"Eat, love and be merry" should be the slogan for asparagus. Compounds in this veggie have two unexpected benefits: First, it is rumored to be a powerful aphrodisiac; and second, eating asparagus can help remedy a nasty hangover.
I was actually able to find a small research study in the Journal of Food Science – confirming that subjects who consumed extracts of asparagus before and after drinking had greater amounts of the enzymes that breakdown alcohol in their bloodstream. Sadly, there are no studies to confirm asparagus’ other rumored health benefit, but both ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic texts discuss the plant as a powerful love tonic for both men & women. In Chinese medicine, asparagus is an important Kidney Yin tonic – it helps to build body fluids, increases fertility, and also encourages one’s receptive & compassionate nature. It seems that King Louis XIV of France named the green shoots appropriately – "points d’amour" or "love tips" he affectionately called them.
Asparagus is one of the best food sources of glutathione – a major antioxidant in the body, which accounts for its effects as a hang-over remedy. Consider eating some asparagus for breakfast to give yourself a morning dose of antioxidants, as glutathione is depleted overnight by various bodily functions. Asparagus is also an excellent source of Vitamins C, B6, calcium, magnesium, and six spears contain half of the daily folic acid requirements!
Asparagus is known to be a diuretic – meaning it encourages more urine output from the kidneys. Diuretics are important in the management of hypertension (high blood pressure) and also help to detoxify the kidneys by increasing the excretion of toxic metabolites like ammonia and uric acid. Asparagus has another famed effect on "pee" – and this one comes up a lot at the dinner table. As Marcel Proust said, "Asparagus… transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume."
Well maybe not perfume, however, the smell of one’s urine following a serving of asparagus is notorious – and the topic has raised a lot of questions as to why not everyone notices the "eau du asparagus". Research has confirmed that the smell is consistent and due to compounds from asparagus that are excreted into the urine; but that a specific gene accounts for our ability to detect the odour. In short, some people can smell it, and others can’t!
All smelling aside, asparagus is one of the best parts of spring & early summer! The fresh, juicy & sweet shoots are simply amazing paired with lemon, garlic & grilled to perfection. I tried a spear picked right out of a friend’s veggie patch, and will never forget the amazing flavour - nothing like the asparagus you get in the grocery store over the winter months. Enjoy it while it’s in season here in Ontario, and don’t forget to drink & be merry with a little help from asparagus!
Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto’s Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma. http://bronwynhillnd.com/