Wheatgrass is a food prepared from the cotyledons of the common wheat plant, Triticum aestivum (subspecies of the family Poaceae). It is sold either as a juice or powder concentrate. Wheatgrass differs from wheat malt in that it is served freeze-dried or fresh, while wheat malt is convectively dried. Wheatgrass is allowed to grow longer than malt. Like most plants, it contains chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes. Claims about the health benefits of wheatgrass range from providing supplemental nutrition to having unique curative properties, though few, if any, have been scientifically proven. It is often available in juice bars, and some consumers grow and juice wheatgrass in their homes. It is available as fresh produce, tablets, frozen juice and powder. Wheatgrass is also available commercially as a spray, cream, gel, massage lotion, and a liquid herbal supplement. Because wheatgrass juice is extracted from wheatgrass sprouts, i.e., before the wheat seed begins to form, it is gluten-free.
Wheat grass can be traced back in history over 5000 years, to ancient Egypt and perhaps even early Mesopotamian civilizations. It is purported that ancient Egyptians found sacred the young leafy blades of wheat and prized them for their positive effect on their health and vitality. The consumption of wheatgrass in the Western world began in the 1930s as a result of experiments conducted by Charles Schnabel in his attempts to popularize the plant. By 1940, cans of Schnabel’s powdered grass were on sale in major drug stores throughout the United States and Canada. Wheatgrass can be grown indoors or outdoors. A common method for sprout production indoors is often on trays in a growth medium such as a potting mix. Leaves are harvested when they develop a “split” as another leaf emerges. These can then be cut off with scissors and allow a second crop of shoots to form. Sometimes a third cutting is possible, but may be tougher and have less sugars than the first.
Wheatgrass grown is harvested, dehydrated at a low temperature and sold in tablet and powdered concentrates for human and animal consumption. Indoor grown wheatgrass is used to make wheatgrass juice powder. Proponents of wheatgrass make many claims for its health properties, ranging from promotion of general well-being to cancer prevention. Wheatgrass is a source of potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. Wheatgrass is also a source of protein (less than one gram per 28 grams). Adding other foods with complementary amino acid profiles to this food may yield a more complete protein source and improve the quality of some types of restrictive diets.