Wheatgrass - Nature's Finest Medicine

Sarah Merson investigates the wonders of wheatgrass - and whether wheat allergics can eat it.

From the Arctic tundra of Greenland to the outback down under, we're surrounded by grass. We're used to walking on it, sitting on it and mowing it, but have you ever considered that the planet's most ubiquitous vegetation could also be its finest medicine?

We're not necessarily talking about the grass in your back garden here, but rather the grass which is grown from grains such as barley, wheat, oats, kamut and rye. The most popular and well known of these is wheatgrass.

The movement for the human consumption of wheatgrass began in the western world in the 1930s and was initiated by Charles F Schnabel, known as 'the father of wheatgrass'. And it was at this time that young cereal grasses such as wheatgrass, were identified as a complete food.

Nutrient & enzyme rich

Early in the research, sufficient nutrients were found to suggest that a shot of fresh wheatgrass could act as a complete supplement. Indeed, wheatgrass contains enzymes and amino acids, all the B group vitamins, vitamins A, C, E and K plus calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium.
Naturally rich in proteins and sugars, young wheatgrass is nourishing and restorative. It has up to 40% protein by dry matter content, mostly as polypeptides, which are short-chain proteins, and easy to assimilate, making them particularly valuable as building blocks in the healing process. What's more, a high proportion of the sugars found in wheatgrass (and it has a surprisingly sweet taste) are simple sugars, easily digested through the delicate mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Early research also discovered other unidentified nutrients, which were named 'grass juice factors'. Today, they would be labelled phytochemicals.

Then there's the enzymes

Wheatgrass is bursting with enzymes (see box below) which are the life force of our food and carry out important biological and chemical functions within the body. These include strengthening cells and removing poisons from the blood stream, thus strengthening the body’s defence mechanisms.

Enzyme-rich, wheatgrass therefore helps eliminate toxins accumulated from eating processed food, breathing polluted air and drinking impure water.

Good for allergies?

Put simply, the mega doses of nutrients and enzymes provided by wheatgrass give our bodies back the power to heal. Indeed, ‘wheatgrass gives our bodies all the raw materials from which it manufactures what it needs and balances it own chemistry’, says wheatgrass expert and author of Wheatgrass - Nature's Finest Medicine, Steve Meyerowitz.

Chlorophyll power

The solid content of wheatgrass consists of 70% chlorophyll, the basis of all plant life (often referred to as 'the blood of plant life'). It closely resembles the molecules of haemoglobin (the body's critical oxygen and iron-carrying blood protein). Chlorophyll first received praise back in the 1940s from research scientist, Dr Bircher-Benner (of muesli fame), who referred to chlorophyll as 'concentrated sun power for the body'.

Because of its similarity to the molecular structure of human blood, chlorophyll is quickly assimilated in the body and has a dilating effect on the blood vessels allowing blood to flow more easily. This improved
circulation means that nutrients and oxygen can be distributed more efficiently throughout the body, thus stimulating the body tissues and metabolism to function optimally.

In addition chlorophyll is a rich antioxidant capable of increasing the iron content in our blood and has the ability to break down poisonous carbon dioxide. Its effects are such that it ‘increases the functions of the heart, improves the vascular system, intestines, uterus, and lungs. It also raises the basic nitrogen exchange and is therefore a tonic, which, considering its stimulating properties, cannot be compared with any other’, says Dr Bircher.

Chlorophyll has also long been famous for its ability to heal infected and ulcerated wounds. Indeed, as Steve Meyerowitz says, ‘studies prove that tissue cell activity and its normal regrowth are definitely increased by using chlorophyll’. It comes as no surprise therefore that wheatgrass is effective at healing bleeding gums, ulcers, gingivitis and sore throats and makes a great mouth wash. It's also a good eliminator of body odours. Taken regularly it will eliminate bad breath, smelly feet and perspiration odours.

Wheatgrass and detox

Master herbalist and naturopath, Philip Weeks, uses wheatgrass for patients who require detox. ‘If there are toxins in the body, then this
creates stress which can lead to all kinds of conditions. It's vital to have a cleansing tool and to help the organs become free of clutter and therefore to work more efficiently. Wheatgrass does this as well as reinserting all the right nutrients into the system. It's also especially good for the liver which is of course a major organ in detoxification’, says Philip Weeks.

With its capacity to help detoxify, wheatgrass may also be helpful in treating allergies. The immune system is a key player in the emergence of allergic symptoms, ‘therefore, one of the best things we can do is support it, through detox, rather than undermine it,’ says Steve Meyerowitz.

Can wheat allergics tolerate wheatgrass?

Yes - if your allergy or sensitivity is to gluten. Wheatgrass is a green vegetable, quite different from wheat, which is a grain. ‘The green vegetable grass contains no gluten. It is no more allergic than spinach, kale, chard or lettuce. Moreover, apart from the liver purging, blood-purifying and oxygenating capacity of wheatgrass, it coats the colon tissues with chlorophyll and has antioxidant properties to boost immunity and thus protect from allergy’, explains Steve Meyerowitz.
However, if your allergy is to a wheat protein you should be more careful as the protein which causes the reaction may be present in the grass as well as in the grain.

Juice - not powder

As humans we don't have the digestive ability to process grass. We therefore benefit by breaking down the strong cell walls and drinking the juice. However it is better, if more trouble, to juice than to take your wheatgrass as powder, as many phytonutrients, and particularly the all-important enzymes, are lost when the wheatgrass is dehydrated as powder or capsules.

Lipase is a highly effective in the digestion of fats. Enhances the digestion of proteins, starch and fat in the gastrointestinal tract. Without lipase fat stagnates and accumulates in the organs, arteries and capillaries.
Cytochrome Oxidase
Major effector in the body’s production of energy. Cytochrome oxidase anchors a chain of enzymes in the mitochondrion; the power plant of the cell enables this by reacting with oxygen to make energy.
This enzyme is among the most efficient known. Serves to protect each
individual cell from the toxic effect of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is caused in the body by bacteria.
Malic Dehydrogenase
Important enzyme in maintaining the body’s ability to defeat bacteria and other parasitic hosts in the body.
Abscisic Acid
Anti-cancer agent.
Protease Amylase
Important in supplementing the body’s natural digestion of starches, proteins, fats and cellulose. Can help offset the worst aspects of digestive leukocytosis, the immune response to food heated over 118degrees F


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