Grown throughout the nation's midsection, wheat supplies the valuable grain used in the production of breads, cereals and other food products. During the early stages of growth, before the plant produces grain, the tender wheatgrass shoots already contain nutrients. Natural health proponents consume wheatgrass juice, extracted from the tender shoots, or they take wheatgrass supplements.
Charles Schnabel, a nutritional scientist in the 1930s, advocated the use of wheatgrass as a chicken feed supplement to restore weak chickens to health and to promote egg laying. In the 1960s, Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute, developed a loyal following after making widespread claims about the health benefits of consuming wheatgrass. She later retracted some of those claims.
The wheat plant, Triticum aestivum, grows from wheat seeds, sown in farm fields in late fall and harvested the next year. However, the harvest of wheatgrass occurs when the wheat plant is young and the green grass-like stalks are less than a foot high. At this point, the stalks are tender and high in moisture content.
Wheatgrass kits are available from health food retailers and they include sterile growing medium, a tray and wheat seeds. Sown as directed, the seeds sprout within a few days and grow to a harvest height of between 6 inches and 8 inches. After cutting, consumers may extract the juice from the tender shoots with a juicer or they may use them in salads.
Wheatgrass contains a number of essential nutrients, including B vitamins, protein, calcium, iron, zinc and other vitamins and minerals. The presence of chlorophyll in wheatgrass lends the deep green color to the extracted juice. Alternative health advocates suggest that chlorophyll may have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, claims not backed by scientific studies.
Sold as a dietary supplement, wheatgrass is not subject to testing by the FDA. Consumers may purchase wheatgrass juice or wheatgrass supplements.