What is wheatgrass? Wheatgrass is the young grass of the wheat plant Triticum aestivum, also known as agropyron or couchgrass. You may have spotted it on the menu at upscale cafés or seen people downing shots of the green stuff at healthy juice bars. Or you might have noticed it in planter containers looking exactly like a patch of lawn grass that you might buy at the nursery. And you may have wondered, "What in the world is that? And do people eat it?"

More often, they drink it. The sprouts of wheatgrass are too fibrous to digest, so the sprouts are ground or blended into juices, smoothies, teas, or into capsules or tablets sold as nutritional supplements.

What is wheatgrass good for? Fans of wheatgrass make many claims about the benefits of the plant. Some believe that wheatgrass can prevent everything from tooth decay and high blood pressure to greying hair, AIDS, and cancer. The grass is also thought to soothe symptoms of indigestion, the common cold, and certain skin conditions. And for "raw foodies," wheatgrass is seen as a pure power-packed serving of veggies that have lost no nutrients through cooking. Many tout wheatgrass's purported detoxifying powers.

However, no clinical evidence supports these claims. One very small study linked wheatgrass to improvement of symptoms in those with ulcerative colitis. Despite lack of scientific support for health claims, wheatgrass is a source of vitamins A, C, E, K, and some of the B-complex vitamins, as well as the minerals iron, calcium, and magnesium. Like other vegetables, wheatgrass may have antioxidant potential.

What does wheatgrass taste like? Wheatgrass tastes like what it is - grass. It is definitely an acquired taste, whether consumed in raw, straight juice form or blended into a chilled green smoothie. For some the flavour may be too much to bear, while others can find something to savour in the fresh, raw taste.

Is wheatgrass safe to eat? Like any raw food, wheatgrass poses a risk of bacterial contamination and mould growth. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid wheatgrass. Some may experience digestive upset due to the fibrous nature of wheatgrass, while others may suffer allergic reactions. If you note any symptoms of a reaction - hives, swollen throat - seek immediate medical attention.

Amy Toffelmire