Asparagus officinalis (garden asparagus)
Illustration of Asparagus officinalis
Asparagus officinalis L.
garden asparagus, wild asparagus, asparagus (English); asperge (French); espargo (Portuguese); espárrago, esparraguera (Spanish); oranda-kiji-kakushi (Japanese); Spargel (German)
Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria; widespread in cultivation.
Temperate grasslands, dunes and heaths.
Food, medicine, ornamental.
About this species
Asparagus officinalis has been cultivated and harvested from the wild for thousands of years and has become an economically important crop. It is depicted on Egyptian tombs dating from the 4th century BC and evidence suggests it was cultivated in ancient Rome.
The common name asparagus derives from the Greek asparagos (and originally the Persian asparag) meaning sprout or shoot, referring to the succulent shoot tips (spears) that emerge in spring. The specific epithet officinalis means ‘of the dispensary’ in Latin, alluding to the medicinal properties of the plant.
In all species of the genus Asparagus, what appear to be the leaves are in fact modified stems (cladodes or phylloclades); the true leaves are the scale-like structures on the stem.
Asparagus officinalis has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. Dioscorides, a first century Greek physician, recommended extracts of asparagus root for treatment of urinary and kidney problems, jaundice and sciatica. Asparagus officinalis was later mentioned in Gerard’s Herbal and was thought to ‘cleanse without manifest heat and dryness’ and ‘increase seed and stir up lust’.
Today, it is known to be a strong diuretic and is used in the treatment of urinary problems such as cystitis. It is also useful in the treatment of rheumatic conditions, is a mild laxative and sedative, and is considered useful in the treatment of a range of maladies from arthrosis to tuberculosis. Asparagus is also a rich source of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that is known to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and maintain the health of the liver.