One of the primary impulses I had for the founding of Dr. Cowan’s Garden was to make organic, U.S.-grown ashitaba available to my patients and friends. As I’ve written many times, ashitaba is truly an amazing and medicinal plant. The leaves have about twice the nutrient content of such other highly nutritious green vegetables as kale or collard greens, and the stems contain a yellow sap that is loaded with a powerful phytochemical called chalcones.
Ashitaba is widely grown and used in Asia, particularly, in Japan and the Philippines. In folk medicine, ashitaba, used as either a powder or tea, is reputed to combat arthritis, support immune function, treat fatigue and even reverse aging.
I initially thought that with the combination of our Napa garden and the help of local gardening friends, we would soon have an abundant supply of ashitaba for all our customers. It turned out to be not so easy.
Ashitaba is one of the most finicky plants I have ever tried to grow. The seeds germinate poorly, sometimes not at all, so I had to purchase seedlings rather than go the usual route of starting the plants from seeds myself. They need an abundance of water to grow, tend to like shade and cooler weather, but if temperatures drop beneath 60 degrees or so, they tend to stop growing altogether. We grew them under shade cloth in the summer and protective fabric in the winter, which helped until we discovered that gophers love ashitaba —almost as much as people do. Some of our best plants were unfortunately devastated by this year’s gaggle of gophers.
The other gardeners we asked to grow ashitaba generally fared no better. In our frustration, we briefly considered using a certified organic Asian source, but, mostly, my heart was never in that direction.
The Ashitaba Powder we are making available today is premium-quality ashitaba, grown either by me or a Northern California grower we recently met. It was grown using organic methods and is rich in the sticky yellow chalcone-rich sap. Chalcones are a type of aromatic ketone, meaning, they are one of the few dietary sources of ketone bodies available to us. Chalcones have been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects, anti-aging effects and even their effects on reversing the excessive cell growth seen in cancer cells.
Chalcone-rich Ashitaba Powder can be used as a kind of nutrient-rich green vegetable in smoothies, salads, or in any other recipe that calls for greens. A quarter- or half-teaspoon at a time is usually sufficient. Also, because it’s a dietary source of ketones, Ashitaba Powder can be used to enhance the effect of a ketogenic diet or to provide extra nutrients during intermittent fasting.
As we work to secure our domestic source of ashitaba, we are going to be looking into more uses for this amazing plant. The plant may be finicky to grow, but the rewards are great for those who stick with it.
Tom Cowan, M.D.