When you see asparagus standing tall and proud in neat displays at your local grocery store, you might have a hard time imagining how it is grown. It may seem even harder to imagine you could grow it in your own vegetable garden.
While growing asparagus takes patience — about three years to be exact, to ensure vigorous growth and plant maturity — it is not as difficult as you may think. All the preparation and hard work you do initially will be richly rewarded when you harvest those first tender shoots. If you are planting a garden and would enjoy a versatile vegetable that is packed with vitamins and minerals, and delivers important health benefits, you most definitely should consider growing asparagus.
Why Asparagus Is so Good for You
Dubbed as a “feel-good” vegetable because of its mood-boosting potential, asparagus is a superfood you may want to consider not only eating more often, but cultivating in your garden. It’s a nutritionally balanced vegetable that is loaded with vitamins A, E and K. One cup (180 grams) of cooked asparagus contains just 40 calories.
Asparagus is also a good source of vitamins C and B, including folate. Folate helps your body make dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which is why asparagus is thought to support your mood. Claims that asparagus protects against cancer are based on its high level of glutathione, a potent antioxidant. It also contains rutin, a bioflavonoid (plant pigment), which protects your small blood vessels from rupturing. It also may protect against the damaging effects of radiation.
Asparagus boasts healthy levels of copper, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc, to name a few of the minerals it contains. It also supports your digestive health, thanks to the presence of insoluble and soluble fiber, along with inulin, a prebiotic that acts as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Finally, researchers have uncovered a natural angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor in asparagus that appears useful for lowering your blood pressure. A 2015 study1 revealed a new sulfur-containing metabolite known as asparaptine, found in asparagus spears, which, according to the authors, acts as a “new ACE inhibitor.”
Interesting Facts About Asparagus
More than just the look of asparagus is unique: Check out these interesting facts about this harbinger of spring.2,3 First, you may not be aware of asparagus’ status as one of only a few garden-grown perennial vegetables. You need only plant it once. Cared for properly, it will return faithfully year after year, sometimes for decades.
Second, it’s important to know asparagus plants are monoecious, which means they can be either male or female. The difference is in their leaves and seed-bearing ability. Female plants are the seed bearers, featuring flowers that have well-developed, three-lobed pistils. Male blossoms do not bear seeds and are noticeably larger and longer.
Third, although green asparagus is most common, purple and white varieties also exist. Purple varieties tend to have less fibers than green asparagus, and they also boast a higher sugar content. You may wonder how white asparagus is produced, especially because it is actually the same plant as green asparagus.
The only difference is it is grown covered to inhibit the process of photosynthesis. If you’ve ever wondered why white asparagus is much higher priced than green, now you know. The labor involved in the blanching process drives up the cost. Notably, in continental Europe, due to its short growing season and high demand, white asparagus commands a premium price and is often slathered with vinaigrette or hollandaise.4