The ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) sector recently took what may be a small step—that could be a big leap for farmers and producers in India—with the launch of the World Ashwagandha Council. Recognizing the growing importance and potential of the ashwagandha market, the Indian government’s Ministry of AYUSH (ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, Unani, siddha and homeopathy) launched the council at a February 17 ceremony in New Delhi. The mission of the group is to promote and represent ashwagandha by increasing awareness regarding cultivation, production and understanding of research and development of known and newfound benefits.
Ashwagandha, from the cadre of adaptogenic herbs in ayurvedic tradition (the root is the primary part of the plant used in ayurvedic preparations), is clearly at a pivotal moment. The herb has seen astronomical growth in recent years in the U.S. market and around the world, riding a wave of consumer demand for holistic solutions to address stressful and busy lives. Coupled with media mentions and celebrity endorsements, the herb jumped from 34th on the list of top-selling herbs in 2018, to 7th in 2021; and sales increased an unprecedented 225% in 2021 to reach more than $92 million in the United States alone, according to data from the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) annual Herb Market Report.
The plant is native to several countries, but its cultivation and production is centered in India, with ideal growing conditions in areas like the Western Indian region of Rajasthan, and its deep tradition in ayurvedic medicine.
The council will have broad-based support primarily from the Indian government but also industry stakeholders and botanical organizations both inside India and abroad. Its chief patron is Padmashri Vaidya Rajeshji Kotecha, secretary of the Ministry of AYUSH, who offered remarks at the ceremony along with other government of India dignitaries. They included physician Mahendrabhai Munjapara, the Honorable Minister of State for AYUSH and Women and Child Development; Shri Kailashji Choudhary, Honorable Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare; and from the All India Institute of Ayurveda in New Delhi, ayurvedic physician and professor Tanuja Manoj Nesari.
The council also has support from an international advisory board that includes Kotecha, Nesari and a list of well-known botanical industry pioneers from North America, including Mark Blumenthal, founder, American Botanical Council (ABC); Roy Upton, founder, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP); David Winston, RH, a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild and president of Herbalist & Alchemist; Paul Mittman, N.D., president/CEO of Sonoran University for Health Sciences; Chris Kilham, author and founder of Medicine Hunter; and Jon Benninger, VP Health & Nutrition at Informa Markets.
Upton, who is working on an ashwagandha monograph for AHP, spoke to the gathering of about 100 people, offering praise for the ayurvedic system and its embrace of a holistic approach to health care. “Ayurveda, more than any other system of medicine, embraces yoga, diet, lifestyle, loving each other and connection with the Earth. The World Ashwagandha Council must keep that in mind and not reduce these plants to natural substances for conventional drugs.” He pointed to Korean Ginseng as a model, noting the Korean government invested in education, marketing, research and publication in reputable journals, leading to its growth and success as a major export around the world. “Ayurveda and ashwagandha should be next,” Upton said. “I am very proud to be asked to be part of the beginning of that work with AYUSH and in creating the monograph.”
AYUSH minister Kotecha said in his remarks that the government is very serious about propagating ashwagandha for the benefit of mankind. “It is not just medicine, it is part of the science of health, and we are looking to create standards for these plants, beginning with ashwagandha and tulsi [Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as holy basil]. Ashwagandha supports all the activities—including agriculture and supply chain—and getting it to the right place in the world and with standards is important.”
Karen Raterman is principal, New Leaf Communications, in Arvada, Colorado. She specializes in content marketing strategies and development, corporate communications, public relations and social media for natural brands, dietary supplements and botanical ingredients.