Tuesday, 16 August 2011

sparrowgrass, aka asparagus

As I was browsing gardening sites to check where I should plant my twenty-one baby asparagus plants, grown from seed last year, I came across a reference to sparrowgrass.

I think I prefer that name.

It's a folk etymology. It came into English from the Latin form, asparagus, but by the seventeenth century had been shortened to sparagus, after which it was anglicised to sperage. Alongside this form, some people began to call it sparrowgrass, because of the similarity to those two English words. During the nineteenth century, the folk name died out and it reverted to asparagus. All this I read on word-origins.com. The article says grocers still call asparagus grass. I've never heard anyone do so, but I've never talked to a grocer about this plant.

All very interesting - well, to me.

But the fun part came when I looked at an ABC Science site. Apparently, many people have stinky urine after eating this plant. (Hmm, I'll have to enquire amongst my friends - close friends).

However, although we've been eating asparagus for thousands of years, and people have written about it for at least two and a half thousand years, no one mentioned the stinky wee until the seventeenth century. In the article, Dr Karl S. Kruszelnicki looks at some theories about why this might be so.

And he's written another article about the chemicals behind this stinky wee. And wouldn't you have guessed it? One of them is called asparagusic acid!

4 comments:

therigatha said...

Hi parlance
can you help? I am seeking a definition of supercilious.
thanks

parlance said...

Hi, therigatha, I started to reply here, but the reply became so long I think I'll make it a separate post.

Papillon Bleu said...

Oh my...I can definitely confirm about the smell...I used to grow "asperges" in my garden in France and ate so much!

You have to prepare what in France we call "une tombe à asperge" ( asparagus tomb) which is a mixture of soil and lots of sand.But I am sure youhave already found this.

They are really good if you fry them in a bit of olive oil and garlic ( bien sûr!) but if you want to boil them, the best way is in a special saucepan where you can "stand" them with the head up ( am getting techinical and not sure how to explain this in English).

It usually takes 2 years before you can have good asparagus.

parlance said...

Papillon Bleu, it's interesting to learn how you grow this plant in France. I've heard of that way of boiling them, but I have never seen it done. I guess I should look at YouTube.