We know Asparagus as spring vegetable. Asparagus officinalis is the commonly known edible species of Asparagus. It is part of family of Liliaceae, which includes onion, garlic and other onion like plants. In Greek, asparagus means “shoot”. Tender shoots of the plant are used as vegetable. Other parts with medicinal use are its roots and underground stems or rhizomes. This vegetable is widely cultivated in China, Europe and America. Sparrow-grass as it was known in medieval period, asparagus has history of over 5000 years. It is referred as medicinal herb in many Greek and Roman literature.
Around 300 species of asparagus flourish globally, out of which only 20 or more are edible. This vegetable is generally grilled, steamed or fried to eat as snack or part of salad. It is cooked as part of soups and stews. It can be marinated or pickled to store it longer.
Three popular varieties of edible asparagus include – green asparagus, white asparagus and purple asparagus. White variety doesn’t contain chlorophyll; while purple variety is due to presence of anthocynains. Another variety Asparagus racemosus or shatavari or wild asparagus is found in Indian subcontinent with popular medicinal applications. Shatawari in Sanskrit means cure of hundred disease. (Shat – hundred, vaari – curer). It is also known as shatuli, vrishy, kurilo (Nepal). This traditional herb has reference in traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda. Roots of shatwari are used for various medicinal purposes including uterine tonic, breast milk secreting herb, cure for hyperacidity and health tonic.
It is also known as lu sun or lo sun (China), no mai farang (Thailand), măng tây (Vietnam). It is often referred as Western / European bamboo shoots in Asia.
Nutritional value of asparagus
Most of the fresh asparagus shoots contains water (over 90%). Carbohydrates and protein offers it very low calorie food – around 0.25 calories per gram of asparagus. Asparagus offers good amount of dietary fibers – Inulin which offers asparagus prebiotic properties. Asparagus is excellent source of Vitamin K, Folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. A cup of cooked asparagus is enough to meet daily dietary requirement of Vitamin K. It also contains good source of vitamins including Selenium, Manganese and Potassium.
Many of the medicinal properties of asparagus including wild asparagus can be attributed to phytochemcials present in roots and stem. These include mainly saponins like Asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin and diosgenin. It contains certain compounds which are metabolized to yield ammonia and sulfur containing produces which give characteristic smell in urine.
Health benefits of asparagus
Roots and stem of asparagus have been used for various medicinal purposes since long time. Asparagus works as anti-inflammatory, diuretic, anti-tumor and anti-diabetic. It offers body with various nutrients vital for healthy living. Some of the benefits of asparagus are listed below:
Asparagus is diuretic
Asparagus is diuretic in nature. Consumption of asparagus increase urge for urination and urine output. This property helps in flushing toxins out of the body. It helps in relieving urinary tract pain and swelling. Extract of asparagus roots offer this benefit.
Treating hangovers with Asparagus
Asparagus with it diuretic properties help in removing toxic substance from body and thus helpful in treating hangover. Further extract of asparagus contains essential amino acids which help relieve hangover symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, stomach disorders and dehydrations. Research studies demonstrate that leaves and shoots of asparagus helps in alleviating hangover and effects of alcohol on liver.
Anti-inflamatory properties of Asparagus
Asparagus is good anti-inflammatory agent. This can be attributed to various phytochemcials including saponins like sarsasapogenin present in asparagus. It is thus helpful in relieving inflammation in body tissues. It is useful in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain. Ancient medicine practitioners of Ayurveda and Chinese herbal medicines have used this property of asparagus in treating arthritis, asthma, tuberculosis, cough, bronchitis, skin diseases, jaundice, kidney disorders and urinary tract inflammation. Massage with asparagus oil helps reduce inflammation, joint pain and sciatica.
Asparagus as Prebiotic food
Asparagus offers body with supply of prebiotic carbohydrate inulin. Inulin remains undigested in digestive tract and helps in development of gut flora. Inulin also helps in better nutrient absorption, lowering risk of allergy and colon cancer. It reduces absorption of cholesterol in intestine and helps in excretion of toxic substances. This fiber rich food has been traditionally used for treating digestive tract disorders.
Asparagus and treatment of cancer
Asparagus is natural source of various antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Zinc, selenium and folate. Various phytonutrients in asparagus also offers antioxidant and anticancer properties. These nutrients are responsible for protection of body cells from oxidative stress of free radicals and prevent cancers. Studies on asparagus and its use for treating cancer are still preliminary but initial results are promising.
Asparagus and hyperacidity
Asparagus is believed to help reduce production of gastric juices in stomach and thus reduce hyperacidity. Root extract of asparagus has been traditionally used in curing hyperacidity and its symptoms. Asparagus is useful for treating dyspepsia and it reduces gastric emptying time.
Asparagus and blood clots
Asparagus supplies body with ample quantities of vitamin K. Vitamin K plays vital role in clotting of blood. It is essential in preventing blood clots in arteries. It helps reduce risk of coronary artery disorder.
