Everyone knows that Hollywood loves a food fad; the town was built on the latest trends, after all.
But there’s one hot new potion that the celebs can’t get enough of – the traditional Indian herb ashwagandha.
You’ll find it in the trendiest beverage hotspots in LA, even in Gwyneth Paltrow’s signature smoothie.
But what is it exactly? Well+Good asked plant expert and holistic nutritionist Anne Baker to lay it all out.
The benefits of ashwagandha
Anne says ashwagandha is a shrub with bright cherry-like fruit, although it’s the roots of the plant that people most often ingest.
While it was originally sourced from India, it can grow anywhere as long as the climate is about 21 degrees, the soil is rich, and the sun is shining.
Generally speaking, adaptogens—the class of herb to which ashwagandha belongs—help protect the body against the effects of toxic stress, and that’s definitely this shrub’s primary benefit, Anne says.
She cautions that rigorous scientific studies are sparse (the natural herb lobby isn’t exactly a thing—and if it were, they certainly wouldn’t be rolling in the same amount of money as the big drug companies). But there is evidence that ashwagandha—which also goes by “winter cherry” or “Indian ginseng”—modifies cortisol levels and can have a balancing effect on glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.
“Besides managing stress, it can help with chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, mild obsessive compulsive disorder, restless leg syndrome, and fibromyalgia,” Anne says.
All of which gets at one of the major potential benefits of taking ashwagandha: “In the Western world, [scientists] abstract the active ingredient in an herb, synthesize it in a laboratory, and use it in a drug that has a specific action—typically shutting something in the body off,” she explains. “But when you use the whole herb, it can be used to treat many different conditions instead of targeting just one, like a drug does. [Herbs] support the body, as opposed to suppressing something.”
How to take ashwagandha
Whether you buy ashwagandha as a tincture, capsule, or in powder form (all of which are effective), you want to make sure that what you’re buying is legit, she says.
She recommends doing your research and sticking with a reputable company that clearly explains where its ashwagandha comes from.
In tincture or powder form, ashwagandha can be slightly bitter, which is why a lot of people like to mix it in a smoothie (a la Gwyneth) or with some almond milk and a little honey.
When should you notice a difference?
Don’t expect to pop an ashwagandha pill and feel all of your stress magically dissipate. It’s a tonic, not a medicine, adds Anne, meaning you’ll only notice the results after taking it daily for at least a few weeks.
“It greatly varies from person to person when the effects manifest, because it also depends on personal lifestyle habits as well as the potency of the ashwagandha they’re taking,” Anne says.