A Perennial Favorite
The asparagus plant has been prized for its unique taste since the days of old. Emperor Augustus, the founder of the Roman empire, set aside a special fleet of ships specifically for hauling the precious vegetable. An asparagus recipe was featured in the oldest extant cookbook, Apicius’s De re coquinaria, which is nearly 2,000 years old. 3,000 years before that, the ancient Egyptians immortalized their love of the young shoots of the asparagus in a frieze.
Asparagus lost favor for much of the medieval era, but when Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Nafzawi’s steamy book, the Perfumed Garden lauded asparagus for it’s supposed aphrodisiacal properties, interest in this tender perennial was renewed.
Asparagus and Health
As mentioned above, many of the ancients viewed asparagus not only as a tasty side-dish, but also as a medicinal herb. And, perhaps they were on to something.
While asparagus’s effects on the libido have not been scientifically confirmed, we do know that it is rich in vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. It also contains chromium, selenium, manganese, copper, potassium, phosphorous, iron, folic acid, niacin, rutin, riboflavin, and thiamin.
Research has indicated that the nutrients found in asparagus can help stave off certain types of cancers, and help slow the aging process. Plus, asparagus’s diuretic properties can help flush out the system, ridding the body of excess salts and fluids. This is great news for those who are battling high blood pressure or edema.
In addition to being such a rich source of vitamins and minerals, asparagus is an excellent low-calorie, low-sodium treat. Low calorie and nutrient rich? Dare I use the term super-food?
Types of Asparagus
The type asparagus most commonly seen in grocery stores in the U.S. is the green variety, but the less-common purple and white varieties can occasionally be found.
The white variety is so popular in many western European countries that when one refers simply to “asparagus” it is commonly assumed that they are referring to white asparagus. It actually comes from the same plant as the green type.
The cultivation of white asparagus is more labor intensive than the processes used to grow the green or purple varieties. As the shoots grow, they are covered with soil, which prevents photosynthesis. White asparagus is known for its tenderness and subtle flavor.
Purple asparagus is a much sweeter and less fibrous than its white and green cousins. It was originally cultivated in Albenga, Italy under the name Violetta d’Albenga. Purple asparagus’ sweet, tender nature makes it ideally suited for use in salads, so if you aren’t yet growing it, you can learn more about how to harvest lettuce and you’ll be in for quite a treat. Asparagus always makes for a very elegant meal, and its health benefits are fantastic.
[Photo Credit: hellawella]