Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Other common name: Garden asparagus

asparagus

Photo courtesy of Frank Vincentz/Wikimedia Commons

*Note: May be confused with unrelated plant species that are also referred to as “asparagus,” such as Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (AKA Prussian asparagus). Purple asparagus (AKA Violetto d’ Albenga) is also slightly different from this plant…it has more sugar and less fibre than regular garden asparagus.

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Family: Asparagaceae

Actions: Diuretic, nutritive, anti-carcinogenic (or potential preventative), anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, digestive tonic, nematocidal/antiparasitic, bitter.

Harvest: Asparagus is planted in winter and harvested in spring during a 2 – 3 week period, when the buds (tips) are just starting to open. Any later and the stalks become too woody. On a side note, asparagus is a great companion plant for tomatoes, as it can kill pests that attack the tomato plants specifically. Asparagus requires a more saline soil than most weeds can tolerate, so it tends to be left alone.

The first tips harvested are known as sprue asparagus, and these have thinner stems.

Part used: Young shoots/tips

Photo courtesy of Rasbak/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Rasbak/Wikimedia Commons

Constituents: Water, vitamin B6, magnesium, inulin, fibre, beta-carotene, choline, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, zinc, rutin, niacin, folic acid, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, protein, thiamine, iron, manganese, selenium, copper, asparagine (an amino acid), chromium, antioxidants, asparagus saponins (including asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, and diosgenin), glutathione, quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin and others.

Indications:

Blood sugar imbalances (especially good for type 2 diabetes nutritional support), urinary retention, malnourishment, urinary tract, bladder and kidney infections, inflammation, cancer, gout (in low to moderate doses…be careful, as too much can make gout worse instead of better), digestive disorders, allergies, schistosomiasis and certain other internal parasitic infections, liver support.

Medicinal preparations:

Internal

Asparagus has been used in culinary dishes, and medicinally it becomes more active when cooked. In particular, the antioxidant content (and therefore anti-cancer potential) is prone to be potentiated by cooking.

As a dietary additive, many pregnant women are encouraged to eat asparagus, due to its content of folic acid (which can help prevent birth defects).

Photo courtesy of H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons

You can also obtain asparagus extract in liquid and capsule form, for medicinal use. Most people prefer to just add asparagus to their diet on a regular basis, as the highly concentrated extracts may not be warranted or could result in side-effects not seen in a culinary context. It depends on the condition being addressed, and its severity.

Contraindications:

Eating asparagus can make your urine smell unpleasant – don’t panic, this is a harmless effect. Excessive consumption can cause gas and stomach upset, and can actually aggravate gout instead of making it better. Always stick with the dosage prescribed by your natural health care practitioner, and let them know immediately if you experience any side-effects.

Do not take in high concentrations (i.e. in capsule or liquid form) before speaking with a health care practitioner about any contraindications it may pose in a medicinal dosage.

I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns.

Energetic/traditional use:

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Interesting factoid: Not everyone can detect the trademark disagreeable odour of post-asparagus urine. It depends on your genetics, and the olfactory receptors you are born with.

Energetically, asparagus has a strong male sexual presence. It was used by men as an aphrodisiac in Victorian times, and often it was the reason husbands were busted by their wives (apparently due to the urine odour giving away their “secret” weapon). It’s a randy plant, but it’s got integrity.

It has a cold, dry constitution in Ayurvedic medicine.

In many German cities, an annual Spargelfest is held to celebrate asparagus. There are similar festivities in other countries as well, including the UK and Spain.

Cited from Wikipedia:

In East Asia, A. officinalis is known as lùsǔn (蘆筍, simplified 芦笋) in Mandarin Chinese, louhséun (露筍) in Cantonese, and lô͘-sún (蘆筍) in Hokkien/Taiwanese. In Thai, it is known as no mai farang (หน่อไม้ฝรั่ง pronounced [nɔ̀ː máːj fā.ràŋ]), and in Vietnamese as măng tây which literally mean “European bamboo shoots” and “Western bamboo shoots”, respectively. 

In Turkish, asparagus is known as kuşkonmaz, literally “bird can’t land,” in reference to the shape of the plant.

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Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.

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