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ASPARAGUS

(Asparagus officinalis L.)

Asparagus shoot

PARTS USED- spear, seeds, root

RIDDLE

“What killed a queen to love inclined, What on a beggar oft we find,

Show, to ourselves if aptly joined, A plant which we in bundles bind.”

ANSWER: Asp-a rag-us

 

Asparagus, enjoyed in the food, brings lusty desires to men.

MATTHIOLUS

“No herbe is sooner converted into good blood than Asparagus”.

LANGHAM

 

 

Introduction

Aspagago was added to the Latin language from the Greek, as a synonym for “foremost, tender, choice”. The root word SPARGAO, according to Jonathan Roberts, “has lustful, tumescent connotations, and it is easy to see how the connection was made.”

Asparagus is derived from a Greek word signifying “the tearer”, in allusion to the spikes of some species. Or it may be originally

from the Persian SPURGAS, meaning a shoot; and hence the Greek ASPHARAGOS meaning to shoot or sprout, or ASPARASSO, to rip or tear. Another possibility is “as long as one’s throat”, as diners swallowed the spears whole. I do myself!

Swallow Grass derives from this allegory, or may be a dialect variation of asparagus. Sparrow may come from the Greek SPORGILOS sparrow or PSAR for starling.

The ancient Greeks believed asparagus grew from a ram’s horn sunk in the ground. Later, the English, filled trenches with cattle horns, to improve on cultivation. There are only 20 varieties of asparagus considered edible out of the 300 known.

Ancient Egyptian tomb drawings from 4000 BC suggest the use of asparagus for urinary and nematocidal application.

Asparagus is one of those spring vegetables that I look for with great anticipation. When the spears start popping from the perennial root, they can grow up to ten inches in a single day!

The female spear is slimmer, while the superior male is shorter and stockier. It has long been found that modern cultivars, like Saxon, Franklin, and Lucullus, are all male.

They are a pre-historic vegetable, dating back to the age of reptiles, when horsetail and ferns were the dominant plants. Wild Asparagus is one of the oldest known plants, believed grown in the salt marshes of Asia Minor, thousands of years before recorded history.

Asparagus has distinct male spears that are skinny, and the plump female that matures into an inedible fern with green, and later orange berries.

The Greeks said the roots were the most beneficial, containing the strongest qualities. Hippocrates recommended it for overweight patients with blemished skin. Dioscorides recommended chewing the root for aching teeth.

Galen considered Asparagus root one of the 4 opening roots, a remedy that stimulates both kidney and liver function.

The Greeks and Romans boiled it so quickly that the phrase- “faster than asparagus is cooked” came to mean quickly or in a jiffy.

Liebig, or some other early scientist, said asparagin helped develop form in the human brain.

Its phallic symbolism is unmistakable, and yet its reputation as a sex food is not without foundation, being rich in vitamin E, and other constituents.

The Greeks used asparagus for bridal garlands and for weaving baskets in the harvest festival, Thesmophoria. They dedicated the vegetable

to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Perigune, the goddess of the cornfield, who hid to escape her wicked father.

The Perfumed Garden, a book of aphrodisiac foods from the Arab tradition in the 14th century says this about asparagus, or Halioun, as it was known:

“He who boils Halioun and then fries them in fat, and then pours upon them the yolks of eggs with pounded condiments, and eats every day of this dish, will grow very strong for the coitus and find a stimulant for amourous desires.”

This was important in harem situations, where the coveted position of favourite wife was not the prettiest or best in bed, but the woman with greatest number of sons. Every mother-in-law prodded the sheik to grant her daughter’s wish for more, to which he could never plead exhaustion.

Culpepper picked up on this and wrote, “the decoction of the roots boiled in wine and being taken fasting several mornings together, stirreth up bodily lust in man or woman.”

The shoot is slightly warming, with a bitter and pungent flavour. It helps to reduce phlegm and mucous, sooth constipation, and other mucous membranes.

In Italy, the root is decocted as a diuretic and sedative; as well as in cardiac disorders. A wine was traditionally made from asparagus in Britain.

In both China and India, the vegetable has been used for a wide range of ailments from toothaches, cancer, parasites, rheumatism, and constipation.

Sparrow Grass is a common Chinese name for the herb.

The seeds are used to treat parasitic diseases and the roots for fatigue (yin tonic).

In Japan, Asparagus root, or Tenmondo, as it is known in Kampo medicine, is used to nourish the kidneys. It is considered a gentle diuretic that is appropriate for diabetics.

In Mexico, it is considered a heart tonic, while the Spanish minced either the buds of the fruit, or the long branches and decocted it in bits of chicken broth for urine retention.

In various formulas, the root is used to relieve fevers, and dry respiratory symptoms like dry mouth, unproductive coughs, and phlegm difficult to expel.

The spears and extracts have been used for cleaning the face and drying acne and sores.

When Alexander the Great invaded Bactria he was smitten by the legendary Princess Roxana, reputed to have the most beautiful complexion in the world. She loved to roam the salt marshes, picking her favourite food, asparagus. Today, the topical application of the plant powder has a drying effect on acne.

Even the berries can be used. Dutch physicians boiled the berries, and had barren women eat them with vinegar, oil, and sugar to become fertile. The berry seeds can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.

My dearly departed friend and mentor, Jean Chancelet from Joussard, grew lots of asparagus in his lakeshore garden.

Every spring he would rejuvenate his kidneys and liver, with steamed asparagus and dandelion bud/garlic salads. It was said to be President Jefferson’s favorite vegetable.

Sauer, in his Compendius Herbal, mentions collecting asparagus in flower and after drying in shade, added a bag to a barrel of poor wine to enhance the flavour and odour.

Asparagus juice sprayed on tomato plants will protect them from nematodes, including rootknot, sting, stubby root and meadow nematodes. Tomatoes protect against asparagus beetles due to their solanine content, making the two good companion plants. Asparagus and parsley also enjoy each other’s company.

The Cherokee infused the introduced plant for rickets; while the Iroquois decocted the root with other plants as a foot soak for rheumatism, or with tree barks before meals as a blood cleanser.

 

 

MEDICINAL

CONSTITUENTS- stalk- asparagine, asparagose, chelidonic acid, arginine (1.8%), histidine, tryptophan, tyrosine, succinic acid, sarsapogenin, blumenol, ferulic acid, asparenyn, asparenyol, methyl esters of asparagusic acid, coniferin, steroid saponins, folacin (18 ppm), rutin, flavonoids, filicins A and B, filicinosides C and D, pentosans (70,000 ppm), phenylalanine, lutein, hyperoside, isoquercitin. Recently identified antioxidants include racemofuran, asparagamine A, and racemosol.

Viamins A, B, C, K and E, and minerals including, potassium and zinc (12-124 ppm), vanadium (0.3-2 ppm), strontium (19-200 ppm), zirconium (2.4 ppm), and boron (104 ppm); PUFA (up to 12,387 ppm), and lysine (18,710 ppm). It has a potassium/ sodium ratio of 15:1.

root- nine steroidal glycosides (asparagosides), coniferin glycoside, bitter glycosides such as officinalisin I and II, inulin flavonoids, bitter steroid saponins including sarsasapogenin, asparagin, arginin, smilagenin, diosgenin (0.27-0.46%) tyrosine, and aspartic saponin I. Aspartic acid (sulphur containing), esters 3-mercapto- butyric acid, alpha-aminodimethyl-gamma-butyrothetin, 3-methylthio-isobutyric acid, diisobutyric acid disulphide, berstein and chelidonic acids, methyl mercaptan, asparagose, asparagusic acid, choline, purine, inulin, mannan.

seed- alanine (1.8%)

Asparagus shoots contain vitamin E and folic acid, both good for the heart.

Folic acid acts as a floodgate, controlling the amount of homocysteine allowed in the bloodstream.

When folate drops, the other levels rise, causing damage to the tender arteries supplying blood to the heart and brain.

Enlarged heart associated with edema and congestive heart failure may be relieved by the use of this plant in the diet.

Folic acid is needed by pregnant women to prevent neural tube (spinal cord) birth defects in their babies.

Folate is a protectant against cancer. Studies have revealed that low levels of folate in blood are directly related to developing colon cancer. Folic acid is useful, as well, in those prone to iron-deficient anemia.

Glutathione is a small amino acid grouping and powerful anti-oxidant that helps mop up free radicals. According to the NCI, asparagus is the richest food source of glutathione, an important anti-oxidant also found in Sea Buckthorn fruit, and Milk Thistle seed. It contains rich sources of selenium, another important anti-oxidant.

