Tropical Herbs in Ontario: The Case of Ashwagandha

From time to time, we will be blogging about various topics pertaining to medicinal and culinary herbs currently being grown in an Herb Demonstration Plot at the OMAFRA-Simcoe Research Station.  This article was written by Patrick Clendinning, a specialty crop summer student working with the OMAFRA Simcoe Specialty Crop Team and the University of Guelph:

Ashwagandha, more commonly known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, is a herbaceous perennial normally grown in sub-tropical climates and used for its reported anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antistress, antioxidant, and other properties.

An Ashwaganda plant growing in the OMAFRA Herb Demonstration plot in Simcoe

Because ashwagandha is native to India, it requires warm temperatures and will not survive the winter in Ontario. Consequently, it must be grown as an annual or overwintered in a greenhouse in this climate. These types of production would either depress yields or increase production costs compared to its native sub-tropical climate. The plant grew well last year in the OMAFRA Simcoe Herb Demonstration Garden with only minor pest being aphids. However, large scale production of ashwagandha in Ontario would only be profitable with economical overwintering practises or a premium price for local product.

Tropical or sub-tropical herbs with similar overwintering challenges include lemon verbena, eucalyptus, stevia, datura, and gotu kola. For more information on these or other medicinal and culinary herbs please register for the Herbs for Ontario Workshop to be held August 24 from 10 am – 3 pm at the Simcoe Research Station. RSVP by August 12 to Leslie Parks at 1-519-426-7123.

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