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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Asparagus officinalis
Wild Asparagus in Austria
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Genus: Asparagus
Species: A. officinalis
Binomial name
Asparagus officinalis
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 85 kJ (20 kcal)
Carbohydrates 3.88 g
Sugars 1.88 g
Dietary fiber 2.1 g
Fat 0.12 g
Protein 2.20 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.143 mg (11%)
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.141 mg (9%)
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.978 mg (7%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.274 mg (5%)
Vitamin B6 0.091 mg (7%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 52 μg (13%)
Vitamin C 5.6 mg (9%)
Calcium 24 mg (2%)
Iron 2.14 mg (17%)
Magnesium 14 mg (4%)
Phosphorus 52 mg (7%)
Potassium 202 mg (4%)
Zinc 0.54 mg (5%)
Manganese 0.158 mg
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database
Steamed Asparagus prepared with roasted pine nuts.
Asparagus officinalis with dewdrops.

Asparagus officinalis is a flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus from which the vegetable known as asparagus is obtained. It is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia,[1][2][3] and is now widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.[4]



Asparagus is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 100–150 centimetres (39–59 in) tall, with stout larissa stems with much-branched feathery foliage. The "leaves" are in fact needle-like cladodes (modified stems) in the axils of scale leaves; they are 6–32 millimetres (0.24–1.3 in) long and 1 millimetre (0.039 in) broad, and clustered 4–15 together.Its roots are tuberous .The flowers are bell-shaped, greenish-white to yellowish, 4.5–6.5 millimetres (0.18–0.26 in) long, with six tepals partially fused together at the base; they are produced singly or in clusters of 2-3 in the junctions of the branchlets. It is usually dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants, but sometimes hermaphrodite flowers are found. The fruit is a small red berry 6–10 mm diameter.

Plants native to the western coasts of Europe (from northern Spain north to Ireland, Great Britain, and northwest Germany) are treated as Asparagus officinalis subsp. prostratus (Dumort.) Corb., distinguished by its low-growing, often prostrate stems growing to only 30–70 centimetres (12–28 in) high, and shorter cladodes 2–18 millimetres (0.079–0.71 in) long.[1][5] It is treated as a distinct species Asparagus prostratus Dumort by some authors.[6][7]


Asparagus has been used from early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, Book III. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter. It lost its popularity in the Middle Ages but returned to favour in the seventeenth century.[8]



Three types of asparagus on a shop display, with white asparagus at the back and green asparagus in the middle. The plant at the front is Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, is commonly called wild asparagus, and sometimes "Bath Asparagus".

Only the young shoots of asparagus are eaten.

Asparagus is low in calories, contains no cholesterol and is healthy as it is very low in sodium. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.

The shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef, and also wrapped in bacon. Asparagus may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers. It is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In the French style, it is often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil, Parmesan cheese or mayonnaise. It may even be used in a dessert.[9] The best asparagus tends to be early growth (meaning first of the season) and is often simply steamed and served along with melted butter. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.

Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years. Some brands may label shoots prepared this way as "marinated."

The bottom portion of asparagus often contains sand and dirt and as such thorough cleaning is generally advised in cooking asparagus.

Green asparagus is eaten worldwide, though the availability of imports throughout the year has made it less of a delicacy than it once was.[5] However, in the UK, due to the short growing season and demand for local produce, asparagus commands a premium and the "asparagus season is a highlight of the foodie calendar."[10] In continental northern Europe, there is also a strong seasonal following for local white asparagus, nicknamed "white gold".

German botanical illustration of asparagus


The second century physician Galen described asparagus as "cleansing and healing."

Nutrition studies have shown that asparagus is a low-calorie source of folate and potassium. Its stalks are high in antioxidants. "Asparagus provides essential nutrients: six spears contain some 135 micrograms (μg) of folate, almost half the adult RDI (recommended daily intake), 20 milligrams of potassium," notes an article in Reader's Digest. Research suggests folate is key in taming homocysteine, a substance implicated in heart disease. Folate is also critical for pregnant mothers, since it protects against neural tube defects in babies. Several studies indicate that getting plenty of potassium may reduce the loss of calcium from the body.

