Ashwagandha consists of the dried roots and stem bases of Withania somnifera belonging to the family Solanaceae. It is also known as withania root, asgandh and winter cherry.
It grows in all dry areas wildly. It is grown in sub tropical India. It is obtained from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab plains, Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is also found in other countries like Congo, Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The roots are buff to grey yellow in colour with longitudinal wrinkles. The roots are unbranched, straight, conical and bear a crown. They are bitter in taste and the roots smell like the urine of the horse, so the name ashwagandha.
The ashwagandha consists of alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Withanine is the main alkaloid, where as somniferine, somnine, somniferinine, withananine, pseudo-withanine, tropine, pseudo tropine, choline, cuscohygrine, isopelletierine, anaferine, anahydrine. Acyl steryl glucosides namely sitoindoside-v11 and sitoindoside-v111 have been isolated from the roots. The leaves contain steroidal lactones called as withanolides. They have steroidal nucleus, carbon chain and lactone ring. WIthaferin and withaferin-A are some of the withanolides. It also contains alcohols like somnitol and somnirol, withanic acid, phytosterol, ipuranol and cerotic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid.