What To Look For In Ashwagandha To Ensure It's Powerful & Sustainable
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a woody shrub that has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It's one of many Ayurvedic tools that's now being incorporated into Western wellness, prized worldwide for its stress-relieving and mood-balancing properties.*
The drought-tolerant plant naturally grows on dry shrubland across India but is now being cultivated on farms to keep up with global demand. (The market size for ashwagandha in the U.S. is expected to reach $16 million annually by 2026, according to a Market Research report.)
Since ashwagandha grows quickly—it's usually ready for harvest within six months—and is tolerant to dry conditions, it's a pretty sustainable crop to begin with. However, there are a few things you can look for in your ashwagandha powder or capsule to ensure that you're getting the highest-quality, lowest-impact product possible:
Since most ashwagandha is still cultivated in India, where air and soil pollution is a real concern, Ann Armbrecht, Ph.D., the director of the Sustainable Herbs Program at the American Botanical Council and author of the upcoming book The Business of Botanicals explains that it's important to choose one that has been tested for heavy metals and other forms of contamination. Look for brands that discuss their commitment to quality, which means that a supplement has undergone analytical testing for purity and potency.
Another thing to pay attention to with ashwagandha—and any herb, for that matter—is how it's treated once it leaves the farm. If it's improperly handled or dried, it could lose potency and quality. Armbrecht gives mint as an example, telling mbg "there is a huge difference between vibrant dried mint leaves and withered, moldy, yellowed mint leaves—and that difference is in the drying step." As such, she recommends looking for a product that has been tested for mold and other microbes.
Ashwagandha gets its calming kick from its bioactive phytonutrient compounds called glycowithanolides1.* The roots and leaves of the plant have the highest concentration of these active compounds, and it's what's typically used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Armbrecht recommends looking for a product that is extracted from these antioxidant-rich plant parts.
Livelihoods & wages
Ashwagandha is a source of income across India, and you'll want to make sure that the farmers who cultivated yours were paid fairly and treated with respect. As Armbrecht notes, a product can't be truly sustainable if it harms these communities.
"It makes no sense to me if I'm buying a product for my health but the people who grew it were exposed to chemicals that have been shown to harm their health," she says. This means that it shouldn't be grown with harsh pesticides, which can have real impacts on worker safety3. If a product is certified Fairtrade—which is very rare in the herb industry—all the better. At the very least, ashwagandha purveyors should be transparent about where their farms are, how they are run, and how often they visit them.
Armbrecht notes that beyond being better for human livelihood, this can lead to a higher-quality product, as workers will be less likely to cut corners if they are truly respected and taken care of.
Additional sustainability initiatives
In addition to being made with purity, potency, and worker safety in mind, the best ashwagandha comes from a sustainable operation. Look for a producer who runs their facilities on renewable energy, prioritizes regenerative techniques that conserve soil health, and/or aims for low-waste operations.
The Shoden® ashwagandha in mindbodygreen's calm+ product, for example, utilizes root and leaf extract to minimize farm waste. Their unique and clean extraction method keeps healthy plant compounds intact, leading to the world's most bioactive ashwagandha, which boasts a minimum of 35% glycowithanolide content.* Plus, it's produced using solar power for a smaller footprint.
The bottom line.
Most of us know to pay attention to where our food comes from and how it was made—and our supplements and herbal remedies deserve the same level of care and scrutiny. If you're interested in trying out ashwagandha for yourself, go for a product that was sourced with this checklist in mind.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.