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  • Writer's pictureNancy Redfeather

Ashwagandha: Family Medicine From the Garden

By Nancy Redfeather

I have recently discovered the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), and I have been using the dried roots as a tea over this past year. I am amazed at how well it grows in mauka Kona, and can withstand too much rain and too little! Ashwagandha is a plant in the Solanaceae or Nightshade family and it is called an Adaptogen (an herb that protects and strengthens the body). It has been used for over 3,000 years in India and the East to relieve many different symptoms and is one of the major herbs of Ayurveda.

Since it grows very well in Hawai’i, it could be in your families backyard medicine chest. It’s qualities are very well documented in scientific studies:

* It helps the body adapt to stressful conditions.

* A nourishing tonic that supports the nervous system and the endocrine system

* Supports the cardiovascular system and immune health

Ashwagandha is grounding, calming, and restoring to the body. It supports the sleep cycle and adrenals. Ashwagandha is a Sanskrit word meaning “the smell of the horse” and refers to the “power of the horse.” Somnifera is the Latin word for “sleep inducing.” In India a mixture of warm milk, powdered Ashwagandha with honey is a bedtime drink called Moon Milk. (see below)

Ashwagandha grows easily from seed, but it can take about 3 weeks to germinate in a pot with moist potting mix. When the plant has 2 sets of mature leaves, carefully transplant into it’s own pot and grow it up a little more then set out in the garden. Let the plant grow for one year or more before harvesting the roots. I have read that the leaves and stems can be used as tea but I prefer the dried root. It loves full sun!

Usually Ashwagandha is harvested in the late fall, when the plant begins to decline after it seeds. The whole plant is carefully dug up and the roots separated and dried. Roots should first be washed. A bath glove works well to remove dirt. Cut your roots into pieces, or dry whole on a screen for a few days. Once the root thoroughly dried, it can kept in a jar, or powdered. To make tea, use approximately 1 Tbsp. of cut root for 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer for 10 minutes, strain and drink. The leaves can also be harvested and dried and used for tea. A tincture of the root or root and leaves can also be made. You can enjoy homegrown Ashwagandha’s benefits immediately!

Using our gardens as our medicine chest just makes sense. We are so fortunate to be able to grow so many of our family medicines right at home. Give Ashwagandha a try! To your health!

Moon Milk Recipe:


· 1 cup whole milk or unsweetened nut milk (such as hemp, almond, or cashew)

· ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

· ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

· ¼ teaspoon ground ashwagandha (or another adaptogen, like shatavari or astralagus)

· 2 pinches of ground cardamom

· Pinch of ground ginger (optional)

· Pinch of ground nutmeg

· Freshly ground black pepper

· 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil or ghee

· 1 teaspoon honey, preferably raw


· Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in cinnamon, turmeric, Ashwagandha, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg; season with pepper. Whisk vigorously to incorporate any clumps. Add coconut oil, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook until warmed through, 5–10 minutes (the longer you go, the stronger the medicine). Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in honey (you want to avoid cooking honey or you'll destroy its healing goodness). Pour into a mug, drink warm, and climb right into bed.

A Great You-tube video on harvesting, cleaning, and preparing is:


Please consult your medical care provider before using herbal medicine, particularly if you have a known medical condition or if you are pregnant or nursing. You are responsible for your own health. As with conventional medicine, herbal medicine is vast and complex, and must be used responsibly.

1. 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

2. Ashwaganda: A Summary - US Library of Medicine and Health

3. Research Gate: An Overview of Ashwagandha Clinical Studies

By Nancy Redfeather (

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