Asparagus is a vegetable that has been used for hundreds of years in different cultures for its healing and health benefits. Even though it doesn’t look like it, there are actually two parts to asparagus: a thick root and tender stalks. The root portion of asparagus has been used for centuries in Indian medicine as a diuretic and an aid to strengthen the female reproductive system. They use it to promote fertility, reduce menstrual cramping, and increase milk production in nursing mothers. Indian medicine also believes that the asparagus root helps a person to develop peace of mind, good memory, and calmness. Western culture believes asparagus to be an aphrodisiac.
These cultural traditions actually do have some scientific backing—asparagus root contains steroidal glycosides which can actually affect hormone production and can possibly have an influence on emotions. Furthermore, the diuretic effect might be due to asparagine—the amino acid that gives urine a strong smell after eating asparagus.
Asparagus has some unique antioxidants that have a strong effect in the body, and therefore, asparagus has been used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. Asparagus also helps to treat arthritis by preventing an enzyme, called COX-2, from working. This COX-2 enzyme produces inflammation, and because arthritis is an inflammatory condition, restricting this enzyme from creating inflammation helps to decrease the pain and symptoms of arthritis.
There are also studies that have shown asparagus to have antitumor benefits, perhaps due to saponin, which scientists think is responsible because it helps to prevent or slow the growth of leukemia cells. Asparagus is also high in one of the body's most important antioxidants: glutathione. Additionally, it has a carbohydrate called inulin, a special kind of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut, thus helping to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Asparagus is high in potassium, folate (very important for preventing neural tube defects and lowering homocysteine levels in the blood), vitamins A, B6, C, and K (essential for healthy blood clotting and strong bones), riboflavin, and thiamin. Asparagus also contains two phytochemicals called rutin and quercetin, which help to protect blood vessels and fight inflammation and cancer. Asparagus is low in calories and carbohydrates but is relatively high in protein compared to other vegetables.
- 1 bunch of medium sized asparagus, about 1 lb
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest - freshly grated lemon rind
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper