Sparrow Grass, Sperage
Asparagus officinalis F. Liliaceae
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Although asparagus is native to Europe, it will also grow very well in the sub-tropics. It can also do well in the tropics according to Bruce French in his compendium ‘Food plants of Papua New Guinea’. The new emerging shoots are eaten as a vegetable, harvested when 2-3cm thick and about15-20cm long. These shoots called spears, if left to keep growing, will develop into soft, ferny fronds a metre or more high. Cream/ green, bell-shaped flowers, form in stem axils of male plants. Female plants produce smaller, quite inconspicuous flowers, that develop into small, round, red 1cm berries, which are seed capsules, containing several round, black seeds. When grown from seed, plants usually require 2-3 years to develop a strong enough underground root system to cope with regular picking. Division of established plants, by digging the rhizome crowns, is the quickest way to get plants to picking stage. Divided rhizomes look like large, white, leggy spiders. The best time to divide roots is early spring, when plants are coming out of winter dormancy. When dividing, take care not to damage the tips of new shoots. If the division has put on a good growth in the first year, by the second year spears can be selectively cut. In the third year, cutting can start when the first spears appear in spring and kept up to the end of December (or even longer in sub-tropical climates). It is important to then allow the spears to develop into ferny tops. This allows the plant to regain strength and vigour underground, necessary for the following year’s crop. Plant asparagus in a well-drained, permanent position in the garden as it may grow for ten or more years. Loose, deep soil with compost and old manure added, is important, as asparagus is a heavy feeder. The more decomposing mulchmaterial supplied during the formative period, the better. This will help develop the strong root system. Some growers plant the rhizome divisions in 20cm deep trenches, filling the trench with soil or humus as crowns develop. Stems that go dormant in winter are cut near the ground and the plants thickly mulched, even with seaweed straight from the beach as plants thrive on this mineral-rich, salty mulch. Feed plants regularly. Organic growers have observed that asparagus is a useful companion around tomatoes, pawpaws, parsley, rhubarb, raspberries, basil and comfrey. Planting comfrey nearby can provide a close source of leaves to pick for mulch, and I have observed that asparagus loves liquid manure made with comfrey.
As asparagus produces the substance asparagin, which is found to repel nematodes, growing asparagus near plants that are prone to attack by these root pests will help with control. To produce white (blanched), mild-flavoured spears, the plants need to be thickly mulched; the spears cut when the tips just appear through the mulch. Cut by inserting a long knife deep into the mulch, cutting at an angle just above the roots of the plant. The blanching can also be achieved by standing earthenware pipes, wooden tubes or bamboo joints, upright over the emerging spears. Personally, I like green asparagus – full of chlorophyll – so I let them get to 15cm above the ground, when they are crisp, crunchy and sweet with the flavour of fresh, green peas. In France, where folk are great connoisseurs of fine foods, the green asparagus is always preferred – they say it has the taste of the sun in it. If you wish to save seed for future planting, it is necessary to grow male and female plants nearby for pollination, to set seed. Male plants are usually taller than female plants, with the foliage beginning higher on the stems; while female plants have fronds starting closer to the ground. Only when plants flower, will it be definite what sex plants are. Both male and female plants have culinary and medicinal use. Some growers believe male plants produce more spears than their female counterparts and that the male plant will always grow bigger and thicker spears. This belief possibly has come from the doctrine of signatures theory: that the spear looks like an erect, male penis. Folklore also connected asparagus with increasing libido.
volatile oil, rutin and other flavonoids, saponins, tannins, asparagin, resin, gum, steroidal and bitter glycosides, albumen, coniferin, vanillin, tyrosin, sugar, arginin, asparagose, chelindonic acid, protein, fibre, protein
A, B, folic acid, C, E
calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, selenium, iodine, magnesium, manganese, sulphur, silicon, florine
aperient, diuretic, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, antiinflammatory, tonic, laxative, sedative, demulcent, aphrodisiac, nutritive
The use of asparagus was recorded before the time of Christ. In the first Century, Pliny wrote that, ‘asparagus, of all the plants of the garden, receives the most praiseworthy care’. Its botanical species name, ‘officinalis’, indicates its recognition as an official therapeutic herb. The herb has been highly valued and prescribed to stimulate and strengthen kidney function. Eating fresh spears, or spears juiced, provides a strong diuretic action. This helps to clean and revitalize kidneys, bladder and relieve edema, especially arising from congestion around the heart. The effectiveness of this action may be experienced in strong odour and colour of urine, which is the body’s metabolism, speeding up the excretion of wastes. This action is also found helpful for people with painful, swollen joints and gout as the herb helps to dissolve uric acid deposits, and cholesterol build-up in blood vessels. Asparagus has long been considered an aphrodisiac in many different cultures, and there is some scientific truth behind this belief, as asparagus contains a compound, known to stimulate the production of sex hormones.
