By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is one of the world’s top 20 vegetable crops. Both green and white shoots (spears) are produced; the latter being harvested before becoming exposed to light. The crop is grown in nearly all areas of the world, with the largest production regions being China, Western Europe, North America and Peru (1).
There are many references to its use in ancient Greek and Roman times both as a food and as a source of herbal medicine. It is known to have been grown in French monasteries in the mid-15th century but apparently only arrived a century later in Germany and England. Introduction to North America occurred much later, in the mid-19th century. Today, it is widely consumed right across the world. Furthermore, its potential healing powers are still recognised in Traditional Chinese Medicine practices (2).
Raw Asparagus is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium, and a very good source of Dietary Fibre, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese (3).
The major bioactive constituents of Asparagus are a group of steroidal saponins. Other primary chemical constituents of Asparagus are essential oils, asparagine, arginine, tyrosine, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin, and rutin), resin, and tannin.
Asparagus and Health:
- Traditionally, Asparagus spp. have been especially used in China and Korea, as a source of herbal medicines. Due to its diuretic properties, the vegetable has found application for the treatment of urinary problems (2), (4), (5).
- In India, asparagus root extracts have been used to strengthen the female reproductive system, promote fertility and increase breast milk production (2).
- In both ancient Eastern and Greek medicine, asparagus extracts have been used as a tonic for the prevention and cure of several ailments including those for the kidney, bladder, rheumatic, liver disease, asthma and cancer (2), (4), (6), (7).
- Asparagus has prevention effects on diseases such as hypertension, hyperglycaemia, and dyslipidaemia (8).
- Many studies indicated that the asparagus and their extracts showed health benefits against numerous cancers through certain inhibitory effects against tumor cells. As early as 1996, some studies reported that the asparagus crude saponins (ACS) in shoots had the anti-tumor activity (9).
- In conclusion, the present study has shown that aqueous extract of Asparagus adscendens stimulates both the secretion and action of insulin as well as inhibiting starch digestion. The plant’s ability to influence insulin secretion and action depends entirely on soluble active principle(s) in the extract being absorbed via the gut (10).
- A study showed that cooking could significantly improve the binding capacity of the extracorporeal bile acid of asparagus, which therefore reduced the risk of heart diseases, cancer and other diseases. It also has been reported that the bile acid-binding capacity of asparagus was significantly higher than that of the other fresh vegetables such as eggplant, mung bean, carrot and broccoli (11).
- Asparagus also had positive effects in treating hypertension from human clinical trials, which could be used as an antihypertensive agent (12).
- ETAS (Enzyme Treated Asparagus Extract) intake was effective to modulate the sleep state among those with low sleep efficiency or excess sleep time (13).
- Asparagus is also rich in fibre, which has been linked to lower body weight and weight loss.
Preparing & Cooking Asparagus (14)
- Once harvested, rinse and pat spears dry.
- Trim off the tough ends, either an inch or two from the base, or wherever the asparagus naturally snaps when bent.
- Cut to desired length then blanch, roast, or pan-fry.
- Blanch in about 1 inch of water for 3-5 minutes. Remove from water immediately to avoid further cooking.
- Roast or bake asparagus at 400°F for about 25 minutes, until tender but crisp. Before placing in oven, drizzle spears with olive oil then salt and pepper as desired.
- Asparagus is often served chilled on salads or roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, cheese, or other herbs as a side dish.
Asparagus is extremely perishable and should be kept refrigerated after harvest. If kept in moist, cool conditions, asparagus spears can stay fresh for up to 3 weeks. Spears are often stood up in water to ensure moisture.
- Winter R. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. 7th Edition: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients Found in Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals. Three Rivers Press; New York, NY, USA: 2009.
- Khan I.A., Abourashed E.A. Leung’s Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 3rd ed. Wiley; Hoboken, NJ, USA: 2010. pp. 52–53.
- Debuigne G., Couplan F. Petit Larousse Des Plantes Medicinales. Larousse Editions; Paris, France: 2009. pp. 123–124.