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Withania somnifera

Origin: South Asia

Improvement status: Cultivated wild material

Seeds per packet: ~100

Germination tested 12/2023: 70%

Life cycle: Annual or tender perennial

Ashwagandha is a tropical perennial in the nightshade family with a reputation as powerful medicine. Despite being native to arid parts of India, the Middle East, and northern Africa, it is easy to grow across most of the continental US — though it is typically grown as an annual. Surprisingly, it can handle cold temperatures down to 15 degrees, so can often survive for many years as a perennial in USDA Zone 8 or above. The dried roots are used as an adaptogen, helping the body deal with stress. It's also said to be great as a sleep aid (the botanical name "somnifera" means "bringer of sleep"), for minor aches and pains, and to boost the immune system. It has been a pillar of Ayurvedic medicine for millenia. The red berries — which develop inside small husks that resemble ground cherries — can be used as a vegetarian rennet substitute for chees-making. Our seed comes from Eileen Wallding and Nicholas Pandjiris at Whistle Down Farm in Hudson, NY.

GROWING TIPS: The seeds require some light to germinate, so we recommend surface sowing indoors 4-8 weeks before planting out after danger of frost has passed. They prefer arid, alkaline soil, so don't overwater or plant in acidic soil. Plants can be brought indoors, trimmed back, and kept alive as a house plant for many years.