A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The species Asparagus Cochinchinensis has been in use in the conventional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 year. It is a perennial plant that usually growing in abundance in China, Japan and Korea. Usually the plant grows up to a height of about 1.5 meters. Literally translated, the plant's Chinese name ‘Tian Men Dong' means ‘Lush Winter Aerial Plant'. While the plant blossoms all through May and June and the seeds mature around the month of September. The flowers of asparagus are dioecious meaning they have only one sex - male or female. Moreover, each plant of the species can bear only either male or female flowers, rendering them incapable of self fertilization. Thus, in order to produce seeds, both male and female Asparagus Cochinchinensis need to be grown near each other so that bees are able to pollinate the flowers. While this species is able to adjust itself to semi-shade or complete shade condition, but thrives best on medium or loamy and heavy or clayey soils provided there is an adequate drainage system. The asparagus plant also has a liking for acid, neutral and basic or alkaline soils. The plant requires moist soil and is able to withstand marine conditions.
Asparagus is a low growing shrub having very slender cylindrical or tubular branches, which have cast back spines and several extremely slender midribs. The shrubs are solitary polygamous bearing both unisexual and hermaphrodite flowers on the same or on different plants of the same species or have pairs of white flowers on the axils of the cladophylls that have a resemblance to leaves. The dehydrated roots of asparagus are yellowish in color and are found in pieces each 7-8 cm in length having a jelly-like texture as well as form. These roots have a sweetish flavor, but leave a bitter tang in the mouth later on.
The fruits as well as the roots of the asparagus are both fit for consumption. As far as the consumption of the fruits of the plant is concerned, there are conflicting reports. While some say that the asparagus fruit is edible, others are of the view that they are harmful if consumed. It may be mentioned here that each fruit or berry of the plant is approximately 6 - 8 mm in diameter.
The roots have a smooth surface, but tastes sweet in the beginning and bitter later. The rhizomes grow up to a length of 5 cm and are about 2 meters broad and the majority of this is utilized in preparing conventional herbal medications. These tubers are normally harvested or unearthed twice a year - during autumn and winter. Soon after the rhizomes are dug out of the ground, they are washed to get rid of the bitterness, the fibrous or rubbery central part is taken away and the remaining part of the root is boiled in water. These rhizomes have a flavor that is akin to the generally used asparagus. Many people consume the tubers after conserving them in sugar for some time so that they acquire a sweet flavor.
The roots of asparagus possess numerous therapeutic properties. They enclose asparagine, mucilage, starch and several sugars. The dehydrated roots of the herb are anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antiseptic, antitussive (pertaining to suppress coughing), anti-bacterial, nervine (aptitude to soothe the nerves), sialogogue (ability to encourage salivary flow), antipyretic (ability to check or prevent fever) as well as stomachic (digestive). In addition, the dried roots of the plant are used to prepare excellent cough syrups, tonics and stimulants for the nervous system. The asparagus root or preparations with it is consumed as a natural medication to cure fever, coughs, sore throats, debility (weakness or exhaustion), tuberculosis as well as bronchitis. The rhizome of asparagus is frequently decocted along with other herbs and used for treating an assortment of ailments, such as diabetes mellitus. Extended usage of the herb is recommended for treating impotence. Interestingly, according to legends, the plant is said to be effective in treating cancer, while present day studies have found that it possesses anti-tumor functions and it is currently being studied for the treatment of lung cancer. The herb is usually used in curative recipes along with Rehmannia glutinosa and Codonopsis javanica.
The roots of the plant are also an excellent detoxifying agents and used for purifying the system. In addition to their extensive use in conventional Chinese medicine, the asparagus is also made use of as a pesticide as it is very effective in warding off as well as eliminating larvae of flies and mosquitoes.
As discussed earlier, the herb has been in convention Chinese medicine use for over 2000 years. The Chinese herbal medical practitioners generally use the herb for cleansing the lungs of congestion as well as the kidney conduits. The herb is useful in clearing the lung heat, treating fever, dry mouth, chest pain, dislike to cold and wind, hemoptysis (expectoration of blood). The herb is an excellent and effective medication for dry cough, cough having sparse sticky sputum or cough with blood stained sputum and those that are not easy to expel from the lungs. The herb has the capacity to produce fluids and thereby is able to moisturize aridness. Hence, asparagus serves as an excellent medication for wasting diseases as well as people suffering from thirsting disorders. Herbal medical practitioners recommend the use of the herb for treating thirst, mild or afternoon fevers, muscle wasting, dry stools and sluggish bowel movement.
Scientists have been using tuber Asparagi Cochinensis together with Bulbus Lilli (Bai He), Radix Glehniae Littoralis (Sha Shen) during clinical researches to study the treatment for lung cancer when a patient may be enduring dry throat and/ or constipation. When a decoction prepared with one sachet containing these medications in water and administer to such patients hot orally in three equal dosages - morning, noon and night, it was found that the degrees of bronchitis, esophagitis and pneumonitis stimulated by radiation were remarkably lower in the group that received this treatment compared to those who were not administered the decoction. Researchers are of the opinion that the findings of these clinical studies, treating patients with the conventional Chinese herbal medications founded on different patterns together with the radiation therapy may help to accomplish comparatively enhanced temporary survival rates and superior restricted power over tumors. In such a situation, apart from those due to the radiation therapy, the side effects are also expected to be low.
