The ancient Greeks discovered the delights of asparagus and it’s no surprise they associated the firm, thick shoots – emerging each spring from winter-dormant soil – with virility.
There is no proof asparagus is an aphrodisiac – nor that it can cure cancer – but it is certainly a delicious, nutritious plant worth enjoying during its brief season.
Asparagus is low in calories and high in antioxidants. It is high in B vitamins, folate, vitamin C, potassium, sodium, iron and fibre.
Experts disagree on whether it is a natural diuretic and can lower blood pressure – and thus whether it should be avoided by those with uric acid kidney stones or diabetes.
Purple asparagus contains anthocyanins – potent antioxidants that aid in the growth of healthy cells.
When cooking asparagus, light steaming or stir-frying will preserve more nutrients than boiling, but stems can also be eaten raw (add to a salad or blend in a smoothie).
Try it in soup, in a quiche or omelette, tempura style or with smoked salmon and pasta. Blanched asparagus can be frozen or preserved in brine, vinegar or oil.
Asparagus can be costly to buy as the roots must be three years old before harvesting. White asparagus, which is grown in the dark, is even more labour-intensive. On the upside, plants last 15-20 years.
However, it is easy to grow from seed: six crowns, planted 20-40 centimetres apart during winter, will feed a family. Asparagus grows across Australia but performs best in areas cold enough to induce dormancy.
1 bunch asparagus, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated), balsamic vinegar
Heat oven to 230°C and drizzle olive oil over a single layer of asparagus on a baking tray. Spread with parmesan and season to taste. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with balsamic vinegar.
(For recipes and tips visit asparagus.com.au)
words Jane Canaway illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room