Regular exercise and eating a varied diet full of whole, unprocessed foods is commonly thought to be the best way to stay healthy and avoid illness.
And with the addition of natural supplements and superfoods, you can ensure that you give your body all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its best.
One such superfood is ashitaba, a herb which has also been used as a medicine in Japan for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It has also been regularly consumed as part of a healthy diet, said to be responsible for promoting long life and a strong immune system.
Now, more and more people across the world are recognizing the significant potential of this ancient superfood.
Here, we reveal some unexpected facts about ashitaba, and how it could improve your health and help you to lead a more natural life.
21 Sweet Ashitaba Benefits
Rich in antioxidants and with proven healing properties, this unique superfood has a wide range of health benefits and many different uses. Read on to find out more:
1. A Long History of Medicinal Use
Few, if any, superfoods can claim to have been used as a medicine for hundreds of years.
However, the medicinal properties of ashitaba were first recorded by Dr. Lee in his book on the use of plants in Chinese medicine, written between 1518 and 1593.
This powerful plant was also famously used in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) to effectively treat smallpox.
But, many experts believe that its use in Japan actually dates back thousands of years, when knowledge of its healing properties was passed on verbally.
2. Amazing Regenerative Powers
The name ashitaba means 'Tomorrow's Leaf' in Japanese. This name derives from the almost magical regenerative ability the plant demonstrates after being cut.
When a cutting is taken early in the morning, the plant's above-average capabilities allow new leaves to grow back overnight, with new buds visible by the following day.
The same regenerative powers can be seen when the resin is applied to a wound. The healing process speeds up significantly thanks to its high levels of chlorophyll, meaning less chance of infection occurring and a much quicker recovery time.
3. A Heavenly Name
Ashitaba's botanical name, Angelica keiskei koidzumi, also comes with a story.
The plant belongs to the botanical species Angelica, derived from the Latin for 'angel'. The name is said to be derived from the plant's 'heavenly' health benefits.
It's worth noting that Angelica keiskei is the only Angelica plant that produces yellow sap from the stem, where many of the plant's benefits are found.
The second part of the name is from Ito Keiskei, the 19th-century Japanese botanist, often called the father of modern Japanese botany.
4. Used in a Variety of Foods
Perhaps due to these health and nutritional benefits, ashitaba is added to a variety of foods in its native Japan as well as internationally.
From sweet ice cream and candies to savory rice and noodle dishes, this plant is used in many different products.
However, one of the healthiest ways to consume this superfood is by drinking it as a tea or mixing it into smoothies and juices.
5. An Alphabet of Vitamins
It's easier to name the vitamins that ashitaba doesn't contain!
The long list includes vitamins A, C, E, K, B2, Niacin (B3), B6, Folate (B9), and B12.
Vitamin A is important to maintain good vision, and vitamin C ensures good cardiovascular health, while both vitamins help to keep your immune system healthy.
Vitamin K helps the blood to clot and prevents excessive bleeding, and also protects against osteoporosis and diabetes.
And the wide range of B vitamins contribute in many ways to improving health. However, their main functions include helping convert food into energy which helps in reducing anxiety, stress, depression, and controlling blood sugar levels.
6. A Plant Source of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is vital for maintaining good overall health. As well as many other functions, it helps cell regeneration, aids the conversion of food into energy, regulates the nervous system and keeps your heart healthy.
But, as most vegans and vegetarians will know, vitamin B12 is almost impossible to find in any non-animal products.
However, as mentioned above, ashitaba is an excellent plant source of vitamin B12.
So, rather than taking supplements for a diet that might be lacking in B12, you can enjoy a vitamin boost alongside the many other natural benefits of this superfood.
7. Rich in Minerals
In addition to the wide range of vitamins it provides, ashitaba boasts a variety of minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.
Calcium is important for strong bones, while potassium reduces water retention and improves heart health.
Zinc and iron are crucial for maintaining good health and reducing the chance of anemia and related problems. Both of these minerals are often lacking in many diets, especially for those who do not eat animal products.
And, as a source of vitamin C, the plant also helps the absorption of the iron it provides.
Ashitaba also provides fiber for the production of probiotics, which are needed for good digestive and intestinal health. It is a source of plant protein too and supplies chlorophyll for healing.
Clearly, its reputation as a superfood is well-deserved. Indeed, it is more nutritious than many vegetables, including kale, cabbage, broccoli, celery, cucumbers, and asparagus.
8. A Powerhouse of Antioxidants
It's likely that you are aware of the importance of antioxidants and how they help to improve your immune system, prevent inflammation and reduce the risk of age-related diseases.
Green tea and black tea are famed for being high in antioxidants. However, ashitaba has a much higher Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value, meaning it is one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet.
9. Gives a Caffeine-Free Energy Boost
Furthermore, unlike green and black tea, ashitaba gives you a natural energy boost that doesn't come from caffeine.
Although the reason for this sensation of added energy isn't known, it's thought to be a result of the combination of B vitamins, antioxidants and chalcone.