Particularly green asparagus is a good source of vitamin C.[11] Vitamin C helps the body produce and maintain collagen, the major structural protein component of the body's connective tissues.

"Asparagus has long been recognized for its medicinal properties," wrote D. Onstad, author of Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers and Lovers of Natural Foods. "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." It should be noted, however, that ammonia only "makes us tired" if we are in end stage liver failure.


Green asparagus for sale in New York City.

Since asparagus often originates in maritime habitats, it thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow in. Thus a little salt was traditionally used to suppress weeds in beds intended for asparagus; this has the disadvantage that the soil cannot be used for anything else. Some places are better for growing asparagus than others. The fertility of the soil is a large factor. "Crowns" are planted in winter, and the first shoots appear in spring; the first pickings or "thinnings" are known as sprue asparagus. Sprue have thin stems.[12]

White asparagus, known as spargel, is cultivated by denying the plants light while they are being grown. Less bitter than the green variety, it is very popular in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany where 57,000 tonnes (61% of consumer demands) are produced annually.[13]

Purple asparagus differs from its green and white counterparts, having high sugar and low fibre levels. Purple asparagus was originally developed in Italy and commercialised under the variety name Violetto d'Albenga. Since then, breeding work has continued in countries such as the United States and New Zealand.

In northwestern Europe, the season for asparagus production is short, traditionally beginning on April 23 and ending on Midsummer Day.[14]

Companion planting

Asparagus is a useful companion plant for tomatoes. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle, as do several other common companion plants of tomatoes, meanwhile asparagus may repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants.[15]

Commercial production

Asparagus output in 2005 shown as a percentage of the top producer (China – 5,906,000 tonnes).
     100      10      1

As of 2007, Peru is the world's leading asparagus exporter, followed by China and Mexico.[16] The top asparagus importers (2004) were the United States (92,405 tonnes), followed by the European Union (external trade) (18,565 tonnes), and Japan (17,148 tonnes).[17] The United States' production for 2005 was on 218.5 square kilometres (54,000 acres) and yielded 90,200 tonnes,[18] making it the world's third largest producer, after China (5,906,000 tonnes) and Peru (206,030 tonnes).[19] U.S. production was concentrated in California, Michigan, and Washington.[18] The crop is significant enough in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region that the city of Stockton holds a festival every year to celebrate it, as does the city of Hart, Michigan, complete with a parade and asparagus queen. The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire is heralded as the largest producer within Northern Europe, celebrating like Stockton, with a week long festival every year involving auctions of the best crop and locals dressing up as spears of asparagus as part of the British Asparagus Festival.[20] There is also a city festival in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg held for a week in April held in honour of the locally produced white asparagus i.e. "Spargel".There is a competition to find the fastest spargel peeler in the region and usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beer being consumed to aid the spectators appreciative support.[21]

Vernacular names and etymology

Asparagus in Mildura, Victoria, Australia
Mature native Asparagus with seed pods in Saskatchewan, Canada

Asparagus officinalis is widely known simply as "asparagus", and may be confused with unrelated plant species also known as "asparagus", such as Ornithogalum pyrenaicum known as "Prussian asparagus" for its edible shoots.

The English word "asparagus" derives from classical Latin, but the plant was once known in English as sperage, from the Medieval Latin sparagus. This term itself derives from the Greek aspharagos or asparagos, and the Greek term originates from the Persian asparag, meaning "sprout" or "shoot". Asparagus was also corrupted in some places to "sparrow grass"; indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes John Walker as having written in 1791 that "Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry". In Gloucestershire and Worcestershire it is also known simply as "grass". Another known colloquial variation of the term, most common in parts of Texas, is "aspar grass" or "asper grass". In the Midwest United States and Appalachia, "spar grass" is a common colloquialism. Asparagus is commonly known in fruit retail circles as "Sparrows Guts", etymologically distinct from the old term "sparrow grass", thus showing convergent language evolution.[citation needed]

It is known in French and Dutch as asperge, in Italian as asparago (old Italian asparagio), in Portuguese as aspargo, in Spanish as espárrago, in German as Spargel, in Hungarian as spárga.

