Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a herbaceous shrub from the nightshade family, native to India, Nepal, and Northern Africa. Also known as Indian ginseng, or winter cherry, the Ashwagandha herb is one of the most important plants in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used for millennia as a dietary supplement to boost the immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and treat many ailments.
Ashwagandha plants are traditionally cultivated for their roots. These slow-growing plants can reach up to 3 feet in height and be kept as perennials in USDA zones 7 and higher. They also produce edible bright orange-red berries similar to tomatillos or Chinese lanterns (Physalis).
In this guide, we’ll take a close look at the Ashwagandha growing requirements, how to grow it in your garden and indoors, and harvest and use this excellent medicinal plant.
How To Grow Ashwagandha
There are two methods you can use for growing Ashwagandha at home. The easiest method is to grow it from seeds, but if you already have an Ashwagandha plant, you can propagate it from stem cuttings.
Here are our step-by-step guides for each method.
Growing Ashwagandha From Seeds
- Sow Ashwagandha seeds indoors in early spring. The seeds need a soil temperature of at least 70°F to germinate, and the plants can take up to 180 days to reach maturity. Starting them indoors is the best way to ensure a long growing season.
- Fill a seed propagation tray or several plastic pots with organic, well-draining, nutrient-rich soil.
- Place the seeds in the pots, cover them with a thin layer of soil, and water them well.
- Keep the seed pots in a warm, sunny room, preferably on a windowsill.
- Ashwagandha seeds can take between 10 and 14 days to germinate. Make sure the soil is kept evenly moist until the seedlings emerge. You can gradually reduce watering when you start seeing seedlings but never let the soil dry out completely.
- You can transplant the young Ashwagandha plants into the garden soil when they are at least 4 inches tall.
Growing Ashwagandha From Cuttings
- You can use this propagation method if you have an Ashwagandha plant that’s already established, preferably at least 12 inches tall.
- Use a pair of sharp gardening scissors and cut a 4 inches long stem section. Make the cut ¼ of an inch below the growth node, and remove the bottom leaves.
- Pour some water into a glass or jar and put the Ashwagandha cutting in it. The water level should cover the growth node but not the leaves. You can also apply a rooting hormone to speed up propagation.
- Cover the glass with a transparent plastic sheet to help preserve humidity, and place it in a warm, sunny room.
- Change the water in the glass once every 5 to 7 days.
- The cutting can take several weeks to grow roots, so be patient. Once the roots are at least 2 inches long, you can transplant your new Ashwagandha plant into the soil.
Requirements for Growing Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a low-maintenance plant that’s easy to grow at home. It’s not too pretentious for soil and fertilizers but prefers a dry, sunny location.
Here’s what you need to know about meeting its ideal growing needs.
Ashwagandha grows best in full sun, so plant it in a part of your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. It can tolerate some partial shade, but it will have a slower growth rate and take longer to reach maturity.
Temperature & Growing Zones
The ideal temperature range for growing Ashwagandha is between 68°F and 95°F. This plant does not tolerate frost.
You can cultivate it as a perennial in USDA zones 7 to 12, but in zones 4 to 8, you can grow it as a summer annual.
If you live in a cooler climate, plant Ashwagandha seeds indoors and move the plant to your garden when temperatures are consistently above 59°F.
Plant Ashwagandha in sandy and well-draining soil, with a pH of 7.5 to 8. If your soil pH is too low, check out our separate guide on how to make soil more alkaline.
One of the critical aspects of growing Ashwagandha successfully is ensuring that the soil does not retain too much moisture. In its native habitat, Ashwagandha grows in dry, arid regions, which often have poor, rocky soils.
To mimic its natural growing condition and improve drainage, you can incorporate a bit of sand or horticultural grit into your garden soil before planting.
Ashwagandha is a drought-tolerant plant with moderate watering needs. If you’re unsure whether your Ashwagandha needs watering, use your finger to test the soil. If the top 2” feel dry to the touch, it’s time to give your plant some water.
Most importantly, ensure proper soil drainage. Ashwagandha does not like having “wet feet” or being waterlogged, making it susceptible to root rot.
Like most medicinal plants, Ashwagandha does not need fertilizers. In India, it is believed that using fertilizers can alter the taste of the roots.
Also, given its medicinal uses, you’ll want to avoid applying synthetic fertilizers, which can hurt human health.
