Ashitaba is endemic to Hachijō, an island in the Izu archipelago, a moist subtropical region located to the south of Japan. During the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868) the island became known as a place of exile for convicts such as political rebels and later common criminals.Guards that regularly sailed from the mainland delivering new convicts began noticing in time that criminals that were staying on the island were more energetic with no signs of aging compared to the mainland guards who brought them to Hachijō-Jima many years ago.
As time progressed some guards started passing away, but the islanders just kept living in spite of lack of food and harsh conditions. Guards began asking what was the secret that helped convicts live up to their 90s in good health. Note that an average lifespan of Europeans in the 17th century was around 45 or so years. Naturally, none of the islanders could come up with anything special to share.
Later on, someone figured out that the main food component of the people living there was this bitter herb resembling large parsley or celery (Ashitaba). They ate it raw, boiled in soups, and brewed plenty of Asitaba tea since it was one of a few edible greens growing in abundance there.
Today, this unique plant, which became known as the ‘Longevity Herb’, is regarded as a treasure and affectionately referred to as ‘King of Vegetables’ in Hachijō Island. Ashitaba is a rich source of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and its sap – chalcone – possesses valuable carcinostatic, antithrombotic and ulcer preventive abilities.
Ashitaba means “tomorrow’s leaf,” referring to its strong regenerative capabilities. Pick some leaves from the plant at the break of day and you will find new leaves blossoming in their place by the next day.
This green luxuriant plant is often mistaken for celery. It measures between 50 and 120 inches in height. It has a high survival rate. It thrives in modest conditions with a temperature range of 12 to 22 degrees.
Researchers from the University of Graz in Austria have identified the anti-ageing properties of a natural compound called flavonoid 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone (DMC). The compound has been found to slow down the process of deterioration all human cells go through.
In total, the Graz research team looked at 180 different compounds, analyzing their anti-ageing properties. DMC was found to be the strongest all-round performer having the potential to “reduce chronological age-related cell death” and promote “longevity across species”, according to the report’s authors.
DMC belongs to a family of compounds called flavonoids – the largest group of phytonutrients in the plant world. There are more than 6,000 different flavonoids and they have long been associated with the health benefits of fruit and vegetables. The Ashitaba plant is a rich source of DMC, and consequently goes beyond the usual health benefits of a diet high in fruit and vegetables. It works by prompting a process called autophagy – a natural detoxification at a cellular level.
It could be one of the reasons Japanese people continue working well into old age and outlive their contemporaries in other countries so comprehensively.
The next intriguing aspect of ashitaba is its high nutrient density, as depicted in the following chart: As you can see, the nutrient profile of ashitaba easily dwarfs such nutritional powerhouses such as kale and asparagus.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ASHITABA HERBAL TEA
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Strengthens immune system
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Controls blood pressure
- Provides pre-menopausal relief
- Increases metabolism
- Promotes better sleep
- Improves vision
- Supports digestive and gastrointestinal health