"Drinking two ounces of wheatgrass is like consuming three and a half pounds of vegetables," says Brian Clement, Ph.D., co-director of the Hippocrates Health Institute, who downs four ounces a day religiously.
The green drink that was once all the rage among a certain patchouli-and-love-beads set suddenly became mainstream in the 1990s, appearing almost overnight in health food stores and gyms across the country. No one is more pleased with this resurgence than Clement, whose institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., first popularized the grass in the United States.
According to research from the Optimum Health Institute, based in California and Texas, the young grass of the red wheat berry plant-grown throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world-is crammed with vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B12, C, and E, folic acid, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. It also contains a highly absorbable form of protein and a significant dose of phytochemicals, naturally occurring compounds in plants that prevent disease and are thought to attack cancer cells, says Clement. The body can fully absorb all the nutrients in wheatgrass when it's been juiced, says Clement, adding, "That's why eating or blending the grass is discouraged."
Wheatgrass can be used to help maintain health or treat chronic illness, say advocates like Steve "Sproutman" Meyerowitz, author of Wheatgrass: Nature's Finest Medicine (Book Publishing Co., 2007) and other books on sprouts and juicing. As a food rich in oxygen and enzymes, wheatgrass "detoxifies the liver, cleanses the colon, and purifies the bloodstream, which all enhances the immune system," he says.
Proponents of wheatgrass swear by its ability to help treat numerous diseases and ailments such as high blood pressure, tooth decay, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, sinusitis, and to stall (and even reverse) signs of aging. Robert Ivker, D.O., the Denver-based author of Sinus Survival (Tarcher, 2000; also see sinussurvival.com), often recommends wheatgrass to his patients. "Some 125 million Americans—over 40 percent of the population—are suffering from chronic conditions," says Ivker, co-founder and former president of the American Board of Holistic Medicine. "Rebalancing the body is a critical aspect in treating these conditions, and wheatgrass can be a key component of a good detoxification program."
Several medical spas have based their healing treatments on wheatgrass. Clients facing life-threatening illnesses, especially cancer, follow specialized programs that include daily hits of wheatgrass juice as well as a raw and organic vegetarian diet. Treatments may involve a juice fast, colon cleansing, and classes on stress reduction.
Research has shown that wheatgrass can help patients undergoing chemotherapy. A 2007 study from Rambam Medical Center and Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, found that two ounces of wheatgrass juice taken daily helped to reduce chemotherapy-induced blood toxicity without impacting the effectiveness of the chemotherapy treatments. And in a 2004 Indian study of 16 patients diagnosed with thalassemia (a blood disorder that causes anemia) who took 3.38 ounces of wheatgrass a day for at least one year, transfusion requirements in some were reduced by as much as 40 percent.
How to Use it
Start by drinking one ounce of fresh juice every day or adding a teaspoon of wheatgrass powder to juice or a smoothie, advises Meyerowitz. After a week or two, try doubling the dose. "The ultimate consumption for nutritional maintenance should be two to three ounces or two to three teaspoons per day," he explains. A therapeutic treatment can include up to 32 ounces per day, he adds, but should be carried out under the supervision of a health professional.
Wheatgrass can be integrated into any diet and is safe for those who can't tolerate gluten. (Gluten is in the grain, but not in the grass.) Fortunately, the grass is becoming easier to grow and juice at home. Try a tabletop greenhouse like Sproutman's Soil-Free Wheatgrass Kitchen Garden Salad Grower to grow your own sprouts. Typical juicers won't work for wheatgrass; you'll need a single or twin-gear cast-iron machine (available through sproutman.com and other online retailers) designed to extract the juice from each blade of grass.
Did You Know?
Wheatgrass can also be applied topically by putting the pulp or a specially made cream directly on the skin. The evidence is mostly anecdotal, but according to Meyerowitz, people who have used the cream claim that its antioxidant nutrients have helped heal or improve wounds, eczema, burns, bruises, and acne.
Help the juice go down
If you're a wheatgrass virgin, your first taste of the juice can be a shock. Prepare for "an intensely sweet flavor," says Meyerowitz. Until you get used to the taste, consider using a chaser of a juice you know and love. There are also wheatgrass-based recipes available in books—try Meyerowitz's, the classic Wheatgrass Book (Avery, 1985) by Ann Wigmore (the Lithuanian immigrant who introduced wheatgrass to Americans), or Wheatgrass, Superfood for a New Millennium (Vital Health, 2000) by Li Smith—and online at sites such as wheatgrassforlife.com. Meyerowitz often recommends mixing two ounces of wheatgrass juice with three ounces of celery and half an ounce of lemon juice: his prescription for making wheatgrass "more acceptable to the average palate."