Just when you think you’ve tried every adaptogenic herb around, another rises in popularity and promises to be the answer to everyone’s myriad of daily woes. Enter wild asparagus root, of which there are two common varieties used in Eastern medicine. Asparagus racemosus is a beige root known in Ayurveda as Shatavari, and the orange-red root called Asparagus cochinchinensis used in Chinese Medicine is named Tian Men Dong. Both types of asparagus root have been heading into the mainstream over the last decade. As with most any Western “discovery” of a “new” modality, asparagus root has of course been used for centuries, if not millennia, in the East. The red variety used in Chinese Medicine is particularly prized because it is rarer, and is sold at a higher price than the Ayurvedic root.
Your first instinct upon hearing the name asparagus is probably to assume this plant is the root of the asparagus that we eat, but there are actually hundreds of varieties of the asparagus plant. These roots are related to, but wholly separate from, the green vegetable formally titled asparagus officinalis common in Western cuisines. Because red and beige asparagus roots share numerous polysaccharides and saponins, in addition to a name, they are often lumped together, and maybe people aren’t aware they are two different products.
The Medicinal Uses of Asparagus Root
In terms of asparagus root’s medicinal uses, Shatavari is used most notably as a galactagogue, which is a food used to increase breast milk production, and studies have shown it to increase the hormone needed for that (prolactin) by several times. Tian Men Dong has been studied for its potent anti-inflammatory effects and anti-cancer properties. Both Asparagus racemosus and cochinchinensis might also be used as antidepressants, libido boosters and aphrodisiacs, as well as a stress mitigators, although more research in humans specifically is needed.
Shatavari's Mental Wellness Uses
- Antidepressant Activity: A study on animals using asparagus root extract found it to have “significant antidepressant activity.” Still, further research is needed to prove the same effect in humans.
- Libido Boosting: While this herb has most notoriously been used for female health reasons, including as an aphrodisiac, a study done on male rats showed substantial libido enhancing effects in numerous ways. “The present results, therefore, support the folklore claim for the usefulness of these herbs and provide a scientific basis for their purported traditional usage,” is as graphic as I'll get about the libido of rats.
- Stress Reduction: Stress, and its subsequent overproduction of cortisol hormones, is a root cause of countless health problems in our society. By reducing stress, we can recover from health issues we may not even be aware are stress-related, such as digestion. Asparagus root was shown to reduce the effects of stress in rats. More research to explore the root's effects on humans is needed.
Tian Men Dong has been less studied for its behavioral properties, but its folklore is equally strong; it’s known as “the flying herb” by Taoists for its emotional impact, giving the user a feeling of lightness and floating. Says Christian Bates, founder and formulator of the adaptogenic herb line Longevity Power, of the herb: “Red asparagus was introduced to me as ‘The Flying Herb’ because its unique set of asparagus compounds impart a gentle but very pleasant ‘lift’ and are also known to help induce flying dreams. The idea that I could consume a life-enhancing performance-boosting nutritious herb that also shifted my consciousness—but in all positive ways so that I can take it any time of day—well I fell in love with red asparagus right then and there. It took me a while before I could upgrade from making tea out of the roots at home, to working with manufacturers to make a really strong certified organic red asparagus extract powder that I could bring to market. Because of the ‘lift feeling’ it gives, I decided to call this extract ‘Levity.’”
My Personal Experience with Asparagus Root
I first tried red asparagus root a few years ago, and was surprised by the strength of its effects: it was like a gentle flashback of how I remember feeling on MDMA. Of course, it was much more mild, but it had a similar soft, euphoric feel that’s so rare to accomplish in life. No time taking it since has ever been as intense as that first time—as is the case with most substances, natural or otherwise—but I still enjoy it immensely. I’ve found if you take it for weeks on end you stop noticing its effects and become desensitized to it, so I use it in rotation with other adaptogens and cycle through. My favorite use for it is in coffee, because it has a slight sweetness and the coffee covers any bitter notes. I’ve also enjoyed it as an evening tonic before going out; similar to MDMA, it makes dancing seem like a particularly fun activity.
How to Take Asparagus Root
Shatavari and Tian Men Dong are sold in various forms, including powders, liquid extracts, and capsules. It’s important to note, like many indigenous remedies that become Western "trends," the increased usage of asparagus root has put it on the endangered list. The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease noted in 2013, “Due to destructive harvesting, combined with habitat destruction, and deforestation, the plant is now considered endangered in its natural habitat.” Because of this, sustainable sourcing is incredibly important, so as to ensure you don’t contribute to those in Eastern societies losing access to a modality they founded. Daily stress is at an all time high for many people; asparagus root might be an answer to some who want to tackle stress, relax, and turn on—without tuning out.
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