Photograph by Rory Sagner, National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Rory Sagner, National Geographic Your Shot
The Plate

All Hail Asparagus, First Spear of Spring

With the arrival of April, farmers markets come alive again after the winter doldrums in the Northern Hemisphere. For many of us, that means the return of asparagus spears—primarily slim and green in North America, and chunky and white in Europe. (As for white asparagus, it’s not actually a different plant. Unlike the green spears, which grow in the sun, the white version is shielded from sunlight as it grows to prevent photosynthesis.)

It seems we often end up talking about plants that aren’t grown from seed in these photo gallery posts, like apples (grafting), and bananas (cloning). While asparagus can be cultivated from seed, doing so means you’ll wait an additional year to eat it, and who wants to do that? Instead, most farmers grow their crop from “crowns.” Those aren’t the spiky spear tips, mind you, but tentacle-y asparagus roots. And even then, experts recommend you wait two to three years before harvesting to ensure solid root growth. The great thing is, they come back every year, unlike other vegetables that require annual re-planting.

Now, we could go on about the virtues of this stalky star of spring. But what you should do is revisit our 2014 post, This Veggie Was the 19th-Century Version of Viagra. It’s chock-full of the crazy things people have believed about asparagus through the centuries. Here are just a few, to whet your appetite:

  • “Nineteenth-century French bridegrooms, to alleviate performance anxiety, were traditionally fed three courses of asparagus on their wedding nights.”
  • “The legendary second-century Sanskrit sex manual, the Kama Sutra, touts asparagus paste in milk as a boost for lackluster lovers.”
  • And, per that font of ancient wisdom, Pliny the Elder: “If a person is rubbed with asparagus beaten up in oil, he will never be stung by bees.”

Enjoy these tips (and your asparagus tips), with a dose of salt, and take in these photos of our favorite spring veggie while you’re at it, courtesy of our Your Shot community.