Winter cherry is a small or middle-sized, erect shrub with egg shaped, hairy leaves up to 10 cm long. Its stems and branches are covered with minute star shaped hairs. It has small, pale green flowers in clusters of about 25; and smooth, spherical, red fruits with yellow seeds. The herb grows up to 1.5 meters tall.
Winter cherry contains an alkaloid somniferine. Its roots contain traces of an essential oil. The water soluble portion of root extract contains indefinite amorphous substances and a quantity of sugar. The water soluble extract consists chiefly of a black resin, which contains, besides other constituents, a mixture of some fatty acids. It also contains tannin, potassium nitrate, coloring matter, glucose and some alkaloids.
Botanical Name: Withania somunifera
Indian Name: Ashvagandha or Akri
Below are some of the medicinal properties of winter cherry:
- The root of the winter cherry is used for treating digestive disorders like dyspepsia and loss of appetite. It corrects the disordered processes of nutrition and restores the normalcy in the system.
- The root finds its efficacy in treatment of tuberculosis. A decoction of the root is used with long pepper and honey. This decoction is also beneficial in the treatment of scrofula, that is, tuberculosis of lymph glands, especially in the neck.
- Its root finds its use in treating general debility. It is taken in 2 gram doses for this purpose.
- The root is useful in the treatment of rheumatic affections. It should be taken in 3 grams doses in treating this condition.
- For sore eyes, a fomentation of the leaves can be applied to get relief.
- Two to four grams of the root with milk or ghee can be taken as an aphrodisiac to enhance libido. The drug is useful in the treatment of spermatorrhea or involuntary ejaculation. Two to four grams of the powdered root can also be taken daily with sugar, honey, long pepper and ghee in the treatment of these conditions.
- The root is also a narcotic, inducing deep sleep and hence beneficial in treating insomnia.
- The herb is useful in the treatment of chest diseases such as cough and cold. The root can be taken either in the form of powder in 3 grams doses or in the form of decoction. Berries and seeds can also be taken for chest complaints with beneficial results.
- Winter cherry helps to cure female sterility. Powder of the roots in 6 grams doses can be taken with milk for 5 to 6 successive nights after menstruation.
- The leaves of the herb are effective in treating several skin disorders. Fomentation of the leaves is good for boils and swollen hand and feet. A paste of the leaves is locally applied to kill lice infesting the body and on carbuncles (painful swelling inside the skin) and syphilitic sores. An ointment prepared by boiling the leaves in fat such as ghee can be applied in case of bedsores and wounds. A paste made of its roots and leaves is also a useful application over carbuncles, ulcers and swellings.
Winter cherry possesses properties that can abort a foetus and hence must be avoided by pregnant women.