Asparagus was once considered to be a member of the lily family of plants, and while it is now considered to be in its own family, it is still remarkably similar to other lilies such as garlic and onions. When we consume asparagus as a vegetable, we eat the young shoot of the plant. Once the bud at the end of the spear we consume opens, the plant creates a fern-like structure that would be too hard or ‘woody’ to eat. The exact origin of asparagus is unknown. We do know that it originates somewhere in the Mediterranean, where it has been consumed for thousands and thousands of years. It may have been consumed and cultivated to some degree as early as 20,000 BP in Egypt. It is depicted in ancient Egyptian friezes dating to approximately 3000 BC, and was consumed and cultivated extensively in Greece, Rome, Syria, and Spain. The vegetable was so prized by Emperor Augustus of Rome that he created an ‘Asparagus Fleet,’ whose sole duty was to haul the vegetable from the fields for the wealthy. The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apiucius, which hails from Rome during the 4th or 5th century AD, contains a recipe for delicately cooking asparagus.
Fresh, young, growing shoots of plants are some of the most nutrient dense foods, and asparagus is no exception. Asparagus is abound with the nutrient Vitamin K, an essential fat-soluble nutrient that helps your blood to clot properly, prevents calcification of your arteries, prevents bones from fracturing, aids bruising, and aids in preventing bone-loss. A single cup of uncooked asparagus contains approximately 70% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin K! Asparagus is also rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, folate, iron, thiamin, copper, and manganese. One cup of uncooked asparagus contains only 27 calories, while containing 3 grams of protein, as well as 3 grams of dietary fiber!Asparagus has been so revered throughout the ages largely because of its medicinal properties. It is known as an excellent plant for detoxifying your system for numerous reasons. It contains large amounts of the amino acid glutathione, an important amino acid utilized by the liver as an anti-oxidant for cleaning up free radicals (toxins that create damage in your system). The large amounts of folate contained in asparagus have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce pain and arthritis, as well as reduces your chances of heart disease and is essential for preventing birth defects for pregnant women. Additionally, asparagus has many diuretic properties, which help to aid constipation and keep you regular, as well as cleanse your liver and kidneys. Finally, asparagus contains inulin, a special form of fiber/oligosaccharide that help to feed beneficial bacteria in your intestines.
Asparagus can usually be found year-round with so many vegetables being imported from different localities and regions of the world. However, truly delectable and fresh asparagus is available only in the spring, when it is most abundant and thus also cheapest. Asparagus doesn’t face as many threats from pests as do some other plants, so it’s not absolutely necessary to get organic asparagus. That being said, the most nutritious and tasty asparagus can often be found only at a local farmer’s market because of freshness (where they tend to be less sprayed, anyway).
Asparagus is delectable simply steamed or baked, and is the perfect accompaniment to numerous dishes! Be sure to try Orange Roasted Tofu and Asparagus!