By Bill Chioffi
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has been in a relationship with humans for centuries as a medicine in India. It’s quickly becoming familiar to many Americans. Ayurveda, the system of Traditional Medicine from India has been documented since 6,000 BCE and this plant is central to many formulae in one of the original Sanskrit texts on medicine, The Charaka Samhita.
The roots of this Solanaceae or Nightshade family of plants have the properties of a rasayan — an herbal preparation that “promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.” Scientific studies have focused on a range of effective actions, but I like to think of it as a master regulator and specific food for the whole central nervous system.
In February of 2017, a work trip had me touring Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, India in search of this and other plants. Near the village of Manasa in Madhya Pradesh there’s a family that has been trading in Ashwagandha for generations. The warehouses were vast. At one point I was standing on burlap bags of Ashwagandha stacked fifty-high while collecting samples from the top of the pile.
We visited two different Ashwagandha farms nearby the next day. The first one was directly across the street from an Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) field, so we stopped there to talk to that farmer for a bit. India is the World’s largest producer of legal opium for the pharmaceutical industry according to the CIA1. Quietly I prayed that this farmer would return his efforts to Ashwagandha that he’d grown in prior seasons. Sadly, the return on his investment was much greater on the poppy crop.
Ashwagandha is “good for” helping our human bodies adapt to both physical and perceived stress and it’s quite effective when taken regularly from a reliable source, but the real hope for me lies in the plants ability to do that while simultaneously adding value to the ecosystem as a crop and to our overall health as a stressed out society. Certainly, it’s a better choice than opiates.
For the Ashwagandha used by Mab & Stoke, I work with these and other farmers to ensure the potency of the source plants, as well as for the conditions by which these medicinals are harvested and prepared into extracts under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) conditions. Having met and spent time with the farmers in question, visiting the fields, and understanding first-hand the positive impact that Western interest in wellness crops can have on local communities, makes the work that much more gratifyi