This jitter-free energy doesn't result in the same crash you'd feel after too much caffeine either. So, by swapping green tea for a cup of naturally sweet and subtly mild raw ashitaba tea you'll feel healthy and vibrant all day.
10. Famous Food Family
Ashitaba is part of the 'Apiaceae' family of foods, which also includes parsnips, carrots, celery, fennel, dill, anise, parsley, cumin, and cilantro.
11. Taste the Freshness
This botanical connection gives the ashitaba leaves a slightly bitter but fresh and nutty flavor, sometimes likened to celery. Because of this taste, the herb is often used in salads and rice dishes.
However, when the leaves and chalcone are ground down into a powder and lightly heated, the flavor is sweeter and more subtle, ideal for enjoying as a tea.
The powder can also be mixed into smoothies, juices, and other drinks without overpowering the original flavor.
12. The Best Natural Source of Chalcones
As well as providing an energy boost, the chalcones found in ashitaba provide many other benefits - but what are chalcones exactly?
When you break the stalks, you see a golden sap, which is extremely rich in specific phytochemicals called chalcones. These chalcones contain a combination of 20 unique flavonoids.
Essentially chalcone is a powerful antioxidant substance. It was previously thought that celery was the best source of chalcone, although it only contains a small amount.
By comparison, ashitaba can contain at least 10 percent chalcone as well as other natural antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E.
13. Boosts Metabolism and Reduces Fat
It is these powerful antioxidant substances called chalcones which give ashitaba many of its well-known health benefits. One of these is the ability it has to increase metabolic rate.
Regularly consuming the superfood as a tea or mixed into drinks can increase metabolism by as much as 30 percent, meaning that the same daily activities will burn significantly more fat.
And, thanks to the added energy it provides, you're likely to feel more motivated to lead an active lifestyle, aiding in further in the reduction of body fat.
Importantly, two of the plant's antioxidants (4-hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol) specifically target visceral (belly) fat, which accumulates around organs and is the most dangerous type of fat to carry.
14. Regulates Blood Pressure and Reduces Cholesterol
Ashitaba has powerful effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels too.
The potassium it contains helps to strengthen the contractions of the heart and regulate blood pressure, while the chalcones also contribute to improved blood pressure levels.
The chalcones also help to increase the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body and reduce levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
15. Fights against Diabetes
Both the saponin found in ashitaba leaves and the chalcones found in the stem have been shown to help regulate healthy blood sugar levels. This effect has demonstrated an improved insulin response in diabetics taking the plant.
And, thanks to its restorative properties, vitamins, and antioxidants, it has also been found to reduce the effects associated with diabetes, including vision problems and limited blood flow to extremities.
16. The Key to a Long Life
With all these health benefits, it might not come as a surprise to learn that ashitaba is thought to help those who consume it regularly to live longer.
In fact, the inhabitants of Hachijo Island, where the plant originates, often live to well over 90 years old and enjoy excellent health. The islanders even call it 'the longevity herb', and have used it as an integral part of their diet for centuries.
17. Provides Physical Strength
As well as prolonged life it has been said that ashitaba encourages improved physical strength. It is known as a hardy plant which grows easily and requires minimal care, providing the same kind of resistance for those who consume it.
Many people were exiled to islands such as Hachijo during the Shogun era. Despite the harsh conditions and compulsory manual labor, the exiles remained strong and showed great stamina throughout their lives.
This increased strength may also be due to the effect the plant is thought to have on the immune system. By boosting the body's natural immunity, the body is better able to fight off infection and disease, and then becomes stronger as a result.
18. Improves Concentration and Memory
As well as enhancing physical health, ashitaba has also been found to significantly improve concentration and memory.
The energy boost it supplies is likely to be a reason for improved concentration, while the antioxidant properties help to awaken connections in the brain.
19. Increases Nerve Growth Factor
However, on a more complex and larger scale, ashitaba has also been found to increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which in turn reduces mental degeneration.
NGF is a protein found in all vertebrate tissues. The role of NGF is to protect nerve cell foundations and maintain connections between the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Through this, NGF wards off neuron degeneration, the main cause of dementia-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
Amazingly, the plant has been found to stimulate the production of the protein NGF, and also makes it work more effectively. This effect promotes more accurate recall and a longer-lasting memory.
20. Prevents Age Related Skin Damage
As a rich source of antioxidants and chalcones ashitaba has great benefits for your skin health. Antioxidants are among the most researched skin renewing things and ashitaba has even more than green tea!
21. DNA Protection and Repair
Over time, your DNA becomes damaged due to external forces, such as infections, and internal forces, such as cell mutations. The aging process makes it harder for DNA to repair itself, and diseases can occur.
However, perhaps the most incredible power of ashitaba is the effect that it has on DNA. Not only does it protect DNA from being damaged, it has also been found to repair the DNA's ability to restore optimal functioning and balance within the body.
Effectively, the plant acts as a protective shield for DNA, while also helping to resolve damage already caused. This, in turn, has the potential to fight against diseases such as cancer, so it is clearly something that needs to be investigated further.
Have any of these unexpected facts about ashitaba surprised you? Which of these do you find most interesting?