Asparagus for healthy heart
Asparagus provides body with vital vitamins including Vitamin B1, folic acid and Vitamin b6 which are essential for proper functioning of cardiovascular system. It reduces risks of heart diseases and ensures health of your heart. Animal studies show that asparagus extract reduces high blood pressure.
Asparagus with supply of vitamins
Next to a very high content in B group vitamins, asparagus also contains vitamins K and A. Vitamin K is important in the functioning of the protein metabolism, and contributes to proper folding of proteins. It is also very important in maintaining proper bone density and the health of the nervous system. Deficiencies of vitamin K can cause osteoporosis, arthritis, and several other conditions affecting the nervous system. Vitamin A is important in preserving the health of the eyes, as it is the precursor for the synthesis of retinol, which is essential to how the eyes work. It is also very important in synthesizing several neurohormones and neurotransmitters. Asparagus also, like other leafy greens, contains a fair amount of iron. Iron is essential to healthy blood, as it is the core of hemoglobin, which is the protein that transports oxygen to the cells.
Asparagus contains a certain variety of phytonutrients known as saponins. Studies have verified that crude saponins from shoots of asparagus have antitumor capcity. They inhibit growth of cancer cells. Further research has evaluated cancer chemopreventive efficacy of the roots of Asparagus.
Asparagus and diabetes
Animal studies have evaluated efficacy of asparagus root extract in drug induced diabetic rats. Asparagus was found to reduce blood glucose, ceratininie, urea nitrogent and total cholesterol. The result suggested benefits of asparagus extract in treatment of diabetes. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of asparagus are beneficial in preventing type II diabetes. Study published in British Journal of Nutrition suggests that asparagus exerts antidiabetic effects by improving insulin secretion and β-cell function.
Asparagus increases breast milk
Root extract of Asparagus are prescribed in Ayurveda to increase milk secretion during lactation. Animal studies suggest that extract of asparagus roots contains phytoestrogens which stimulates secretion of milk from mammary glands. Presence of saponins in asparagus is suggested to be responsible for this hormone like effect. This galactogogue activity was evaluated experimentally on rats, cows, buffaloes and goats.
Asparagus and Weight loss
Diuretic effect of asparagus may reduce bloating of body. Asparagus is often considered part of weight loss diet. Apart from the above there is not much evidence about asparagus reducing weight. However, as a diet it offers various nutrients and very less calories along with enough dietary fibers, which makes it good food for weight loss diet.
Is asparagus aphrodisiac?
Initial cultures believed asparagus as aphrodisiac and possibly due to its shape similar to penis. Asparagus is asperge in French, which is also a slang word for penis. In 19th century, French bridegrooms were served three courses of asparagus before marriage. It is believed to stir up lust in man and woman. It offers vitamin B6 and folate which helps in arousal and orgasm. Vitamin E is also considered vitamin essential for stimulating sex hormones. Asparagus is believed to enhance reproductive strength – increasing sperm count and strengthening of female reproductive system. Shatwari is used in Ayurveda to cure sexual debility, impotency, spermatorrhea and inflammation of sexual organs.
Benefits of asparagus for women
Asparagus helps in maintaining reproductive health in women and has wide applications in treating menstruation related troubles. It contains phytonutrients which resemble female hormone estrogen. It is helpful in reliving menopausal problems and pre menstruation symptoms. Asparagus offers nutrients to relive mood swings and tension during menstrual cycle.
Asparagus benefits during pregnancy
Asparagus offers excellent amount of folic acid. Folates are essential for DNA synthesis and essential during pre conception period and pregnancy. Adequate supply of folic acid and iron is essential for growth of fetus, asparagus supplies both nutrients.
Other uses of Asparagus
Asparagus is used as home remedy for insect bite or bee sting. It reduces inflammation and pain around the sting. Asparagus is also used as remedy for toothache and improving eyesight.
Side effects of asparagus
Peculiar odor of urine post consumption of asparagus is normal and harmless. Asparagus contains fibers which are hard to digests and may result in flatulence.Asparagus may alter hormonal balance, hence its consumption during pregnancy or laction, tough traditionally accepted practice, should be done under caution and medical consultantion. It can cause allergies, especially people working in asparagus farms or those prone to allergy to onion or garlic. Asparagus contains purines, which produces uric acid as metabolic product. Uric acid accumulation may results in kidney stones or gout. Hence overconsumption of asparagus should be avoided.
Asparagus is delicate vegetable and loses its nutrients quickly. Hence its consumption should be quick after harvest to enjoy maximum nutritional value. Cooking also reduces its nutritional value. Grilling and steaming are best ways to protect its nutritional content and health benefits. Enjoy some asparagus recipes and enjoy its health benefits!Image Credits: Wikimedia - Muffet, Flickr - Liz West, Wikimedia - Xufanc, PETA