The easiest way to ensure that Ashwagandha receives enough nutrients is to use a soil mix enriched with organic matter. You can use compost or manure to improve the soil fertility before you start planting, which will be enough to keep your plant thriving.
Pests and Diseases
Ashwagandha can be susceptible to pests such as aphids and spider mites. Check your plant daily, especially when young, and inspect the youngest shoots closely, as they are the most likely targets for pest infestations.
Use an insecticidal soap solution to get rid of aphids and a mix of water and isopropyl alcohol to get rid of spider mites.
Alternaria leaf spot is the most common disease for the Ashwagandha plant. Symptoms include yellowing of the leaves, followed by brown foliage spots.
Copper or sulfur fungicides are the most efficient way to treat this type of leaf spot. If you’re looking for an organic fungicide, Bordeaux mixture is your best choice.
Growing Ashwagandha in Containers
You can grow Ashwagandha in pots if you don’t have space in your garden or live in an apartment.
Start by picking a suitable container for this plant. A 10-inch terracotta pot is ideal, as it provides plenty of space for the roots to develop, and the material wicks out excess moisture. Always check that the pot has a drainage hole at the bottom.
Fill the container with a well-draining soil mix. You can use cacti or succulent soil or make sure that at least ¼ of your potting mix consists of a material that improves drainage, such as perlite, pumice, or vermiculite.
The ideal spacing for Ashwagandha plants is at least 4 inches. Depending on the size of your pot, you can plant 2 to 3 plants per container. Avoid overcrowding them, which can stress the plants, making them sensitive to pests and diseases.
If you’re growing Ashwagandha indoors, pick a room with full sun exposure. A balcony or a windowsill that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight is ideal.
Ashwagandha growing in containers is very sensitive to overwatering, resulting in root rot. Water it only when the top 2 inches feel dry to the touch. The plant doesn’t typically need fertilizers, but you can apply a diluted organic fertilizer halfway through the growing season, such as liquid seaweed.
When to Harvest Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has a slow growth rate and can take anywhere between 5 and 6 months to reach maturity. When the papery husk covering the berries begins to dry out, it is ready to harvest.
In India, specialized tools are being used to harvest Ashwagandha. But in your garden, you can simply harvest this plant by hand. To make harvesting easier, give the soil a good soak, then grab the plant from the base of the stem and pull it out. You can also use a trowel to loosen up the soil, but be careful not to damage the roots.
After pulling the Ashwagandha from the soil, use a sharp blade to separate the stem from the roots, then wash off the dirt.
Trim the roots off the root ball, then cut each root into smaller, 2 – 3 inches long sections.
Prepare a drying rack, and spread the roots out evenly on the surface. Keep the rack in a dry, shaded, well-ventilated spot until the roots are completely dry.
How to Use Ashwagandha
The entire Ashwagandha plant has medicinal properties, but the ones most commonly used are dried roots. You can use them to make tea, soak them in alcohol to make a tincture, or grind them into a powder.
Ashwagandha roots contain phytochemical compounds called withanolides, particularly Withaferin A and Withanone, which help lower blood sugar levels, reduce stress and anxiety (holistic-momma.com article on GABA), improve memory, and strengthen the immune system.
Ashwagandha berries are edible but have a noticeable bitter taste. If you don’t want to eat them, dry them in the sun for a few days, then separate the seeds from the pulp.
You can use the seeds for propagation, as an anthelmintic to treat parasitic worms in animals, or as an alternative to rennet if you’re into making your own cheese.
Ashwagandha leaves can be used dried or fresh. You can crush green leaves in a mortar, then combine them with water to make Ashwagandha leaf juice, which reputedly helps weight loss.
Extracts of Ashwagandha leaves can also help improve memory and protect against environmental neurotoxins.
In traditional medicine, this adaptogenic herb has many uses, from treating ulcers and rheumatism to acting as a tonic, narcotic, and even aphrodisiac. Despite its benefits, using too much Ashwagandha can have negative side effects.
Always consult with your doctor beforehand, especially if you’re taking other medication, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have a thyroid condition.
Ashwagandha is an unpretentious plant that can thrive even in a garden with poor soil. Growing it takes patience, but once established, this plant pretty much looks after itself.
Also, growing your own is the best way to ensure that the roots are good quality and organic, and packed full of beneficial compounds.
Phytochemical Evaluation of Withanolide-A in Ashwagandha Roots from Different Climatic Regions of India: Link
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – a herb with versatile medicinal properties empowering human physical and mental health: Link
An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda: Link