The Ecology of Humans (52-2) Asparagus


Asparagus is a perennial flowering plant with over 200 species in lands ranging from Siberia to southern Africa. The succulent shoots of garden asparagus have been cultivated by the Egyptians at least since 3000 bce. Asparagus was known in ancient Syria and Spain, and popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans. But it drew little notice in medieval Europe. Asparagus has been grown commercially in the United States since the mid-1800s. China is currently the world’s leading producer of this vegetable.

Asparagus is in season from January to June in North America. It is a labor-intensive crop, requiring harvesting by hand.

In certain European countries, white asparagus is popular. This is asparagus denied light. Shoots are covered in soil as they grow, so they do not become green from photosynthesis. Tender white asparagus shoots are less bitter than their more natural green brethren but are also less nutritious.

Asparagus grows in soils too saline for other plants. As it does not uptake soil salt, asparagus is low in sodium.

Asparagus and tomatoes are complementary companions. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle. Meanwhile, asparagus repels some root nematodes that prey on tomato plants.

Asparagus offers few calories but is rich in vitamins and minerals. Asparagus is a good source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K, and rutin. Asparagus offers chromium, copper, folic acid, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.

In most people, eating asparagus produces urine with a characteristic smell. This owes to asparagus metabolizing to yield ammonia and various sulfurous products.