Asparagus, a flowering perennial herb originally from Europe, Africa, and Asia, has been one of the oldest crops to have been domesticated by humans, at least 5,000 years ago. Nowadays, it is cultivated in different corners of the globe, and it's gaining recognition as a nutritional and medicinal powerhouse.
Asparagus Medicinal Properties
- Medicinal actionDiuretic
- Key constituentsGluthathione, rutin
- Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Food
- Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
- Safety rankingSafe
Health Benefits of Asparagus
Considered a health food powerhouse, asparagus is one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables in existence. Among the numerous asparagus benefits the most popular is:
Stimulating urine excretion. Studies have shown that asparagus can encourage urine elimination, thus alleviating water retention.
In addition, many recent studies have shown asparagus properties can help with other functions, such as:
Aiding weight loss. Because of its high nutritional properties and its high soluble fiber content, asparagus can suppress appetite and aid in overall weight loss.
Preventing iron deficiency anemia. Asparagus is rich in iron and other nutrients, which can prevent anemia.
Preventing Alzheimer's disease. Studies have shown that a diet rich nutritionally dense vegetables, such as asparagus, can reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease.
How It Works
The main active compounds in asparagus medicinal properties are gluthathione and rutin. Whereas the first one is a tripeptide made from three different amino acids, the latter is a glycoside; both compounds are being researched for a variety of potential uses.
Rutin exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, and because it aids in collagen production, thus promoting the health of the connective tissues throughout the body. Meanwhile, gluthathione is vital for iron metabolism, and thereby helps prevent the many illnesses related to iron deficiency. Both compounds exhibit some diuretic action.
In the past, asparagus was considered toxic to the kidneys because of the characteristic smell it gives to urine. Nowadays, however, it is understood that this is not the case, and that in fact the diuretic properties of asparagus can actually benefit kidney health.
Finally, the combination of gluthathione, rutin, and folate that can be found in asparagus has been linked to a reduction in levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that in excess has been found to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
RUTIN EXHIBITS ANTIOXIDANT AND ANTI-INFLAMMATORY ACTION.
Asparagus Side Effects
In most cases, asparagus is safe to consume in its culinary form. However, it can trigger food allergies for some individuals, whether it is consumed orally or applied to the skin topically.
Those who are allergic to onions or leeks may also be allergic to asparagus, so it is best to consume with caution until any potential reactions are known.
While it is safe to consume, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctor before taking asparagus in medicinal dosages, since it can cause hormone fluctuations.
The medicinal properties of asparagus are complemented by a remarkable nutritional value. These vegetables are an excellent source of: vitamin K (phylloquinone), which is necessary for promoting coagulation and helping improve bone mineral density; and vitamin B9 (folate), an important nutrient that plays a key role in fetal development, promotes the generation of new red blood cells, and enhances iron absorption.
Other vitamins in asparagus, present in good amounts, are: vitamin B1 (thiamin), which contributes to energy production by helping transform food into glucose; and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), an important nutrient that prevents cellular damage and plays an important role in growth, as well as in red blood cells production; as well as vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), which supports immunity, helps prevent blood clots, and is essential for cellular functions.
Additionally, asparagus are a good source of two important minerals: copper, essential for bodily functions, particularly red blood cells production; and selenium, which helps prevent cellular damage and supports thyroid hormone metabolism.
Furthermore, asparagus provide adequate amounts of other important nutrients, including vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamins B3 (niacin), B5 (panthotenic acid), and B6 (pyroxidine), as well as vitamin A (as carotenoids), and choline; along with minerals, such as manganese, iron, potassium, and zinc.
Interestingly, asparagus general nutritional levels are not only higher after being cooked, but they are also better absorbed and digested in this form.
100 grams of cooked asparagus provide 22 calories and 8% of the daily value for dietary fiber.
How to Consume Asparagus
- Edible partsRoot
While there are numerous ways to obtain asparagus's numerous health benefits, one of the most effective ways to obtain its health properties is in its cooked form, where its properties are more concentrated. However, the benefits of asparagus can also be obtained from capsules and herbal remedies.
Raw. In its fresh form, asparagus can stimulate urine production due to its rutin and gluthathione compounds.
Cooked. In order to make the most of asparagus nutritional value, it is better to consume it steamed or blanched. In both forms, asparagus also has diuretic properties.
Infusion. When brewed into a hot tea, asparagus infusions can help prevent iron deficiency anemia due to its gluthathione compounds.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Capsules. In this potent medicinal form, asparagus capsules can decrease water retention in the body through its diuretic properties.
- Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores
The most common presentation of raw asparagus is the whole, unpeeled stems. Stems do not need to be peeled, but many people prefer them that way. In the U.S., the most widely available color of asparagus is green asparagus. Canned asparagus, or other forms of it, are not as common, but are still popular and should be readily available in most large supermarkets.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Asparagus extract can be found in capsule form, and it can be purchased in most specialized health stores or through online retailers, which usually store a wide variety of brands, with different concentrations.
So far, asparagus is considered safe in culinary amounts; however, before consuming supplemental forms it is recommended to seek medical advice.
RAW ASPARAGUS IS EASY TO FIND IN MOST GROCERY STORES OR LOCAL MARKETS AROUND THE WORLD.
- Life cyclePerennial
- Harvested partsRoots
- Light requirementsFull sun
- SoilLight (sandy)
- Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
- Growing habitatSubtropical regions
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zones3a (From −40 °C (−40 °F) to −37.2 °C (−35 °F)), 3b (From −37.2 °C (−35 °F) to −34.4 °C (−30 °F)), 4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F))
- Potential insect pestsBeetles, Slugs, Snails
- Potential diseasesRust
A perennial plant, asparagus is one of the earliest growing crops in the spring. If well cared for, it is incredibly hardy and can be cultivated for decades. Unlike many other herbs, asparagus is tolerant of saline soils, which can prove useful when trying to give value to otherwise fallow land. It is also considered a good companion plant for tomatoes, since each plant can repel the most common pests that affect the other. For additional tips on how to help this plant thrive, follow the growing guidelines below:
Asparagus should ideally grow in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
It is ideal to grow asparagus from 1-year-old, disease-free crowns to get a head start on cultivation.
Plant crowns four to six weeks before average last frost, 18 - 24 inches (45 - 60 cm) apart in trenches eight inches (20 cm) deep. Keep adding soil periodically and gradually.
Water during dry spells during the first year. Do not overwater as plants don't tolerate water-logged soils.
Fertilize in spring and fall by top-dressing with liquid fertilizer or side-dressing with a balanced organic fertilizer.
Be sure to carefully remove weeds when they crop up.
Asparagus is a dioecious plant, meaning it produces male and female plants. However, only the female plants produce berries.
The full asparagus plant can grow up to 60 inches (150 cm) tall, with rhizome-type roots and small red berries. However, the most valuable part of the asparagus is the young shoots, which are used in gourmet cuisine. Although they usually go ignored, the rhizomes also contain supporting compounds that are beneficial to health.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is part of the Asparagaceae family, which comprises about 2,500 species of flowering plants across 150 genera. The Asparagus genus originally contained about 200 species; however, over half of them are native to Africa - such as A. flagellaris and A. africanus, as well as other wild relatives - and have recently been catalogued as Protosparagus, a different genus.
Asparagus species have evolved to withstand different environments. Among the drought tolerant relatives of Asparagus officinalis can be mentioned A. acutifolious (wild asparagus), A. aphyllus (Mediterranean asparagus), A. albus (white asparagus), A. stipularis, and A. scoparius, while A. tenuifolius is acid-soil resistant.
Varieties and Cultivars of Asparagus
The two main varieties of Asparagus officinalis include "proper" asparagus and purple asparagus, with the latter being more popular in Southern Europe. Although green and white asparagus are usually regarded as varieties, on a botanical level they are both the same variety of "proper" asparagus, but cultivated under different sunlight conditions.
From these two types of asparagus, many cultivars have been developed worldwide to enhance the taste and provide for better local adaptation. Among the most widespread cultivars, 'Mary Washington', 'Jersey Knight', and 'Precoce d'Argenteuil' can be counted.
Depictions of asparagus are recorded on ancient Egyptian architecture dating to around 3000 BCE, and the herb was also well known in both Spain and Syria during ancient times. Ancient Greeks and Romans used it for culinary purposes, drying it for food during winter. In the 2nd century CE, it was mentioned as a beneficial herb by Galen, a Greek physician. By the 1400's, the asparagus was cultivated in France, reaching England and Germany during the 16th century. In the 19th century, it was introduced as a culinary herb to the Americas.
The United States, the European Union, and Japan comprise the top three importers of asparagus, importing over 100,000 tons between them each year. China is the top producer of the vegetable, followed by Peru and Germany. Over 7 million tons of asparagus are produced by these three countries annually. The main economic importance of asparagus is its culinary use.
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- Wild Crop Relatives: Genomic and Breeding Resources: Vegetables, p. 30
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- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Constituents of Asparagus officinalis evaluated for inhibitory activity against cyclooxygenase-2, 2016
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