Wheatgrass is a food prepared from the freshly sprouted first leaves of the common wheat plant. 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, but these claims have not 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 it is extracted from wheatgrass sprouts, i.e., before the wheat seed begins to form, wheatgrass juice is gluten-free, but some recommend that those with coeliac disease avoid it due to a high risk of cross-contamination.
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.
Ann Wigmore was also a strong advocate for the consumption of wheatgrass as a part of a raw food diet. Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute, believed that wheatgrass, as a part of a raw food diet, would cleanse the body of toxins while providing a proper balance of nutrients as a whole food. She also taught that wheatgrass could be used to treat those with serious disease. Both of these claims are believed by many reputable health institutes to be entirely unfounded by facts, and possibly dangerous.
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.
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. He claimed that at this stage the plant reached its peak nutritional value; after jointing, concentrations of chlorophyll, protein, and vitamins decline sharply. 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. However, according to the American Cancer Society, "available scientific evidence does not support the idea that wheatgrass or the wheatgrass diet can cure or prevent disease".
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.
Wheatgrass proponent Charles 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 dark leafy vegetables (see table 1).
Contrary to popular belief, vitamin B12 is not contained within wheatgrass or any vegetable, as vitamin B12 is not made by plants; rather it is a byproduct of the microorganisms living on plants or in the surrounding soil. There are some claims that analysis of wheatgrass have found B12 in negligible amounts; however, there are no reliable sources cited to back up the claim. It is also worth noting that an analysis of wheat grass by The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that wheatgrass contains no vitamin B12.
PLEASE NOTE: Some of the nutritional content linked to, in the paragraph above , and mentioned, in table 1 , seems dubious and/or do not appear to match a more accessible source at the USDA website..