Go wild

By: Tiasa Adhya

Ashwagandha occupies a prominent position in traditional health systems like Ayurveda. In India the medicinal plant is cultivated on 4,000 hectares, mainly in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. But when it comes to being the most effective, a group of researchers claims, it is the wild variety.

Scientists from the Directorate of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research, Gujarat, said wild ashwagandha is more effective in fighting health problems than its cultivated varieties like jawahar ashwagandha. One of the reasons of superior profile is that wild ashwagandha exhibits crosspollination. This enriches genetic diversity. In cultivated varieties self-pollination is rampant. This narrows genetic variation and results in weaker offspring. Maiti cautioned it will require more studies to confirm that genetic diversity makes wild ashwagandha superior.

Besides, biomass production is rapid in wild ashwagandha because it has a higher rate of photosynthesis that helps in preparing food. The wild variety is readily available in markets since it is perennial. The cultivated varieties are in full bloom only during December- February.

Mnoo Parbhia, retired professor of biosciences and ecology at South Gujarat University in Surat, cautioned, wild ashwagandha is very strong, and if not diluted properly it might lead to adverse effects.

Mukul Das, an Ayurvedic practitioner based in Kolkata, said wild ashwagandha is losing ground because of its destruction due to encroachment. The wild plants are often propagated by bird droppings in crop fields where they are regarded as weeds, Das said.