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The consumption of wheatgrass in the Western world began in the 1930s as a result of experiments conducted by Charles F. Schnabel in his attempts to popularize the plant.
Schnabel, an agricultural chemist, conducted his first experiments with young grasses in 1930, when he used fresh cut grass in an attempt to nurse dying hens back to health. The hens not only recovered, but they produced eggs at a higher rate than healthy hens. Encouraged by his results, he began drying and powdering grass for his family and neighbors to supplement their diets. The following year, Schnabel reproduced his experiment and achieved the same results. Hens consuming rations supplemented with grass doubled their egg production. Schnabel started promoting his discovery to gristmills, chemists and the food industry. Two large corporations, Quaker Oats and American Dairies Inc.[ambiguous], invested millions of dollars in further research, development, and production of grass products for animals and humans. By 1940, cans of Schnabel’s powdered grass were on sale in major drug stores throughout the United States and Canada.
Extracting wheatgrass juice with a manual juicing machine.
Schnabel’s research was conducted with wheatgrass grown outdoors in Kansas. His wheatgrass required 200 days of slow growth, through the winter and early spring, when it was harvested at the jointing stage. It is at this stage that the plant reached its peak nutritional value; after jointing, concentrations of chlorophyll, protein, and vitamins decline sharply. Harvested grass was dehydrated and made into powders and tablets for human and animal consumption. Wheatgrass grown indoors in trays for ten days contains similar nutritional content. Wheatgrass grown outdoors is harvested, dehydrated at a low temperature and sold in tablet and powdered concentrates. Wheat grass juice powder (freshly squeezed with the water removed) is also available either spray-dried or freeze-dried.
Indoor growing and mold
Growing wheat grass indoors usually requires the grass to be grown in small trays with the wheat grains close together for a high yield. Not every wheat seed will sprout. Ungerminated seeds can develop mold which may spread to nearby sprouted plants. This may cause an unpalatable taste and, in extreme cases, an allergic reaction. This issue is not necessarily a problem when growing wheat in a field, due to less crowding of seeds and the resulting improved air circulation.
The average dosage taken by consumers of wheatgrass is 3.5 grams (powder or tablets). Some also have a fresh-squeezed 30 ml shot once daily or, for more therapeutic benefits, a higher dose up to 2–4 oz (60 – 120 ml) taken 1-3 times per day on an empty stomach and before meals. For detoxification, some users may increase their intake to 3–4 times per day. Consumers with a poor diet may experience nausea on high dosages of wheatgrass.
Table 1. Nutrient comparison of 1 oz (28.35 g) of wheatgrass juice, broccoli and spinach.
Nutrient Wheatgrass Juice Broccoli Spinach
Protein 860 mg 800 mg 810 mg
Beta-carotene 120 IU 177 IU 2658 IU
Vitamin E 880 mcg 220 mcg 580 mcg
Vitamin C 1 mg 25.3 mg 8 mg
Vitamin B12 0.30 mcg 0 mcg 0 mcg
Phosphorus 21 mg 19 mg 14 mg
Magnesium 8 mg 6 mg 22 mg
Calcium 7.2 mg 13 mg 28 mg
Iron 0.66 mg 0.21 mg 0.77 mg
Potassium 42 mg 90 mg 158 mg
Data on broccoli and spinach from USDA database. Data on Wheatgrass juice from indoor grown wheatgrass.
Proponents of wheatgrass make many claims for its health properties, ranging from promotion of general well-being to cancer prevention and heavy-metal detoxification. These claims have not been satisfactorily substantiated in the scientific literature,although there is some evidence in support of the beneficial effects of chlorophyll in the human diet.Some research exists that relates diets high in chlorophyll, present in higher concentrations in green leafy vegetables, to lower rates of colon cancer.
There are a number of other small studies and pilots on the possible benefits of wheatgrass juice. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, there may be a need for further study of wheatgrass therapy for ulcerative collitis; they cite a small pilot study which showed regular wheatgrass juice therapy significantly reduced rectal bleeding and overall disease activity.
It has been argued that wheatgrass helps blood flow, digestion and general detoxification of the body. These claims have not been reliably substantiated. However, in one pilot study of children with thalassemia (a hereditary form of anemia which often requires blood transfusions), of the patients who were given 100ml of wheatgrass juice daily, half showed reduced need for transfusions. No adverse effects were observed.] Another small study of transfusion-dependent patients suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome responded similarly to wheatgrass therapy; that is, the intervals between needed transfusions were increased. In addition, the chelation effect (removal of heavy metals from the blood) was studied for the same patients; the wheatgrass therapy showed a significant iron chelation effect.
In another pilot, breast cancer patients who drank wheatgrass juice daily showed a decreased need for blood- and bone marrow-building medications during chemotherapy, without diminishing the effects of the therapy.
Wheatgrass proponent Schnabel claimed in the 1940s that “fifteen pounds of wheatgrass is equal in overall nutritional value to 350 pounds of ordinary garden vegetables”, a ratio of 1:23. Despite claims of vitamin and mineral content disproportional to other vegetables, the nutrient content of wheatgrass juice is roughly equivalent to that of common vegetables (see table 1).
Wheatgrass is also thought to be superior to other vegetables in its content of Vitamin B12, a vital nutrient. Contrary to popular belief, B12 is not contained within wheat grass or any vegetable, rather it is a byproduct of the microorganisms living on plants. If plants are washed prior to consumption the water soluble B12 will be removed making most plants unreliable sources of B12.
Another common claim for wheatgrass is that it promotes detoxification.