The Sanskrit name of Asparagus is Shatavari and it has been historically used in India as a part of Ayurvedic medicines. In Kannada, it is known as Ashadhi, Majjigegadde or Sipariberuballi.

In Thailand it is known as no mai farang (Thai: หน่อไม้ฝรั่ง), which literally means "European bamboo shoots". The green asparagus is normally used in Thai cuisine.

Urine effects

The effect of eating asparagus on the eater's urine has long been observed:

"asparagus... affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable" ("An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments," John Arbuthnot, 1735)[22]
Asparagus "...transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume." Marcel Proust (1871-1922) [23]

There is debate about whether all (or only some) people produce the smell, and whether all (or only some) people identify the smell. It was originally thought this was because some of the population digested asparagus differently than others, so that some people excreted odorous urine after eating asparagus, and others did not. However, in the 1980s three studies from France,[24] China and Israel published results showing that producing odorous urine from asparagus was a universal human characteristic. The Israeli study found that from their 307 subjects all of those who could smell 'asparagus urine' could detect it in the urine of anyone who had eaten asparagus, even if the person who produced it could not detect it himself.[25] Thus, it is now believed that most people produce the odorous compounds after eating asparagus, but only about 22% of the population have the autosomal genes required to smell them.[26][27][28]


Asparagus foliage turns bright yellow in autumn

Certain compounds in asparagus are metabolized giving urine a distinctive smell due to various sulfur-containing degradation products, including various thiols, thioesters, and ammonia.[29]

The volatile organic compounds responsible for the smell are identified as:[30][31]

Subjectively, the first two are the most pungent, while the last two (sulfur-oxidized) give a sweet aroma. A mixture of these compounds form a "reconstituted asparagus urine" odor. This was first investigated in 1891 by Marceli Nencki, who attributed the smell to methanethiol.[32] These compounds originate in the asparagus as asparagusic acid and its derivatives, as these are the only sulfur-containing compounds unique to asparagus. As these are more present in young asparagus, this accords with the observation that the smell is more pronounced after eating young asparagus. The biological mechanism for the production of these compounds is less clear.[citation needed]

The onset of the asparagus urine smell is remarkably rapid. It has been estimated to start within 15–30 minutes of ingestion.[33][34]