Asparagus contains histones, protein compounds believed to act as cell growth normalizers on cancer cell division. This may partially explain the reversal of various cancers, involving cooked asparagus juice.

Asparagine is a strong, persistent diuretic that will give some individuals a violet odour to their increased urine flow. The peculiar smell of asparagus urine is due to the sulphur compound S-methylprop-2-enethioate, a metabolite of asparagusic acid. Mitchell SC & Waring RH, Phytochemistry 2014 97 5-10. The presence of two adjacent sulphur atoms leads to chemical reactivity, including the ability to substitute for alpha lipoic acid in an alpha keto-acid oxidation system.

It relates to aspartic acid, or asparagin, an amino acid that some people lack the enzyme to break down. It is a harmless phenomenon.

According to Darcy Williamson, there are two camps regarding the unique smell. Some scientists believe that about half the population have a gene that breaks down the sulphur compounds into smelly odors. Others think it is in the olfactory nerves and that only half of us have the gene that enables detection of odor that is there.

William LeSassier called it a nutritive diuretic as it strengthens the kidneys rather than forcing them to work harder.

It relieves swollen ankles caused by edema of cardiac origin. In Germany, the root, but not the stalk, is approved for use as a diuretic for helping prevent kidney stones and treat urinary tract inflammation.

Asparagus juice can be very helpful in some cases of acne, by alkalizing an overly acidic body aggravated by sugar and fats. Eczemas, especially weeping types, respond favorably. It is useful in lifestyle related hyperuricemia, but may not help those who have inherited the tendency. The cooked shoots dissolve uric and oxalic acid that can aggravate arthritic and gouty conditions.

Michael Moore suggested, “The fresh root tincture seems to be a useful preventative in times of stress and dehydration (as in training or heat) for the anabolic mesomorph with a history of passing uric acid- cysteine stones; use 60-90 drops up to four times daily in a glass of water.”

Keep in mind that asparagus contains purines that in large amounts, over time, can be aggravating to gouty conditions, cystitis and rheumatism. Discretion is advised.

Recent work by Ting Sun et al, J Ag Food Chem 2007 55:1 found rhamnosidase activity can change rutin in asparagus juice to quercitin- 3-glucoside, an even more potent anti-oxidant.

Work by Dae Sik Jang et al, J Ag Food Chem 2004 52 found new compounds in asparagus stalks that exhibit significant COX-2 inhibition. Regulation of the COX pathway is associated with anti- inflammatory and cancer chemo-preventative activity.

The cladophylls and bottom stems significantly reduced systolic and diastolic pressure, fasting glucose and total cholesterol in a trial of 28 volunteers. Nishimura M et al, Journal Traditional Complementary Medicine 2013 3:4 250-5.

A compound in stems inhibits ACE activity in the kidney, preventing hypertension and protecting kidney function. Sanae M & Yasuo A, J Ag Food Chem 2013 61:23 5520-5.

Enzyme treated asparagus extracts show cytoprotection of neuronal cells, and attenuate effects of cognitive impairment in SAMP8 mice. Sakurai T et al, Nat Prod Commun 2014 9:1. Another mouse study fouond a strong anti-anxiety effect from water extracts of stems.

Cheng L et al, Evid Based Complement Altern Med 2013 Nov 20.

Asparagus contains SMM, or S-methylmethionine, which is found in cabbage and malt barley. This substance helps sooth gastric and duodenal ulcers, and may be of value in Crohn’s disease of the ileum, as well as irritable bowel syndrome. The inulin and other starches help grow Bifidus bacteria in the colon.

Asparagus juice can be purchased commercially, and is a great aid in those desiring a weight loss regime. Take two tablespoons of the fresh juice morning and evening for two weeks.

The root is chopped into small cubes and dried for later use in gout and uric acid related joint inflammation.

The root tea is a gentle but effective laxative, when an irritating cathartic would be ill advised; such as the elderly or during pregnancy. By promoting secretions, it relieves dry intestinal conditions. Dry coughs with little phlegm, and heat, such as croup and chronic bronchitis, may also benefit from the addition of asparagus root to a herbal formula especially when accompanied by excess urination of low specific gravity.

Asparagus root is an aphrodisiac, and helps increase breast milk flow in new mothers.

Althein (asparagin) occurs in crystals, and is found in the root of marshmallow and licorice. One grain three times daily was used traditionally for relieving dropsy from disease of a dilated heart. Syrup of asparagus is used medically in France, for rheumatism.

