Ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, and is most well-known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness. You can grow ashwagandha at home as well. Carolus Linnaeus first described ashwagandha as Physalis somnifera in 1753 but in the Flora of Australia, it is stated that the genus Withania is named after Henry Witham, an English palaeo-botanist of the early 19th century. The spelling of the genus name Withania is different because of the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). The specific name somnifera means “sleep-bearing” or “sleep inducing”.
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Planting Ashwagandha Through Seeds
Ashwagandha can be easily propagated through seeds. The seeds of ashwagandha can be sown just before the onset of monsoon. Cover the seeds by a thin layer of sand. The seeds of ashwagandga germinate in 6 to 7 days of time during June and July. Plant the seeds in early spring using a medium-sized container or sow the seeds directly into the ground, allowing at least 24 inches of space between all the seeds. You will have to push the seeds about three-eighths of an inch, below the surface of the soil with your finger.
Planting Ashwagandha Through Seedlings
Ashwagandha can be planted directly outdoors after the last frost. The seedlings, 35 to 40 days old can be transplanted or planted at 30 cm distance in the ground with well drained sandy soil. The seedlings should be planted 1 to 3 cm deep into the soil.
Planting Location to Grow Ashwagandha
The herb, ashwagandha can be cultivated in sandy loam or light red soil with good drainage and a pH level of 7.5-8. The area selected should be well pulverized by ploughing or harrowing before the rainy season. The selected field location bed should be slightly raised from the ground level, since growing this herb is not possible in soil that retains moisture and remains waterlogged.
Planting Time to Grow Ashwagandha
In India, ashwagandha is cultivated in regions with low rainfall, right after the pre-monsoons in the beginning of the rainy season, in hot and humid conditions, in temperature around 75°F – 85° F (25°C – 30° C). In other regions, this herb is planted after the last frost. The seeds may be sown just before the onset of monsoon or during months of June and July.
Grow Ashwagandha in Pots
You can sow ashwagandha seeds indoors in small containers or flats which should have drainage holes, preferabbly clay pots. If you are growing ashwagandha indoors, push the seeds about one-fourth inch below the surface of the soil. You can transplant the plants into outdoor soil when they reach 4 inches. You can also move your pot or container to a sunny location, out doors or at windows facing south. You can choose a wind-sheltered planting site that receives plenty of direct sunlight. Use well-drained sandy, loamy or clay soil with an acidic or neutral pH level.
Spacing to Grow Ashwagandha
You can plant Ashwagandha seedlings 8 to 10 cm apart and if you choose to plant them row wise then the rows should be at a distance of at least 1 foot from each other. The plant spreads up to 22 inches wide and has tender star shaped stems with leaves all around. But if you plant ashwagandha through seedlings, then plant them at least 24 inches apart from each other.
How to Take Care of Ashwagandha ?
Ashwagandha, a tender perennial herb, can be grown as an annual plant in climates with cold winters. Ashwagandha grown from seeds will yield reasonably sized roots during one growing season. You can also grow it as an annual herb in USDA climate zones 3 to 10 (Minnesota to Miami)
Watering to Grow Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha also known as Indian Ginseng is a drought resistant herb so it does not tolerate excessive irrigation or water logging conditions since excess water can cause wet feet or root rot. As the herb’s root has a medicinal importance and application, be careful to water the crop at an interval of 8 to 10 days to obtain better root yield. In the tropical regions, Ashwagandha can be sown with the onset of the monsoon season and can be grown as a rain fed crop in climates that receive an annual rainfall of 500-750mm . Supplemental irrigation is only required if the plant appears overly stressed and withered during the dry season.
Fertilizing Your Herb
If the soil has average amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, ashwagandha plants respond and grow well. But similar to ginseng, ashwagandha plant does not require fertilizers due to the medicinal application of its root. Usually this herb demands farm yard manure (aged), vermi-compost and green-manure or organic fertilizers near the base of the plant.
The seeds sown in rows should be thinned out by hand after 30 days of sowing. The seedlings can get suppressed by the smothering effect of weeds, so removing weeds at an early stage of growth is essential. The second session of weeding is done after 21 to 25 days of the first session.
Pests and Disease
The common pests and diseases found in ashwagandha plant are aphids, mites, insects, seedling rot and blight. There are some bio-pesticides which can be prepared to prevent these pests and diseases : Neem, Chitrakmool, Dhatura and Cow’s urine.[ READ ABOUT PLANTS THAT REPEL INSECTS ]
How to Harvest Your Ashwagandha ?
Ashwagandha is ready to be harvested in 150 – 180 days, when flowers and berries start to form and leaves begin to dry out. You can harvest ashwagandha roots by digging carefully using a small gardening tool. You need to be careful not to damage the plant when digging up and make sure the soil has some moisture while doing this. The whole plant is uprooted for roots, which are then separated from the aerial parts by cutting the stem 2 to 3 cm above the crown. Then after harvesting, roots and barriers are separated from the plant. The roots of ashwagandha are washed and cut into small pieces of 7-10 cm.They are then dried in sun or shade. The berries are then separated from the plant, dried and crushed to take out seeds.
You can store the dried small pieces of ashwagandha roots in a glass jar or any airtight jar. You can also grind these root pieces when dried to make powder and then store the powder in air tight containers.