  1. ^ a b Flora Europaea: Asparagus officinalis
  2. ^ Euro+Med Plantbase Project: Asparagus officinalis
  3. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Asparagus officinalis
  4. ^ Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (2004) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2. Vegetables. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen; Backhuys, Leiden; CTA, Wageningen.
  5. ^ a b Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2
  6. ^ Flora of NW Europe: Asparagus prostratus
  7. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Asparagus prostratus
  8. ^ Vaughan, J.G.; Geissler, C.A. (1997). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press. 
  9. ^ Asparagus Lime Pie Recipe
  10. ^ British Asparagus
  11. ^ "Asparagus Nutrition Facts". Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  12. ^ "BBC - Food - Glossary - 'S'". BBC Online. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  13. ^ Molly Spence. "Asparagus: The King of Vegetables" (DOC). German Agricultural Marketing Board. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  14. ^ Oxford Times: "Time to glory in asparagus again".
  15. ^
  16. ^ United States Department of Agriculture. "World Asparagus Situation & Outlook" (PDF). World Horticultural Trade & U.S. Export Opportunities. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  17. ^ According to Global Trade Atlas and U.S. Census Bureau statistics
  18. ^ a b USDA (January 2006). Vegetables 2005 Summary. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 
  19. ^ "Food and Agriculture Organisation Statistics (FAOSTAT)". Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  20. ^ "British Aparagus Festival". 
  21. ^ "Official internet portal of the City of Nuremberg". 
  22. ^ Arbuthnot J (1735). An Essay Concerning the Nature of Aliments 3rd ed.. J. Tonson. pp. 64261–262. 
  23. ^ From the French "[...] changer mon pot de chambre en un vase de parfum," Du côté de chez Swann, Gallimard, 1988.
  24. ^ C. RICHER1, N. DECKER2, J. BELIN3, J. L. IMBS2, J. L. MONTASTRUC3 & J. F. GIUDICELLI (May 1989). "Odorous urine in man after asparagus". Br J. Clin. Pharmac. 
  25. ^ S. C. MITCHELL (May 1989). "Asparagus and malodorous urine". Br J. Clin. Pharmac. 
  26. ^ "The scientific chef: asparagus pee". The Guardian. September 23, 2005.,,1576765,00.html. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  27. ^ Hannah Holmes. "Why Asparagus Makes Your Pee Stink". 
  28. ^ Lison M, Blondheim SH, Melmed RN. (1980). "A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus". Br Med J 281 (6256): 1676. doi:10.1136/bmj.281.6256.1676. PMID 7448566. PMC 1715705. 
  29. ^ White RH. (1975). "Occurrence of S-methyl thioesters in urines of humans after they have eaten asparagus". Science 189 (4205): 810–11. doi:10.1126/science.1162354. PMID 1162354. 
  30. ^ Waring RH, Mitchell SC and Fenwick GR (1987). "The chemical nature of the urinary odour produced by man after asparagus ingestion". Xenobiotica 17 (11): 1363–1371. doi:10.3109/00498258709047166. PMID 3433805. 
  31. ^ Mitchell, S.C. (2001). "Food idiosyncrasies: beetroot and asparagus". Drug Metabolism and Disposition. 29 (4): 539-543.
  32. ^ Nencki, Marceli (1891). "Ueber das vorkommen von methylmercaptan im menschlichen harn nach spargelgenuss". Arch Exp Path Pharmak 28: 206–209. doi:10.1007/BF01824333. 
  33. ^ Somer, E. (August 14, 2000). "Eau D'Asparagus". WebMD. Retrieved 2006-08-31. 
  34. ^ Research completed and verified by Dr. R. McLellan from the University of Waterloo.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ASPARAGUS, a genus of plants (nat. ord. Liliaceae) containing more than loo species, and widely distributed in the temperate and warmer parts of the Old World; it was introduced from Europe into America with the early settlers. The name is derived from the Greek Cur rapayos or aacPapayos, the origin of which is obscure. Sperage or sparage was the form in use from the 16th to 18th centuries, cf. the modern Italian sparagio. The vulgar corruption sparrow-grass or sparagrass was in accepted popular use during the 18th century, "asparagus" being considered pedantic. The plants have a short, creeping, underground stem from which spring slender, branched, aerial shoots. The leaves are reduced to minute scales bearing in their axils tufts of green, needle-like branches (the so-called cladodes), which simulate, and perform the functions of, leaves. In one section of the genus, sometimes regarded as a distinct genus Myrsiphyllum, the cladodes are flattened. The plants often climb or scramble, in which they are helped by the development of the scale-leaves into persistent spines. The flowers are small, whitish and pendulous; the fruit is a berry.

Several of the climbing species are grown in greenhouses for their delicate, often feathery branches, which are also valuable for cutting; the South African Asparagus plumosus is an especially elegant species. The so-called smilax, much used for decoration, is a species of the Myrsiphyllum section, A. medeoloides, also known as Myrsiphyllum asparagoides. The young shoots of Asparagus officinalis have from very remote times been in high repute as a culinary vegetable, owing to their delicate flavour and diuretic virtues. The plant, which is a native of the north temperate zone of the Old World, grows wild on the south coast of England; and on the waste steppes of Russia it is so abundant that it is eaten by cattle like grass. In common with the marsh-mallow and some other plants, it contains asparagine or aspartic acidamide. The roots of asparagus were formerly used as an aperient medicine, and the fruits were likewise employed as a diuretic. Under the name of Prussian asparagus, the spikes of an allied plant, Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, are used in some places. The diuretic action is extremely feeble, and neither the plant nor asparagine is now used medicinally.