Asparagus is very alkalising to the body. Dr. Theodore Baroody, in his most informative book, ‘Alkalise or die’ says, “Asparagus is a very powerful acid reducer, and a known therapy for cancer. Its high ammonia content literally plummets one into alkalinity in a short period of time”.
Other uses have included:
sleeplessness, female hormone balance and to assist the reproductive system, to promote fertility, relieve menstrual discomfort and to increase breast milk for nursing mothers. It is used for respiratory diseases and for strengthening the lungs. Also for tuberculosis, AIDS, chronic fatigue, back pain, sports burnout, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, coughs, to strengthen bones and marrow, hemorrhaging, stomach pains, kidney stones, cramps, convulsions, gall and liver ailments, to assist with weight loss, stress and nervous tension, intestinal worms, jaundice, skin diseases and to brighten vision. An old herbal recipe suggests macerating asparagus in white wine, then use as a massage liniment to rub into thighs and back for sciatica. Scientific research has found that asparagus contains a substance that can break up oxalate crystals. Asparagus, being a good source of fibre, is a useful bowel brush with a laxative action that stimulates lazy bowels.
Several years ago, I had a man seeking asparagus for a friend who had cancer. He gave me a photocopied copy of an article, entitled, ‘Asparagus for cancer’ printed in Cancer News Journal, December 1979. I will share it here, just as it was shared with me:
“I am a biochemist, and have specialised in the relation of diet to health for over 50 years. Several years ago, I learned of the discovery of Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S. that asparagus might cure cancer. Since then, I have worked with him on his project, and we have accumulated a number of favourable case histories. Here are a few examples. Case No. 1, man with an almost hopeless case of Hodgkin’s disease (cancer of the lymph glands) who was completely incapacitated. Within 1 year of starting the asparagus therapy, his doctors were unable to detect any signs of cancer, and he was back on a schedule of strenuous exercise. Case No. 2, a successful businessman 68 years old who suffered from cancer of the bladder for 16 years. After years of medical treatments, including radiation without improvement, he went on asparagus. Within 3 months, examinations revealed that his bladder tumour had disappeared and that his kidneys were normal. Case No. 3, a man who had lung cancer. On March 5th 1971 he was put on the operating table where they found lung cancer so widely spread that it was inoperable. The surgeon sewed him up and declared his case hopeless. On April 5th he heard about the asparagus therapy and immediately started taking it. By August, x-ray pictures revealed that all signs of the cancer had disappeared. He is back at his regular business routine. Case No. 4, a woman who was troubled for a number of years with skin cancer. She finally developed different skin cancers which were diagnosed by a skin specialist as advanced. Within 3 months after starting on asparagus, her skin specialist said that her skin looked fine and no more skin lesions. This woman reported that the asparagus therapy also cured her kidney disease, which started in 1949. She had over 10 operations for kidney stones, and was receiving government disability payments for an inoperable, terminal, kidney condition. She attributes the cure of this kidney trouble entirely to the asparagus. I was not surprised at this result, as ‘The elements of materia medica’, edited in 1854 by a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that asparagus was used as a popular remedy for kidney stones. He even referred to experiments, in 1739, on the power of asparagus in dissolving stones. We would have other case histories but the medical establishment has interfered with our obtaining some of the records. I am therefore appealing to readers to spread this good news and help us to gather a large number of case histories that will overwhelm the medical skeptics about this unbelievably simple and natural remedy.
For the treatment, asparagus should be cooked before using, and therefore canned asparagus is just as good as fresh. I have corresponded with the two leading canners of asparagus, Giant Giant and Stokely, and I am satisfied that these brands contain no pesticides or preservatives. Place the cooked asparagus in a blender and liquefy to make a puree, and store in the refrigerator. Give the patient 4 full tablesp. twice daily, morning and evening. Patients usually show some improvement in from 2-4 weeks. It can be diluted with water and used as a cold or hot drink. This suggested dosage is based on present experience, but certainly larger amounts can do no harm and may be needed in some cases.
As a biochemist I am convinced of the old saying that ‘what cures can prevent’. Based on this theory, my wife and I have been using asparagus puree as a beverage with our meals. We take 2 tablesp. diluted in water to suit our taste with breakfast and with dinner. I take mine hot and my wife prefers hers cold. For years we have made it a practice to have blood surveys taken as part of our regular checkups. The last blood survey, taken by a medical doctor who specialises in the nutritional approach to health, showed substantial improvements in all categories over the last one, and we can attribute these improvements to nothing but the asparagus drink. As a biochemist, I have made an extensive study of all aspects of cancer, and all of the proposed cures. As a result, I am convinced that asparagus fits in better with the latest theories about cancer. Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones, which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth. For that reason, I believe asparagus can be said to contain a substance that I call cell growth normaliser. That accounts for its action on cancer and in acting as a general body tonic. In any event, regardless of theory, asparagus used as we suggest, is a harmless substance. The FDA cannot prevent you from using it and it may do you much good.” It has been reported by the US National Cancer Institute, that asparagus is the highest tested food containing glutathione, which is considered one of the body’s most potent anticarcinogens and antioxidants.
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