Ashwagandha or Asgand (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng is a native medicinal plant grown all over north-western and central India. It is an important ancient plant, the roots of which have been deployed in Indian traditional systems of medicine, ayurveda and unani. It is an erect growing, branching shrub with a normal height of 1.50 m. It grows well in dry and sub-tropical regions. Ashwagandha is a hardy and drought tolerant plant. Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the main producing states of this crop in the country. In Madhya Pradesh alone it is cultivated in more than 5000 ha. The estimated production of its roots in India is more than 1500 t, while the annual requirement is about 7000 t, necessitating increase in its cultivation and higher production.
2. Medicinal properties and use
Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the excellent rejuvenating agents in Ayurveda. Its roots, seeds and leaves are used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicines. Ashwagandha is mentioned as an important drug in ancient Ayurvedic literature
- Several types of alkaloids are found in this plant, out of which `Withanine' and `Somniferine' are important.
- Leaves contain withanolides, glycosides, glucose, five unidentified alkaloids (0.09%) and many free amino acids.
- The pharmacological activity of the roots is attributed to the alkaloids. The total alkaloid content in roots of the Indian types has been reported to vary between 0.13 and 0.31 per cent
- Withaferine-A has been receiving good deal of attention because of its antibiotic and anti tumor activities. It is used for curing carbuncles in the indigenous system of medicine
- The paste prepared out of its leaves is used for curing inflammation of tubercular glands and that of its roots for curing skin diseases, bronchitis and ulcers
- In Rajasthan, roots are used mainly for curing rheumatism and dyspepsia; in Punjab they are used to relieve loin pain and in Sind for abortion. In some areas warm leaves are also used for providing comfort during eye diseases. However, roots are mostly used for curing general and sexual weakness in human beings
- Fruits and seeds are diuretic in nature. Leaves are reported to possess anthelmintic and febrifuge properties. An infusion of leaves is given in fevers.
- For the treatment of piles, a decoction of the leaves is used both internally and externally. Externally, leaves are used for fomentation in the case of sore eyes, boils and swellings in limbs.
- As an insecticide, it is useful for killing lice infesting the body. An ointment prepared by boiling the leaves is useful for bed sores and wounds.
- The fresh leaf juice is also applied for anthrax pustules.
3. Package of Practices
It is grown as late rainy season (kharif) crop. The semi-tropical areas receiving 500 to 750 mm rainfall are suitable for its cultivation as rainfed crop. If one or two winter rains are received, the root development improves. The crop requires relatively dry season during its growing period. It can tolerate a temperature range of 20°C to 38°C and even low temperature as low as 10°C. The plant grows from sea level to an altitude of 1500 meter above sea level.
Ashwagandha grows well in sandy loam or light red soil with good drainage having pH in the range of 7.5 to 8.0.
Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalay, Madhya Pradesh has released one high alkaloid variety "Jawahar" which is short in stature and most amenable for high density planting. The variety yields in 180 days with a total withanolide content of 0.30 per cent in dry roots.
Ashwagandha is propagated by seeds. Fresh seeds are sown in well prepared nursery beds. Although it can be sown by broadcast method in the main field, transplanting method is preferred for better quality and export purpose. For export, a well maintained nursery is a prerequisite. The nursery bed, usually raised from ground level is prepared by thorough mixing with compost and sand. About 5 kg of seeds are required for planting in 1 ha of the main field. Nursery is raised in the month of June-July. Seeds are sown just before the onset of monsoon and covered thinly using sand. The seeds germinate in five to seven days. About 35 day old seedlings are transplanted in the main field.
3.5 Field preparation
Two to three ploughing and discing and /or harrowing should be done before rains for bringing the soil to a fine tilth. Farm yard manure is applied, mixed and then the field is levelled.
After the manure is incorporated in the soil, ridges are prepared at 60 cm spacing. Healthy seedlings are planted at 30 cm spacing. In some places, 60 cm x 60 cm or 45 cm x 30 cm spacing are also followed. However, a spacing of 60 cm x 30 cm with a plant population of about 55000 seedlings per ha is considered optimum.
3.7 Seed rate and sowing method
A seed rate of 10 to 12 kg per ha is sufficient for broadcasting method. They can be sown in lines also. Line to line method is preferred as it increases root production and helps in performing intercultural operations smoothly. The seeds are usually sown about 1 to 3 cm deep. Seeds should be covered with light soil in both the methods. Line to line distance of 20 to 25 cm and plant to plant distance of 8 to 10 cm should be maintained. The spacing / distance can be altered according to soil fertility. In marginal soils, generally the population maintained is high.
3.8 Seed treatment
To protect the seedlings from the seed borne diseases, seeds should be treated before sowing with Thiram or Dithane M45 (Indofil M45) at the rate of 3 g/kg seed.
