Asparagus: taste of spring

As the brown-gray mood of winter gives way to warmer temperatures, asparagus pokes its purple tips through the soil.

The word asparagus first appeared in English print around 1000 AD. In 200 BC, Cato the elder documented detailed growing instructions. The Egyptians began to cultivate it and at that time any self-respecting Romans from Pliny to Julius Caesar coveted the wild spear. History shares Roman emperors were so terribly fond of asparagus that they kept a special fleet of ships solely to fetch it. Along with its seductive flavor, Ancient Romans horded a private stash since they believed asparagus spears cured all ailments, which is conclusive evidence of man’s recognition of food as medicine.  Hippocrates was right!                                          

Asparagus is one of the most nutritional, well-balanced veggies. A five-ounce portion provides 60 percent of the RDA for folacin, necessary for blood cell formation growth.  Folic acid helps prevent liver disease, cervical cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and heart disease. Asparagus contains potassium, which helps regulate the electrolyte balance within cells, and helps maintain normal heart function and blood pressure. The crisp spears contain fiber, thiamin, B6, and is one of the richest sources of Rutin, a phytochemical/drug that strengthens capillary walls. Asparagus is especially rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and vitamin E. In the 19th Century France, bridegrooms were required to eat several courses of asparagus because of its alleged power to arouse.

Asparagus contains Glutathione that helps repair of damaged DNA. The root contains compounds called steroidal glycosides, which may have anti-inflammatory properties to ease the pain of arthritic related conditions. In 1991, an Italian researcher reported a compound found in asparagus which had shown some antiviral activity in test tube studies.

Between 20 to 40 percent of the population observe that their urine smells rotten eggs, cabbages after they eat asparagus which is partly caused by the sulfur compounds in the spring vegetable.

At home, we add them to our smoothies and salads. Raw is always best. Heat destroys digestive enzymes and some vitamins. Prepare the asparagus for cooking by washing them well. Then break off the bottom woody pulpy stem. It is not necessary to peel them.

I remember Mom warning us as my brothers and I ran through the family garden uprooting and using asparagus spears as swords in our imaginary swashbuckling fantasy, “Don’t run while you have asparagus in your hands.  You’ll poke someone’s eye out.”