“This is the dawning of the age of asparagus, the age of asparagus, as-pari-gusss!” Spring has sprung, and green shoots and blossoms abound. This almost leafless member of the lily family is the springtime delicacy we await all year.
Author Barbara Kingsolver chronicles her family’s epic journey into sustainable farming with an in-depth look at growing their food in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. “The asparagus plant’s life history sets it apart, giving it a special edge as the year’s first edible. It’s known botanically as a perennial, with a life span of many years. Asparagus wins the vegetable prize for living longer than one year. That’s why it’s the very first one to leap up in springtime, offering edible biomass when other vegetables are still at the seedling stage. It had a head start.”
Another aspect of its longevity is that, for a farmer or gardener, a bed of asparagus is like money in the bank. With care and attention to the soil, they get double dividends every year: as a vegetable as well as a decoration—the top green fronds are the same airy greenery that florists use in bouquets.
Asparagus has great medicinal value. The ancient Romans ate it raw or dried for curing aliments ranging from bee stings to toothaches. In our modern age, it is more commonly known for its diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties. High in potassium, the B vitamin folate, and folic acid, yet low in sodium. Asparagus contain a carbohydrate called inulin that the health-promoting friendly bacteria in our large intestine love, which makes it good for digestion.
Preparation: Cooking can be as simple as grilling or simmering in water for a few minutes. The aficionado may use an asparagus steamer basket so the bottoms get more heat than the tips.
Storage: Wrap the ends of the asparagus in a moist paper towel and place in the back of the fridge, as folate degrades in light and heat.