A different study conducted by scientists documented that the vigorous elements found in asparagus may possibly slow down the TNF-alpha (also known as the tumor necrosis factor) discharge by restraining the IL-1 secretion. In addition, these active ingredients enclosed in asparagus may also have anti-inflammatory functions in the central nervous system. The findings of this study demonstrated that there was no connection whatsoever between the elements enclosed by sarsaspogenin and the other species of asparagus. In fact, the content of sarsaspogenin in the rhizomes of Asparagus Cochinchinensis was found to be in opposite proportion with the marketable grade within identical species. Sarsaspogenin found in the tubular roots of the plant are often blended with other herbs while providing chemotherapy for breast cancer patients.
Asparagus is also recommended by herbal medical practitioners to treat diabetes, malignant lymphoma, multiple sclerosis (chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system), migraine headaches and systemic lupus erythmatosus. However, it is regrettable that researches conducted on treating these disorders so far are not enough. In addition to the above conditions, the herb is utilized as the base element in phytoestrogen (a chemical compound with estrogenic properties) dietary enhancements. The herb has supplementary functions in the case of constipation or irregular bowel movements where it acts as a moistening agent and is also effective in other ailments where the body continues to loose fluids unnecessarily, such as in the instance of continuing sweats during nights as well as night-time discharges. What is significant regarding asparagus is that almost all parts of the herb enclose elements that have shown tentative anti-tumor functions and there is ample indication of the fact that it may prove to be effective in treating deadly cancer.
Habitat and cultivation
The asparagus is extensively farmed in different regions of Asia, including southern China, Japan, Korea and Indochina (a peninsula of south Asia that includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam). The plant requires adequate drainage system to flourish. Sandy loam soil suits the plants best and they thrive well in places receiving direct sunlight. Asparagus may be easily cultivated in any garden soil in conditions suitable for the plant.
The plants blossom throughout May and June and the seeds mature sometime in September. The flowers of this species are dioecious or unisexual by nature. This means that each flower has only one sex - either male or female. Even the plants are unisexual and an individual plant bears flowers of only one sex. As they are unable to fertilize independently, plants bearing flowers of different sexes need to be grown closely in order to facilitate the pollination by bees. The roots or rhizomes of asparagus are usually dug up when the plant is dormant. The rhizomes are washed, and dried for use afterwards.
Asparagus reproduces by means of its seeds and sowing is done during spring or in early autumn soon after the seeds mature. In the second case the sowing is done in greenhouses to protect the seedlings from the ensuing winter. The stored seeds of the plant need to be soaked in warm water for around 12 hours before sowing. Normally, the sprouts begin to appear within three to six weeks of sowing the seeds at 25° C. When the seedlings have grown to a height that can be handled, take them out individually and place them in separate containers. During their first winter, the seedlings need to be grown in sunny positions in greenhouses. They may be planted in their permanent places outdoors during the subsequent summer. Alternately, asparagus may also be propagated through the division process undertaken during early spring when the plants are fully grown.
It is important to note that the majority of the medicinal features of the asparagus are ascribed to an element enclosed by the plant called asparagin. In fact, this ingredient is even held responsible for the typical smell of the urine passed after taking the herb or medications prepared with it. However, scientists are yet to completely ascertain the precise functioning of asparagin. This ingredient of asparagus encloses a compound called b-sitosterol that is prescribed to treat benign prostate hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate gland with the aging process).
The sprouts of the asparagus seeds enclose some amount of wax and chlorophyll as well as essential minerals like iron, calcium and potassium. The chlorophyll enclosed in these sprouts has potent antioxidant properties.
Asparagus is extremely rich in polysaccharides, starch, mucilage, and sugar, flavonoids like quercetin, inulin, rutin and kaempferol as well as vitamin E content. Since there is hardly any opportunity to discuss the functioning of these ingredients in detail here, our effort will be to highlight their benefits. Flavonoids are known to be potent antioxidants that counterbalance the side effects of the metabolic process, for instance, the harmful free radicals. The flavonoids improve our immune system and help in the absorption of vitamins by the body. For instance, rutin is an extremely potent antioxidant that is prescribed for people suffering from poor eye sight, such as macular degeneration. Similarly, another flavonoid quercetin functions together with vitamins and enhance their outcome. This is particularly true in the instance of vitamin C. In addition, quercetin is believed to possess a mild aptitude to cure allergies and hypersensitive reactions and colds and is often used for alleviating some of the indications of hay fever (a seasonal rhinitis resulting from an allergic reaction to pollen). Inulin, on the other hand, is a powerful fiber and is best for people suffering from irregular bowel movements or constipation and is also prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. In addition, it is used to manufacture fructose and is appraising the functioning of the kidneys.
None of the clinical researches undertaken on asparagus thus far state much regarding the dosage of the herb or medications prepared with the herb for curing any of the disorders it is able to treat. Since very little information is available in this regard, one ought to seek the advice and guidance of a qualified and trained medical practitioner before using the herb or medications prepared with it. The professional healthcare providers are most competent to suggest the right dosages for different disorders.
Generally, it is advisable to use the herb root or rhizome in a decoction form. To prepare the decoction, you need to boil 60 grams of the root in a liter of water and take it fresh daily. Alternately, you may also take one to four grams of the herbal extract every day.
Side effects and cautions
As discussed above, since there is no precise information regarding the dosage of the herb, it is always essential to consult a professional healthcare provider before taking the herb. In addition, it is advisable that people enduring neurosis and/ or hysteria ought to keep away from the herb or any of its preparations as in this case it may result in insomnia or sleep disorders. The herb should also be avoided by people suffering from cold because of spleen and stomach disorder along with lack of desire for food and diarrhea or cold owing to cold wind. It is important to note that pregnant women or those who desire to be pregnant should also keep away from taking the herb for long as it may involuntarily result in abortion.
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