Asparagus owes its name from ancient Greek aspharagos, meaning bud. It is usually dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The fruit is a small red berry, poisonous to humans. In controlled cultivation, Asparagus shoots are white, whereas in nature they’re greenish. It is an old plant, dating back about 2000 years ago. They thought it was first cultivated by Egyptians, then in Anatolia and finally in Europe. In the XV century, it began to be commonly cultivated in France, then also in England and Northern America.
Nutritiously speaking, Asparagus is the best ally for our health. It is rich in fiber, vitamins (above all A, B9, C, E) and mineral salts (included the uncommon chromium, important against diabetes as it improves the insulin ability of moving glucose from blood flow towards the cells, so decreasing glucose level in our blood), and many others. Glutathione, also uncommon, useful to purify the body from carcinogenic molecules and free radicals. Antioxidant agents and vitamin B12, which prevent age-caused brain issues. Asparagine, an amino acid, a natural diuretic, particularly beneficial for people suffering from high blood pression or water retention. Potassium, precious to control blood pressure and help the nervous system.
In cooking Asparagus is used boiled or steamed. Since the bud is more delicate than the stem, you can tie the stems together and boil the bunch, leaving the buds outside water: they will get a steam-cooking. Many chefs use Asparagus to season first and second courses. For example, spring lasagna or poached eggs with grilled asparagus. In short, this slightly bitter vegetable is so versatile to be the ideal ally for cooking artists. Besides that, you can also use Asparagus to decorate second and side dishes: some florists even use them to make centrepiece!
Fun fact: We know for sure that both ancient Romans and Greeks knew Asparagus, because it is described by Cato, Pliny and Theophrastus. They explain cultivation techniques, suggest some recipes with asparagus, and list its beneficial properties. Ancient Romans used to love Asparagus so much that they arranged whole ships for the harvest, called, precisely, “asparagus”.