Asparagus is grown extensively in private gardens as well as for market. The asparagus prefers a loose, light, deep, sandy soil; the depth should be 3 ft., the soil being well trenched, and all surplus water got away. A considerable quantity of well-rotted dung or of recent seaweed should be laid in the bottom of the trench, and another top-dressing of manure should be dug in preparatory to planting or sowing. The beds should be 3 ft. or 5 ft. wide, with intervening alleys of 2 ft., the narrower beds taking two rows of plants, the wider ones three rows. The beds should run east and west, so that the sun's rays may strike against the side of the bed. In some cases the plants are grown in equidistant rows 3 to 4 ft. apart. Where the beds are made with plants already prepared, either one-year-old or two-year-old plants may be used, for which a trench should be cut sufficient to afford room for spreading out the roots, the crowns being all kept at about 2 in. below the surface. Planting is best done in April, after the plants have started into growth. To prevent injury to the roots, it is, however, perhaps the better plan to sow the seeds in the beds where the plants are to remain. To experience the finest flavour of asparagus, it should be eaten immediately after having been gathered; if kept longer than one day, or set into water, its finer flavour is altogether lost. If properly treated, asparagus beds will continue to bear well for many years. The asparagus grown at Argenteuil, near Paris, has acquired much notoriety for its large size and excellent quality. The French growers plant in trenches instead of raised beds. The most common method of forcing asparagus is to prepare, early in the year, a moderate hot-bed of stable litter with a bottom heat of 70°, and to cover it with a common frame. After the heat of fermentation has somewhat subsided, the surface of the bed is covered with a layer of light earth or exhausted tan-bark, and in this the roots of strong mature plants are closely placed. The crowns of the roots are then covered with 3 to 6 in. of soil. A common three-light frame may hold 50o or 600 plants, and will afford a supply for several weeks. After planting, linings are applied when necessary to keep up the heat, but care must be taken not to scorch the roots; air must be occasionally admitted. Where there are pits heated by hot water or by the tank system, they may be advantageously applied to this purpose. A succession of crops must be maintained by annually sowing or planting new beds.

The "asparagus-beetle" is the popular name for two beetles, the "common asparagus beetle" (Crioceris asparagi) and the "twelve-spotted" (C. duodecimpunctata), which feed on the asparagus plant. C. asparagi has been known in Europe since early times, and was introduced into America about 1856; the rarer C. duodecimpunctata (sometimes called the "red" to distinguish it from the "blue" species) was detected in America in 1881. For an admirable account of these pests see F. H. Chittenden, Circular 102 of the U. S. Dep. of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology, May 1908.

The "asparagus-stone" is a form of apatite, simulating asparagus in colour.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also asparagus


Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun


  1. (taxonomy) A taxonomic genus within the family Asparagaceae — asparaguses.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies


Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Monocots
Ordo: Asparagales
Familia: Asparagaceae
Genus: Asparagus
Species: A. acutifolius - A. adscendens - A. aethiopicus - A. africanus - A. albus - A. altissimus - A. aphyllus - A. arborescens - A. asiaticus - A. asparagoides - A. brachyphyllus - A. bucharicus - A. burchellii - A. capensis - A. cochinchinensis - A. cooperi - A. dauricus - A. declinatus - A. densiflorus - A. drepanophyllus - A. duchesnei - A. falcatus - A. filicinus - A. gonoclados - A. gracilis - A. laevissimus - A. laricinus - A. litoralis - A. lutzii - A. madagascariensis - A. maritimus - A. multiflorus - A. myriocladus - A. officinalis - A. oligoclonos - A. palaestinus - A. pastorianus - A. persicus - A. prostratus - A. pseudoscaber - A. racemosus - A. retrofractus - A. rubicundus - A. sarmentosus - A. scaber - A. scandens - A. schoberioides - A. scoparius - A. setaceus - A. stipulaceus - A. stipularis - A. subalatus - A. tenuifolius - A. trichophyllus - A. umbellatus - A. verticillatus - A. virgatus - A. warneckei


Asparagus L.


  • USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)[1]

Vernacular names

Česky: Chřest
Magyar: Spárga
Русский: Спаржа
Türkçe: Kuşkonmaz

Simple English

File:Asperge planten Asparagus
Asparagus officinalis plants.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Genus: Asparagus

Asparagus is a large genus of flowering plants, including many different species. One of these is often grown to be pretty, the "asparagus fern", Asparagus setaceus (although it is not a real fern). The best known plant in this group is Asparagus officinalis, which is an important food plant.

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