Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family native to the drier areas of India. Classified as both an adaptogen and a nootropic, the bitter botanical can help the body manage and cope with stress while improving memory and concentration. 

Ashwagandha goes by a few different names, including Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, and winter cherry. Though entirely unrelated to the plant, ashwagandha is often called Indian ginseng because it is treated similarly in Ayurveda–the Indian system of medicine–as ginseng is treated in traditional Chinese medicine. One of the most important herbs of Ayurveda, ashwagandha has been used for several millennia as a Rasayana or rejuvenator, an herbal remedy intended to promote longevity. 

Though the effects of ashwagandha are impressive, you wouldn’t guess it based on appearance alone. The unassuming plant stands at just one to two feet tall, with dull green leaves bearing small orange fruit. It is primarily cultivated in the drier regions of India, but can also be found in Nepal, China, and Yemen, where it thrives in dry stony soil and direct sunlight.

The species name somnifera means sleep-inducing in Latin, referring to the calming properties of the plant. Ashwagandha, meanwhile, comes from a combination of the Sanskrit words ashva, meaning horse, and gandha, meaning smell. Its loose translation is “the smell and strength of a horse.” While the smell is rather literal, the strength winkingly refers to the plant’s aphrodisiac qualities, as it is sometimes used as sexual function support. ‘

Legend has it that Apollo found the ashwagandha plant and gave it to his son Asclepius, a celebrated hero of health and wellness in Greek mythology, cementing the botanical early on as an important healing herb. It’s purported that Alexander the Great and his army would prepare wine made with ashwagandha to give them the energy and vigor needed to succeed in battle.

Today, ashwagandha is classified as both an adaptogen and a nootropic, words usually reserved for the wellness tea and tincture space and found far less frequently in gin and other spirits. To put it simply, an adaptogen is a plant that helps the body adapt to and cope with stress. Nootropics, meanwhile, are thought to enhance cognitive function, improving memory, creativity, concentration, and even motivation. You’ll rarely find ashwagandha for purchase in its whole form, as the botanical is almost always produced, packaged, and sold as a powder or pill. When distilled, the botanical offers a bitter, herbal taste that acts as pleasant foil for brighter citrus notes and earthy mushrooms. 

Found in: AMASS Dry Gin

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