Asparagus





The Asparagus, belonging to the Lily order of plants, occurs wild

on the coasts of Essex, Suffolk, and Cornwall. It is there a more

prickly plant than the cultivated vegetable which we grow for the

sake of the tender, [36] edible shoots. The Greeks and Romans

valued it for their tables, and boiled it so quickly that velocius

quam asparagi coquuntur--faster than asparagus is cooked--was

a proverb with them, to which our done in a jiffy closely

corresponds. The shoots, whether wild or cultivated, are succulent,

and contain wax, albumen, acetate of potash, phosphate of potash,

mannite, a green resin, and a fixed principle named asparagin.

This asparagin stimulates the kidneys, and imparts a peculiar,

strong smell to the urine after taking the shoots; at the same time,

the green resin with which the asparagin is combined, exercises

gently sedative effects on the heart, calming palpitation, or

nervous excitement of that organ. Though not producing actual

sugar in the urine, asparagus forms and excretes a substance

therein which answers to the reactions used by physicians for

detecting sugar, except the fermentation test. It may fairly be given

in diabetes with a promise of useful results. In Russia it is a

domestic medicine for the arrest of flooding.



Asparagin also bears the chemical name of althein, and occurs

in crystals, which may be reduced to powder, and which may

likewise be got from the roots of marsh mallow, and liquorice.

One grain of this given three times a day is of service for relieving

dropsy from disease of the heart. Likewise, a medicinal tincture is

made (H.) from the whole plant, of which eight or ten drops given

with a tablespoonful of water three times a day will also allay

urinary irritation, whilst serving to do good against rheumatic

gout. A syrup of asparagus is employed medicinally in France: and

at Aix-les-Bains it forms part of the cure for rheumatic patients to

eat Asparagus. The roots of Asparagus contain diuretic virtues

more abundantly than the shoots. An infusion [37] made from

these roots will assist against jaundice, and congestive torpor of

the liver. The shrubby stalks of the plant bear red, coral-like

berries which, when ripe, yield grape sugar, and spargancin.

Though generally thought to branch out into feathery leaves, these

are only ramified stalks substituted by the plant when growing on

an arid sandy soil, where no moisture could be got for the

maintenance of leaves. The berries are attractive to small birds,

who swallow them whole, and afterwards void the seeds, to

germinate when thus scattered about. Thus there is some valid

reason for the vulgar corruption of the title Asparagus into

Sparrowgrass, or Grass. Botanically the plant is a lily which has

seen better days. In the United States of America, Asparagus is

thought to be undeniably sedative, and a palliative in all heart

affections attended with excited action of the pulse. The water in

which asparagus has been boiled, if drunk, though somewhat

disagreeable, is beneficial against rheumatism. The cellular tissue

of the plant furnishes a substance similar to sago. In Venice, the

wild asparagus is served at table, but it is strong in flavour and

less succulent than the cultivated sort. Mortimer Collins makes Sir

Clare, one of his characters in Clarisse say: Liebig, or

some other scientist maintains that asparagin--the alkaloid in

asparagus-develops form in the human brain: so, if you get

hold of an artistic child, and give him plenty of asparagus, he

will grow into a second Raffaelle!



Gerard calls the plant Sperage, which is easily concocted when

eaten, and doth gently loose the belly. Our name, Asparagus, is

derived from a Greek word signifying the tearer, in allusion to

the spikes of some species; or perhaps from the Persian Spurgas,

a shoot.



[38] John Evelyn, in his Book of Salads, derives the term

Asparagus in easy fashion, ab asperitate, from the sharpness of

the plant. Nothing, says he, next to flesh is more nourishing;

but in this country we overboil them, and dispel their volatile salts:

the water should boil before they are put in. He tells of asparagus

raised at Battersea in a natural, sweet, and well-cultivated soil,

sixteen of which (each one weighing about four ounces) were

made a present to his wife, showing what solum, coelum, and

industry will effect. The Asparagus first came into use as a food

about 200 B.C., in the time of the elder Cato, and Augustus was

very partial to it. The wild Asparagus was called Lybicum, and by

the Athenians, Horminium. Roman cooks used to dry the shoots,

and when required these were thrown into hot water, and boiled

for a few minutes to make them look fresh and green. Gerard

advises that asparagus should be sodden in flesh broth, and eaten;

or boiled in fair water, seasoned with oil, pepper, and vinegar,

being served up as a salad. Our ancestors in Tudor times ate the

whole of the stalks with spoons. Swift's patron, Sir William

Temple, who had been British Minister at the Hague, brought the

art of Asparagus culture from Holland; and when William III.

visited Sir William at Moor Park, where young Jonathan was

domiciled as Secretary, his Majesty is said to have taught the

future Dean of St. Patrick's how to eat asparagus in the Dutch

style. Swift afterwards at his own table refused a second helping of

the vegetable to a guest until the stalks had been devoured,

alleging that King William always ate his stalks. When the large

white asparagus first came into vogue, it was known as the New

Vegetable. This was grown with lavish manure and was called

Dutch Asparagus. For [39] cooking the stalks should be cut of

equal lengths, and boiled standing upwards in a deep saucepan

with nearly two inches of the heads out of the water. Then the

steam will suffice to cook these tender parts, whilst the hard

stalky portions may be boiled long enough to become soft and

succulently wholesome. Two sorts of asparagus are now grown--

the one an early kind, pinkish white, cultivated in France and the

Channel Islands; the other green and English. At Kynance Cove in

Cornwall, there is an island called Asparagus Island, from the

abundance in which the plant is found there.



In connection with this popular vegetable may be quoted the

following riddle:--



What killed a queen to love inclined,

What on a beggar oft we find,

Show--to ourselves if aptly joined,

A plant which we in bundles bind.





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