Sandra Tonn, RHN
Lovely asparagus, a member of the lily family, has been considered a luxury or delicacy since it was rediscovered during the Renaissance.
Lovely asparagus, a member of the lily family, has been considered a luxury or delicacy since it was rediscovered during the Renaissance. Expensive in the off-season, July is a perfect time to enjoy the succulent taste and tender texture of this health-promoting food.
Healing Bits and Bites
The key nutrients in asparagus include fibre, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, vitamins A, C, B, and E, and the phytochemicals beta-carotene and chlorophyll.
Prized for its medicinal properties for 2,000 years, asparagus is best known as a potent diuretic. It has historically been used to treat problems involving swelling, such as arthritis, rheumatism, and PMS-related water retention. It’s no surprise, then, that asparagus has also been recommended as treatment for many types of kidney problems, although too much asparagus can irritate the kidneys.
The nutrients in asparagus are useful in vascular problems, such as hypertension and arteriosclerosis. In fact, centuries ago the valued asparagus was a common treatment for heart palpitations. This green power veggie is a good source of the flavonoid rutin, a substance that prevents small blood vessels from breaking.
Asparagus is a good source of folate, the B vitamin that protects against heart disease. Research has shown that when folate levels are low, blood levels of homocysteine rise, resulting in increased risk for heart disease. The folate in asparagus also makes it an excellent food for expectant mothers, as folate is essential for proper cell division and may also help prevent birth defects.
The high amounts of carotene, vitamin C, and the mineral selenium also make asparagus a good choice for preventing and treating cancer. Further, asparagus contains a carbohydrate called inulin. We do not digest this nutrient, but our health-promoting friendly bacteria do, which supports intestinal health.
Fresh asparagus also stimulates immune function as it contains high amounts of natural substances, such as folic acid and nucleic acid. Asparagus aids in the prevention of cataracts, helps to eliminate toxins from the liver, and improves the health of the prostate gland. In Chinese herbology, the underground tubers of asparagus are used to ease menstrual difficulties, promote fertility, and increase openness and compassion.
When buying asparagus, go for a good-looking bunch. The tips and spears are the edible parts. Stalks should be rounded, not flat or twisted. Spears should be firm and bright green. The tips should be purplish and compact, not mushy. Always buy organic, fresh asparagus, local and in season, when possible. Once it’s home, trimmed, and cooked, your purchase will weigh about half of what it does at the market, so be sure to buy enough to go around (about one-half pound (225 grams) per person).
Use your asparagus as soon as possible for the best taste and nutrient value - at least within a day or two after purchasing. To store, wrap the ends in a damp paper towel and store in a crisper drawer. When you’re ready to cook this luxury veggie, snap off the fibrous bases by bending the stems until they break. Wash under cold water. Tie asparagus stalks in a bundle so you don’t have to fish out each individual one when they’re ready. Steam only until bright green and just soft enough to eat, about five minutes. When done, plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process, but be sure to remove them quickly as soaking may cause the asparagus spears to become soggy.
There are many ways to enjoy this special side dish: steamed and served with organic butter and fresh pepper; steamed and cooled as a salad with lemon vinaigrette; baked with olive oil and sprinkled with green onions and sesame seeds; tossed with pasta, olive oil, and spices; or simply steamed to accompany grains and fish or poultry. As a main course, asparagus soup is both nutritious and delicious.
Be creative and discover your own ways to make healthful asparagus your favourite delicacy.