Dine & Wine

Meet Asparagus, the King of Vegetables! Not Just for Vegetarians

Magda Michalska 11 June 2020 min Read

The season for asparagus is very short as it starts around the 23rd of April (St George's Day) and lasts only until June. Its special qualities and delicate flavor have rendered it a hero of vegetables, loved by everyone from kings to artists. See asparagus in art and hurry up to get the last ones!

Asparagus in art Roman mosaic
Asparagus in art: Roman Mosaic, Casa dei Vetti, Pompeii,, Italy. Source: public domain.

The Romans came up with food freezing in the 1st c. BCE to preserve their favourite asparagus longer and they devoted whole treaties to the ways it should be farmed (Cato the Elder and his On Agriculture).

Asparagus in art Adriaen Coorte, A Bundle of Asparagus, 1703
Asparagus in art: Adriaen Coorte, A Bundle of Asparagus, 1703, private collection.

In the Middle Ages asparagus was used as a sedative but with time it gained a more (in)famous association as it was believed to stimulate love and passion. A 17th Century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper wrote that asparagus “stirs up lust in man and woman”.

Asparagus in art: Édouard Manet, Asparagus, 1880, Musée d'Orsay, public domain.
Édouard Manet, Bunch of Asparagus, 1880, Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Asparagus in art: Édouard Manet, Bunch of Asparagus, 1880, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany.

Is it due to its phallic shape that the French word asperge means also ‘penis’? Is that why Manet liked to paint asparagus so much…?

Asparagus in art Netherlands
Asparagus in art: Jacob Foppens Van Es, Still life with bunches of asparagus, 1631. Source: Sotheby's.

In the Netherlands asparagus was certainly associated with luxury, prosperity and abundance…

Asparagus in art Adriaen Coorte, Life of an earthenware bowl of wild strawberries, a bundle of asparagus and springs of gooseberry and redcurrants, all on stone ledge with a pale blue butterfly above, 1689
Asparagus in art: Adriaen Coorte, Life of an earthenware bowl of wild strawberries, a bundle of asparagus and springs of gooseberry and redcurrants, all on stone ledge with a pale blue butterfly above, 1689. Source: Sotheby's.

… and together with strawberries and artichokes it symbolized the fruits of Paradise.

Asparagus in art company
Jan Wittenberg, Still life with Asparagus, Orange and Egg, 1931, private collection.

Asparagus can be enjoyed in company…

Asparagus in artgood
John Morra, Asparagus, 2008, © John Morra Fine Art.

...but it's also good just on its own.

Asparagus in art louis xiv
Asparagus in art: Eliot Hodgkin, Asparagus, 1961, private collection, © The estate of Eliot Hodgkin.

Not only vegetarians love it since it was the Germans who in 1985 founded a museum dedicated to asparagus.

Asparagus in art asparagus museum
Francesco Trombadori, Still life with Asparagi, 1928, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy.