Celery, the fibrous vegetable that has long been a bit player on crudités platters or as a component of the soup base known as mirepoix, has a new gig: wellness superstar.
But it’s not celery in its roughage-filled stalk form that has been showing up in your Instagram feed in the past few months—it’s glasses of celery juice, a pale green potion that’s the latest buzzy wellness elixir, credited with treating a slew of ailments. From its humble beginnings as a vegetable that is 95% water, celery has climbed the ranks of aspirational vegetables with staggering speed.
Square, the payment platform, told Quartz that from October 2018 to January 30, the platform saw a 454% increase in celery juice sales in the US. The platform also noted the number of sellers offering pure celery juice on their menus—either in pre-pressed bottles or freshly whizzed up at juice shops—grew three fold since October.
This growth is unusual, even in so-called wellness “superfood” terms, said Helen Khumthong, Square’s data analyst. “For any single product to see sustained growth for 12 weeks is out of the norm. Plus, when you factor in that celery juice is selling at four times the rate of kale juice (since October 2018), it becomes clear that the trend is out of the ordinary.”
So why the hype? It’s certainly not the taste, which is as you’d expect: watery celery. No, the rise of celery juice appears to originate with one man. Many of the Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and Google search results surrounding the health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties of celery juice tag or mention the “Medical Medium.” That’s the persona created by Anthony William, a New York Times bestselling author who describes himself on Instagram as the “Originator of Global Celery Juice Movement.” When I reached him on the phone, he assured me that a “couple hundred million” of his followers are currently drinking celery juice, and “it’s gonna be in the billions pretty soon.”
William offered no evidence to back up those hyperbolic numbers, but Google Trends data charting celery juice’s growth in searches over the past five years does indicate a dramatic spike in interest, concentrated in the last few months of 2018, and those searches do indeed track closely to a rise in searches for “Medical Medium.”
William, who also hosts a weekly radio show and is a contributor to the controversial wellness website Goop, is not a doctor. Nor is he a nutritionist, dietician, or researcher, and he freely admits he holds no formal qualifications of any kind. His books include no citations, sourcing, or reference to peer-reviewed studies. His bio says he “was born with the unique ability to converse with Spirit of Compassion who provides him with extraordinarily accurate health information that’s often far ahead of its time,” and recounts the time when he accurately diagnosed his symptom-free grandmother with lung cancer, at the age of four.
In the phone interview, William told me that he has advocated for celery juice for years, but his fourth and most recent book, released in October, could have something to do with the recent spike in interest.
So if not from existing science, how did he come to the assertions about celery’s healing properties that led to the juice’s ascent in popularity? William explained that the same voice that has been sharing health information with him since childhood tipped him off about celery:
I receive my information unconventionally. So that’s how it’s done. It’s through the gift of hearing the information. If you actually do any research on me, I hear a voice that gives me the information. But that information, as silly as it might sound to many, has actually helped millions heal, and I’ve actually dedicated my life to recovering people’s chronic illness with this information long ago. So it’s not like I woke up one morning and said ‘I’ve got too much celery in my fridge. Let me just use that by myself. Hey, I feel better today—now, let me go tell the world.’ That’s not it at all. The information was given to me.
William suggests 16 oz of celery juice daily, on an empty stomach, with no other ingredients mixed in. He says this can be beneficial for an extensive list of chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases, including eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, migraines, vertigo, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and many more. Many of these are ailments or conditions that are tricky to treat and often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed by the medical establishment, especially among women. (And indeed, William told me that many of his followers are women.)
His site has a lengthy and legalese-filled disclaimer asserting that it “is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be healthcare advice or medical diagnosis, treatment or prescribing.” Still, plenty follow his advice, and the testimonials and gushing Amazon reviews shared online by followers of William’s regime are certainly striking.
He says that celery’s healing properties are largely due to “sodium cluster salts,” a nutrient that isn’t evident in medical literature, that William says he discovered himself, and on his website claims they “work symbiotically and systematically to flush out toxins.” During our interview, he was vague when asked to explain further: “It’s not the sodium that science believes is in celery, like when they say ‘well celery’s salty’ … It’s a combination of mineral salts. Complex. Science hasn’t studied it. Why should they?”
So what does peer-reviewed science have to say about the widespread quaffing of celery juice? Drinking celery juice certainly isn’t going to hurt you; on the contrary, it’s a great source of vitamin K. However, if you forgo other forms of treatment in favor of one that has not been endorsed by doctors, it could mean you don’t receive the most effective care.
Helen West, a registered dietician and co-founder of the evidenced-based nutrition hub The Rooted Project, says that far more evidence is needed to substantiate William’s health claims.
“In the case of celery, there are lots of people claiming it’s helped their symptoms … [but there are] no reliable sources of evidence (like randomized controlled trials) which show that drinking celery juice works any better than a placebo,” she wrote by email. ”Anecdotes (i.e. people saying things like ‘it worked for me’) are interesting and can point to phenomenon that scientists may want to examine further, but in and of themselves, are not a reliable source of evidence.”
For his part, William is tired of articles (like this one) that quote nutritionists and dietitians who say celery that is mostly water, and you could gain its nutritional benefits (plus some fiber) simply by eating it. Though he says he respects the medical profession, he simultaneously seems to reject the scientific principles—like conflating correlation with causation, or mistaking anecdotal proof for data—that virtually all of modern medicine and scientific research is based on. Arguing with him on this point is futile.
“The bottom line is people really are healing,” he told me. “So when you hear a naysayer which I’ve seen in some of these articles—which is unbelievable to me—when they say ‘no one is healing because science didn’t say so.’ What’s happening is that they’re basically spitting in the face of the chronically ill. It’s terrifying.”
Whether celery’s it-vegetable status will last remains to be seen. But the stalk’s Instagram stardom offers hope for water-filled vegetables everywhere: With conviction and the right backing, you too can become a wellness trend in less than four months. No peer-review necessary.