Scientifically known as Asparagus Officinalis, asparagus is one of the top vegetable crops grown and harvested in the world. It has been widely cultivated for centuries as food. As herbal medicine, herbalists and naturopaths have known the important health benefits of asparagus for a long time.
Regardless of this extensive use and cultivation of asparagus, there is a large amount of info to discover about asparagus. Two important things to consider are the history of asparagus and its nutrient profile that can actually put other vegetables to disgrace. Let’s look closer at the important health benefits of asparagus and what it can mean when included in your wellness protocol.
History of Asparagus
The name for asparagus — a member of the lily family — comes from the Greek word meaning “shoot” or “sprout.” Now widely cultivated throughout the world, this regal vegetable is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region, where it was prized for its unique texture and alleged medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities.
Most don’t know that asparagus was deemed a luxury or gourmet food for years. Eventually, it became more widely available and consumed, with its European production nearly doubling to over 300,000 tons a year from 1968 to 2017.
Asparagus is one of only a few perennial vegetables, meaning they come back year after year. That’s why you can sometimes still find asparagus growing in the wild.
Important Health Benefits of Asparagus
While low in calories, asparagus packs quite a nutritional punch. A half-cup, or about 90 grams (g), of cooked asparagus, contains 18% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C, 57% of the RDI of vitamin K and 34% of the RDI of folate.
The second-century physician Galen described asparagus as “cleansing and healing”.
Asparagus is a particularly stand-out source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient that plays an important role in blood clotting and bone health.
Asparagus is also considered anticancer and insulin-sensitizing.
No talk of this vegetable is complete without discussing the smell of some people’s urine after eating it. The distinct sulfurous smell has been compared to rotten eggs or wet earth, and it results from the same chemical released by skunks as their natural defense mechanism.
Helps with Depression
Depression is a major health concern in this country and affects approximately 16 million Americans every year. Researchers investigated the antidepressant-like effect of a standardized hydroethanolic extract of Asparagus adscendens. Results from 14 days of pre-treatment showed antidepressant-like effects, with the behavioral improvement supported by enhanced levels of monoamines and reduced corticosterone levels in asparagus-treated animals.
Another variety of the vegetable, named Asparagus cochinchinensis, also has antidepressant-like and neuroprotective properties.
Improves Blood Pressure Levels
Asparagus contains potassium, a mineral associated with lowering high blood pressure.
In a study of animal models with high blood pressure, subjects were fed a diet containing 5% asparagus or a standard diet without the vegetable.
After 10 weeks, the animals on the asparagus diet exhibited significantly lower systolic blood pressure, urinary protein excretion, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity in the kidney than those in the other group. The 2″-hydroxy nicotianamine in asparagus may be inhibiting ACE activity in the kidney, therefore preventing high blood pressure and assisting renal function.
“Asparagus has long been recognized for its medicinal properties. Asparagus contains substances that act as a diuretic, neutralize ammonia that makes us tired, and protect small blood vessels from rupturing. Its fiber content makes it a laxative, too.”
D. Onstad, author – Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers and Lovers of Natural Foods.
Asparagus Helps with Weight Loss
Mayo Clinic experts suggest that people who want to lose weight consume foods that are not calorie-dense. That way, you will be able to eat a larger portion size without getting too many calories. Asparagus definitely meets the criteria. It’s low in calories and mostly water-based, so filling up on asparagus is not only good for your health but will not lead to weight gain.
Because of the ability of asparagus to break down toxins in the liver, asparagus works as a great hangover remedy, reducing alcohol toxicity by increasing liver enzymes and encouraging a healthy liver function.
More Important Health Benefits of Asparagus
- anti-cancer properties
- improves blood pressure
- improves blood sugar
- controls blood fat levels
- provides antioxidant nutrients vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and the minerals zinc, manganese & selenium
- good amounts of glutathione
- rich in inulin for digestive tract health
- rich in fiber – low in sodium
- contains a good amount of protein
- reduces the risk of heart disease
- reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
- excellent source of B vitamins
- 1 cup raw = 69% RDA of Vitamin K
- helps with depression
- contains calcium & magnesium in the ideal ratio of 2:1
- relieves PMS bloating
- helps with weight loss
Delicious asparagus recipes abound on the internet. Garlic roasted, stir-fried, roasted in olive oil, added to a raw salad, or even boiled and served with hollandaise sauce are some of the more popular ways to eat asparagus. You know how important it is to keep your body healthy and make smart food choices every day. The next time you walk past the asparagus section in your local grocery store or farmer’s market, think of all the important health benefits of asparagus and how it can support your overall health and wellness. Psst – don’t forget to buy some!
Research and Resources
Pegiou E et al. “Green and White Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): A Source of Developmental, Chemical and Urinary Intrigue” Metabolites. 2020 Jan; 10(1): 17. Epub 2019 Dec 25.
Mitchell SC, Waring RH. Asparagusic Acid. Phytochemistry. October 4, 2013.
DiNicolantonio J et al. “The health benefits of vitamin K” Open Heart. 2015 Oct 6;2(1):e000300. DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2015-000300. eCollection 2015.
Markt SC, Nuttall E, Turman C, et al. Sniffing Out Significant “Pee Values”: Genome Wide Association Study of Asparagus Anosmia. BMJ. December 13, 2016.
Pelchat M et al. “Excretion and Perception of a Characteristic Odor in Urine after Asparagus Ingestion: a Psychophysical and Genetic Study” Chemical Senses. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjq081.
Kim B et al. “Effects of Asparagus officinalis Extracts on Liver Cell Toxicity and Ethanol Metabolism” J Food Sci. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01263.x.
Vitamin K. National Institutes of Health. March 2, 2018.
Shao Y et al. “Steroidal saponins from Asparagus officinalis and their cytotoxic activity” Planta Med. 1997 Jun;63(3):258-62.
Pahwa P et al. “Antidepressant-like effect of a standardized hydroethanolic extract of Asparagus adscendens in mice” Indian J Pharmacol. 2019 Mar-Apr;51(2):98-108.
Jalsrai A et al. “The neuroprotective effects and possible mechanism of action of a methanol extract from Asparagus cochinchinensis: In vitro and in vivo studies” Neuroscience. 2016 Mar 3. Epub 2016 Mar 3.
Sanae M et al. “Green asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) prevented hypertension by an inhibitory effect on angiotensin-converting enzyme activity in the kidney of spontaneously hypertensive rats” J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jun 12;61(23):5520-5. Epub 2013 May 30.