Fun facts about asparagus

What is asparagus?

  • Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis, is a spring vegetable and an herbaceous perennial.
  • It is a member of the Lily family, that includes onions, garlic, leeks, and gladioli.
  • Asparagus shoots arise from underground “crowns” that are planted about 8 inches deep.
  • Under ideal weather conditions, an asparagus shoot, or “spear”, can grow 25 cm (10″) in a 24-hour period.
  • If not harvested, the shoots grow into tall fern like with small red seeds.
  • Once the shoot starts to “leaf out” the stems become woody and inedible.
  • Asparagus is a long-lived crop that can be productive for 15 or more years if given proper care.

Where does asparagus come from?

(Taken from

  • Asparagus is a perennial plant that is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas.
  • The name “asparagus” comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot”.
  • The ancient Greeks loved wild asparagus, but it was the Romans who first cultivated it nearly 2,500 years ago!
  • In the 16th century, asparagus gained popularity in France and England. From there the early colonists brought it to America.
  • Asparagus is often called the “Food of Kings”. King Louis the XIV of France was so fond of this delicacy that he ordered special greenhouses built so he could enjoy asparagus year-round.
  • Today, the biggest asparagus producing countries are China, Peru, Germany, Mexico, Thailand and Spain. The United States (mainly California, Washington and Michigan) are 7th in value and Canada is 16th.

Why does asparagus come in different colours?

There are three different colours of asparagus: green, white and purple:

GREEN asparagus has color because of a process called ‘photosynthesis.’ This is a process where plants use sunlight to produce chlorophyll, which gives them their green colour.

WHITE asparagus is actually just green asparagus but the farmer mounds soil on top of the spears so they never see sunlight! So it does not perform ‘photosynthesis’ and therefore has no colour!

PURPLE asparagus is simply a variety of green asparagus that has a gene that makes it purple, even though it still uses photosynthesis (i.e. produces chlorophyll). It is sweeter than green asparagus.

Is asparagus good for me?

Asparagus has only 4 calories per spear and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.

Asparagus is a diuretic. It brings about an increase in the excretion of chlorine and phosphate compounds. This dilutes the urine, which help prevent renal and urinary tract inflammations.

Asparagus is rich in rutin, a powerful antioxidant. Although, few health studies on the positive effects of rutin on humans have been conducted, in pre-clinical trials with animals it has been shown to:

  • Help thin the blood and improve circulation.
  • Show anti-inflammatory activity.
  • May inhibit blood clots, so could be used to treat patients at risk of strokes or heart attacks.
  • Some evidence also shows rutin can be used to treat hemorrhoids, varicosis, and microangiopathy.
  • Reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and may help prevent colon cancer.

The greyish or yellowish flecks found attached to pickled asparagus are actually rutin that has crystallized as a result of the asparagus spears having been exposed to vinegar and then heated. It is harmless – and may actually be good for you (see above).

Why does asparagus make my pee stinky?

After eating asparagus, some people experience “stinky pee”. The strong pungent odor is a result of sulfurous amino acids in the asparagus that are released during digestion. But only about one-quarter of the population appears to have the special gene that allows them to smell those compounds. So the issue isn’t whether or not your pee is smelly – it’s whether you’re able to smell it! If you smell a funny fragrance in your urine after you eat asparagus, you’re not only normal, you have a good nose.

Useful links

Asparagus recipes from Foodland Ontario
Buying, storing, and preparing asparagus