Asparagus contains rutin, an important bioflavonoid that keeps blood vessels healthy, and strengthens varicose veins. Rutin helps antidote radiation and x-rays to some degree.

The herb is highly recommended in rheumatism and congestive heart failure associated with pulmonary edema; as well as of some benefit in mild diabetes.

Asparagus root moistens dry and irritated eyes, especially related to kidney or liver dehydration. Asparagin and resins in asparagus combine to gently sedate the heart, calm palpitations and nervous excitement.

The plant contains anti-viral agents. Aquino R et al, Journal of Chemotherapy 1991 3:5.

In studies by Shimoyamada et al, anti-fungal activity was detected in the bottom cut thrown away as factory waste.

The activity was specific to Candida and Cryptococcus species, Trichophyton rubra (0.5 ug/ml), Microsporum gypseum 0.5 ug/ml and Epidermophyton floccosum (1.0 ug/ml). The saponin is identical to collettinside III from Dioscorea collettii. J of Science Food and Agric 1996 72:4.

According to Bensky and Gamble, the root tea has antibiotic effect on 3 strains of Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus skin infections.

Shao-Yu et al, presented a paper at the Ninth International Asparagus Symposium in July 1997, showing asparagus spears contain two saponins (oligofurostanosides) that effectively inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells. Cancer Letters 1996 104:1.

Previous work by Sasaki et al, showed fibres isolated from the vegetable had mutagen absorbing or cancer preventing properties. Chemistry Abstracts 1986 104.

Scientists have identified steroidal glycosides in asparagus roots. Smilagenin, one of many steroidal saponins, is used in the partial synthesis of cortisone and other steroids.

Asparagusic acid has been shown, in clinical studies, to be nematocidal. Asparagine is an amino succinic acid, vital to biological energy yielding cycles.

The inedible bottom part is often discarded as waste. Wang J et al, J Sci Food Agric 93:6 1492-1498, found saponins in these old stems suppress cancer cell lines of breast, colon and pancreas through modulation of Rho GTPase signaling pathway.

The young shoots and leaves both up-regulate alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, protecting the liver from toxic insult.

Kim et al, J Food Sci 74:7. This suggests a use for leaf parts that are usually discarded.

White, or blanched asparagus activates TRAIL apoptosis in human colon cancer cell lines. Bousserouel S et al, Int J Oncol 2013 43:2 394- 404.

The seeds have some use in powdered form for calming stomach upset, as well as remedies for neuritis and rheumatism.

 

Asparagus berries

Asparagus berries

The seeds are used to relieve toothaches, stimulate hair growth, and to treat cancer.

The berries have been reportedly used as contraceptives. Barnes et al, Lloydia 1978; Brondegaard Planta Medica 1973 23:2. I would advise caution with this information.

Methyl mercaptan can be irritating in cystitis, and may aggravate the bladder during an acute infection. Asparagus stalks are relatively high in purines that can aggravate gout; but the root is fine. Asparagus root preparations are not to be used by individuals with cardiac edema or inflammatory kidney disease, according to German Commission E monographs. In some women, kidney stimulation during the last trimester of pregnancy could be undesirable. Individuals with gout or acute joint rheumatism, those individuals of a nervous, easily irritated temperament, or suffering diarrhea may find asparagus aggravates their condition. Asparagoside A is a sapogenin used to manufacture compounds of the pregnane series of pharmaceuticals.

 

 

HOMEOPATHY

Common Garden Asparagus (A. officinalis) has a marked and immediate action on urinary secretion. It is useful in cases of heart palpitation with oppression in the chest, intermittent pulse, and pain in the left shoulder and heart, associated with bladder disturbances. Complaints from suppression of perspiration.

The urination may be frequent with fine stitches in orifice of the urethra, and a burning sensation. It can be used for cystitis, associated with mucous, pus and stones or small gravel.

It is also indicated for rheumatic pain in the back, especially near the shoulder and limbs.

The head may feel heavy, with profuse, thin fluids from the nose, or aching forehead in the morning. The throat feels rough, with coughing of copious, tenacious mucous.

It can antidote both Aconite (Monkshood) and Apis, so choose appropriately.

DOSE- Sixth potency. The mother tincture is prepared from the fresh root in fall. Proving by Buchner with four provers and tincture of shoots in 1840; clinical observations by Hering, Twentyman and Vithoulkas in Materia Medica Viva.

 

 

ESSENTIAL OIL

The dry roots of asparagus (A. officinalis) have been steam distilled and yield 0.0108% of dark, brown oil with an intensely acidic odour. The specific gravity is 0.8777, and contains palmitic acid.

The above ground asparagus contains asparagusic acid (1,2-dithiolane- 4-carboxylic acid), dihydroasparagusic acid (3,3’dimercaptoisobutyric acid), and S-acetyldihydroasparagusic acid. All three act as growth inhibitors.

Oil has been isolated from the small pale rose flowers of the related A. sprengeri. The odour is intense and narcotic, resembling fatty aldehydes.

 

 

HYDROSOLS

The distilled water of asparagus should be used especially, by those who are inclined toward gravel, stones and lumbago. This purges the gravel and stones, as well as the scummy matter on which the stones form. This iscuretic possesses a first rate capacity for opening

obstructions, and provokes the urine briskly. It controls dripping urine and jaundice, and fortifies against the cold evil or cold piss. It also loosens up the liver and spleen and in addition to the above ailments, when taken in 4-5 loth (two to 2.5 ounce) doses each morning and evening.    SAUER

Asparagus root, stalk and herb are all distilled into a water that is good for drying the urine out so quickly it smells like the water. It is for pain in the limbs and bladder, gout in the gut, opening stoppages of the liver and spleen, painful urination, pain in the head and yellow jaundice.           Brunschwig, Book of Distillation 1530.

 

 

FLOWER ESSENCES

Asparagus flower essence helps eliminate hidden fears and negative thoughts, especially when picked up from the lower astral planes.            PEGASUS

Asparagus flower essence promotes peace of mind, a loving nature, a good memory and calm spirit.    DARCY WILLIAMSON

 

 

PERSONALITY TRAITS

My mother always told me you could assess someone’s sexual abilities by the way they ate asparagus; and you can certainly assess their class bracket in this country. I remember being deeply anxious when a friend brought their latest flame to dinner and he ate his asparagus precisely with a knife and fork, leaving the tips!

After much experimentation I have found my mother to be totally accurate.    WRIGHT

 

 

MYTHS AND LEGENDS

The Greek myth of Perigune begins with Perigune’s father, Sinus, who lived on the island of Corinth and personified the north wind. Sinus was a bandit, and he acquired the name Pitokamptes, or Pine Bender, for his ability to bend the tops of pine trees down to the ground with

his bare hands. Sinus typically asked travelers to help him, and when they did, he quickly released his hold and sent the unwitting victims catapulting to their deaths. The Greek hero Theseus put an end to that by releasing his hold first. After killing Sinus, he noticed the daughter Perigune hiding behind an asparagus bush, terribly frightened. She was talking to the asparagus, and promising the plant that if it hid her safely, she would never harm it. The use of asparagus in her myth likely reflected its phallic symbolism.

Perigune emerged from behind the asparagus and immediately fell in love with Theseus. Soon she bore him a son, Melanippus, who became the ancestor of the Ioxids, who venerated asparagus.             TAMRA ANDREWS

 

 

 

RECIPES

ROOT JUICE- Two tablespoons up to 4 times daily.

STEM JUICE- Three tablespoons 3x daily. The stems are steamed and then juiced.

DECOCTION- Simmer one teaspoon of dry root to one cup of water for 45 minutes. Drink between meals.

It should not be used in loss of appetite or diarrhea, or if there are aches and pains from influenza.

ROOT TINCTURE- 2-5 ml. The fresh root is prepared at 1:2; the dry at 1:5, both with 50% alcohol.

ROOT POWDER- 10-50 grams twice daily.

TO GROW- Plant asparagus in a sunny area, with light, well-mulched sandy soil. Trenches of well-aged manure are ideal, with plants set one foot apart. Do not cut for first two years. You can start from seed, but first year roots are inexpensive.

In the 1800’s it was recommended that salt be added to the soil. Obviously, asparagus is a salt marsh plant and can tolerate some salinity. In the 1950s when herbicides replaced salt for weed control, the Fusarium fungus became a problem. Studies by Cole et al, 1992 have shown that chlorine increases resistance to Fusarium.

NOTE- Animal studies suggest asparagus shoots reduce milk production.

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