nursery raising: It is propagated by seeds. Fresh seeds are sown in well prepared nursery beds. Although it can be sown by broadcast method in the main field, transplanting method is preferred for better quality and for exports. For export, a well maintained nursery is a prerequisite. The nursery bed usually raised from ground level is prepared by thorough mixing with compost and sand. About 5 kg of seeds are required for planting in 1 hectare of the mainfield. Nursery is raised in India, in the month of June or July. Seeds are treated in carbendazim to control wilt and seed borne diseases. Seeds are sown just before the onset of monsoon and covered thinly using sand. The seeds germinate in 5 to 7 days. About 35 days old seedlings are transplanted in the main field.

  • Field Preparation: 2 to 3 ploughing and discing and / or harrowing should be done before rains. The land is well ploughed and pulverized and brought to a fine tilth. 10 to 20 tons of farm yard manure is applied. Field is then levelled.

  • Transplanting: After the manures are incorporated in the soil, ridges are prepared at 60 cm spacing. Healthy seedlings are planted at spacing of 30 cm. In some places, 60 cm x 60 cm or 45 cm x 30 cm spacing is also followed. However, a spacing of 60 cm x 30 cm with a plant population of about 55,000 seedlings per hectare is considered optimum.

  • Seed Requirement and Sowing Method: A seed rate of 10 to 12 kg per hectare is sufficient for broadcasting method. The seeds can be sown in lines also. Line to line method is preferred as it increases root production and helps in performing intercultural operations smoothly. The seeds are usually sown about 1 to 3 cm deep. Seeds should be covered with light soil in both the methods. Line to line distance of 20 to 25 cm and plant to plant distance of 8 to 10 cm should be maintained. According to soil fertility, in fertile soil, distance can be extended.

  • Treatment of Seed: Seed should be treated with thirum or dithane M45 (Inofil M45) at the rate of 3 gms / kg of seeds before sowing to protect the seedlings from the seed borne diseases.

  • Thinning and Weeding: Grown up seedlings raised by sowing by broadcasting method or in line in furrows, should be thinned out by hand 25 to 30 days after sowing the seeds, to maintain a plant population of about 30 to 60 plants per square meter. The plant density to be maintained finally may depend on the nature and fertility of the soil. On marginal soil, the high population is maintained. If some fertilizer is applied, the population should preferably be kept at lower level. Generally two weedings are required to keep the field free from weeds, the first within 20 to 25 days of sowing the and the other after 20 to 25 days of the first weeding.

  • Manures and Fertilizers: The crop does not require heavy doses of manures and fertilizers. It responds well to organic manures and addition of 10 tons FYM and 1 ton of vermicompost per hectare is recommended. Application of 15 kg of Nitrogen and 15 kg of Phosphorous per hectare is beneficial for higher production.

  • Irrigation: Excessive rainfall or water is harmful for this crop. Light shower after transplantation ensures better establishment of seedlings. Life saving irrigation may be applied, if required. Under irrigated conditions, the crop can be irrigated once in 10 days.

  • Pests and Diseases: No serious pest is reported incase of this crop. Whenever the crop is damaged by insects, 2 to 3 sprays of rogor or nuvan should be applied @0.6%. A combination of 0.5% malathion and 0.1% to 0.3% kelthane as foliar spray at 10 to 15 days interval, was found highly useful for aphids, mites and insect attack. Diseases like seedling rock and blight are observed. Seedling mortality becomes severe under high temperature and humid conditions. Diseases can be minimised by use of disease free seeds and proper seed treatment, before sowing as stated earlier. Carbofuran should be applied @2 to 2.5 kg / hectare at the time of sowing. Neem cake also can be applied. It will save root damage done by nematodes and insects. Further, adoption of crop rotation, timely sowing and keeping field well drained also protects the crop.

  • Harvesting: Maturity of the crop is judged by drying out of leaves and yellow-red berries. Flowering and bearing of fruits starts from December onwards. The crop is harvested for roots by digging in January to March, 150 to 180 days after sowing. There should be moisture in soil at the time of digging. Roots are dug out or ploughed using power tiller or a country plough. The tap root should be carefully pulled out, without damaging even the small lateral roots.

Post Harvesting and Yield
  • The roots are separated from the aerial portion by cutting the stem 1 to 2 cm above the ground. After digging, the roots are washed, cut into small pieces, 7 to 10 cm long and dried in sun or shed. Roots should be dried to 10 to 12% moisture content. Root pieces can be graded in following 3 to 4 grades as per its length and thickness.
    Grade of RootDescription
    ARoot pieces upto 7 cm and diameter upto 1.0 to 1.5 cm, solid, bright and pure white.
    BRoot pieces upto 5 cm and diameter upto 1 cm, bright and white.
    CRoot pieces upto 3-4 cms in length, diameter less than 1 cm, solid, side branches.
    LowerSmall root pieces, semi-solid, very thick, yellowish, chopped.

    The superior grade has stout and long root which fetches premium price. To avoid moisture and fungal attack on the dried roots, it should be stored in tin containers. Berries are hand plucked separately. They are dried and crushed to take out the seeds.

  • Yield: On an average, the yield from 1 hectare of commercial cultivation is approximately 300 to 500 kgs / hectare of dry roots and 50 to 75 kgs / hectare of seeds. A maximum yield can be procured upto 650 to 700 kgs / hectare. There are instances where farmers have achieved root yields as high as 1 ton / hectare. Commercially, root species 6 to 15 mm in diameter and 70 to 100 mm long are better. Alkaloid percentage in roots ranges from 0.13 to 0.31%.

  • Income: The unit cost for development of 1 hectare of transplanted Ashwagandha cultivation, in India, is Rs.22,400, while the income from roots is Rs. 35,000. The income from seeds is Rs. 3,600. Hence net income is 16,200 per hectare.

For supply from africa contact Nilesh Sthanakiya, Everest International, everestintl16@gmail.com
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