3.9 Thinning and weeding
Grown up seedlings raised by broadcasting method or sown in line in furrows should be thinned by hand 25 to 30 days after sowing, to maintain a plant population of about 30 to 60 plants per sq.m. The plant density to be maintained finally may depend on the nature and fertility of the soil. If fertilizers are applied, the population should preferably be kept at lower level. Generally two weedings are required to keep the field free from weeds, the first within 20-25 days of sowing and the other after 20-25 days of first weeding.
3.10 Manures and fertilizers
The crop does not require heavy doses of manures and fertilizers. Farmers rarely give inorganic fertilizers. The crop responds well to organic manures / compost / vermicompost. Application of 10 t FYM or 1 t vermicompost per ha is recommended. Application of 15 kg of Nitrogen and 15 kg of Phosphorus per ha is beneficial for higher production in average fertile soils. Application of 40kg of N and P per ha are sufficient to produce high root yield in low fertile soils.
Excessive rainfall or water is harmful for this crop. Light shower after transplantation ensures better establishment of seedlings. Life saving irrigation may be provided, if required. Under irrigated conditions, the crop can be irrigated once in 10 days for better results and higher root yield.
3.12 Pests and diseases
No serious pest is reported in this crop. Whenever the crop is damaged by insects, two or three sprays of rogor or nuvan should be applied @ 0.6%. A combination of 0.5% malathion and 0.1% - 0.3% kelthane as foliar spray at 10-15 days interval was found highly useful against aphids, mites and insect attack.
Diseases like seedling rot and blight are observed. Seedling mortality becomes severe under high temperature and humid conditions. Incidence of disease can be minimised by use of disease free seeds and by giving proper seed treatment before sowing as stated earlier. Neem cake also can be applied. It will save root damage caused by nematodes and insects. Further, adoption of crop rotation, timely sowing and maintaining proper soil drainage will also protect the crop.
3.13 Harvesting and Yield
Maturity of the crop is indicated by drying of lower leaves and yellow-red berries. Flowering and bearing of fruits start from December onwards. The crop is harvested for roots by digging in January to March i.e. 150 to 180 days after sowing. There should be sufficient moisture in the soil at the time of digging. Roots are dug out or ploughed using power tiller or a country plough. The tap root should be carefully pulled out without damaging even the small lateral roots. Ashwagandha gives 3 to 5 q of dry roots and 50 to 75 kg of seeds / ha in well managed fields. The dry root yield goes up to 6.5 to 7.0 q /ha under scientific crop management. There are instances where farmers have achieved root yields as high as 1 t/ha. Commercially, roots of 6 to 15 mm diameter and 7 to 10 cm length are preferred. Alkaloid percentage in roots ranges from 0.13 to 0.31%.
3.14 Post-harvest handling
The roots are separated from the aerial portion by cutting the stem 1 to 2 cm above the ground. After digging, the roots are washed, cut into 7 to 10 cm small pieces and dried in sun or shade. Roots should be dried to 10 - 12 % moisture content. Root pieces can be graded in following 3-4 grades as per its length and thickness :
- A grade root : Root pieces upto 7cm and diameter 1.0 - 1.5 cm, solid, bright and pure white.
- B grade root : Root pieces upto 5 cm and diameter 1 cm, bright and white.
- C grade root : Root pieces upto 3-4 cm in length, diameter less than 1 cm, solid, side branches.
- Lower Grade : Small root pieces, semi-solid, very thick, yellowish, and chopped.
The superior grade has stout and long roots which fetches premium price. To avoid moisture and fungal attack on the dried roots, it should be stored in tin containers. Berries are hand plucked separately. They are dried and crushed to take out the seeds.
The Neemuch and Mandsaur markets of Madhya Pradesh are popular world over for Ashwagandha. Importers, buyers within the country, processors, traditional practitioners, Ayurvedic and Siddha Drug manufacturers visit these markets for procurement of Ashwagandha roots every year. The annual domestic demand for Ashwagandha roots as stated earlier is about 7000 t. As the production is much less (around 1500 tonnes) in India, the internal market itself is having high potential.
5. Financial aspects
5.1 Sale price
The sale price of dried roots and seeds has been considered at Rs.85/kg and Rs.70/kg respectively .
5.2 Cost of cultivation
The cost of cultivation of 1 ha ashwagandha (under transplanted conditions) is estimated at Rs.28100/-. The details are presented in Annexure I. The techno economic parameters assumed for working out the model are given in Annexure II. The economics of cultivation of ashwagandha is given in Annexure III.
5.3 Margin Money
Margin money @ 10 % of the cost of cultivation has been considered in the present model. Margin money works out to Rs.2800/ha.
5.4 Bank loan
Bank loan in the form of short term production credit @ 90 % of the cost of cultivation is considered and it works out to Rs.25300
5.5 Interest rates for ultimate borrowers
Banks are free to decide the rate of interest within the overall RBI guidelines. However, for working out the financial viability and bankability of the model scheme, we have assumed the rate of interest at 7% p.a, as per prevailing rate for short term / crop loan financing after accounting for interest subvention.