July 3, 2023
“Ashwagandha, help a girl out,” says an exasperated, bespectacled Jennifer Lopez as she settles into her chair at a corporate job. In the ad, Lopez pronounces “Ash” like the name of Pikachu’s owner. Then, her email count climbs by the nanosecond. She proceeds to pop a gummy in her mouth. “We’re not letting in Stressed Jen, because everybody loves Zen Jen,” she says, before chanting, “Zen Jennnn.”
If you feel like you’re seeing ashwagandha everywhere, you’re not alone. The singer and actor is the latest in a gaggle of non-South Asian celebrities endorsing the “Indian ginseng.” Ashwagandha is one of the rare words non-Hindi speakers have taught themselves to pronounce, albeit imperfectly. When you search the term on TikTok, you’ll notice that everyone has a take on the subject: those with Goop sensibilities (“best sleep aid since red wine”), shirtless gym bros (“glizzy pills,” eggplant emoji), and conspiracy theorists (“it makes you a robot”).
South Asians have consumed the shrub, touted for its benefits, for over 3,000 years. Despite inconclusive research, the Ayurvedic panacea is sold in every U.S. state as a mainstream supplement, and a cure for a plethora of ailments, be it stress, infertility, insomnia, heart disease, and, according to some studies, cancer. But as the popularity of Western wellness’s latest poster child grows, two schools of science remain poles apart.