If those juicebars have shown up in your town surely you’ve seen those flats of rich, green grass sitting on the counter. People have been juicing wheatgrass and drinking a small “shot” of it for many decades now. A special juicer is used for this purpose. It extracts the nutrient-rich green juice from the blades. Birds have a built-in juice extractor: their beaks. They squeeze the delicious, nutritious juice from each blade, then discard the indigestible portion. Sometimes you will also see wheatgrass sold in tiny pint-sized containers as “kitty grass.” Cats relish this grass and it is nutritious for them as well.
So what is wheatgrass exactly and why is it so popular these days? Wheatgrass is grown from winter wheatberries, a hard red seed. You can sprout these berries and make a nutritious sprouted food, but if you take it a few steps further, you can grow this ulta-nutritious grass. Even better, flats of wheatgrass are becoming more readily available, and they can often be found at quality health food stores or green grocers. This certainly saves you the trouble of growing the grass yourself.
The juice of the grass contains a number of highly nutritious ingredients. Wheatgrass is a living food, so its nutrients are not lost as they are after the processing that occurs with other vegetables, vitamins, and supplements. You cut the grass right before you serve it. Therefore, it has the highest food content of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals of any green plant.
The most important ingredient is chlorophyll, the life-blood of plants. Chlorophyll has been shown to improve the supply of oxygen to the circulatory system. It detoxifies and regenerates the liver, making this an especially good food stuff for birds with fatty liver syndrome. Chlorophyll protects us from carcinogens in our food and in our air. It can actually neutralize some pollutants, according to Japanese scientists, including the pollutants found in car exhaust. Dr. Chiu-Nan Lai of the University of Texas has demonstrated many of the anti-mutagenic (anti-cancer) effects of wheatgrass juice. Do not go out and buy liquid chlorophyll and add it to your birds’ diet. Much of the scientific literature suggests that it is not just the chlorophyll that has beneficial effects, but the plant as a whole. The complexity of plantlife can make it difficult to separate out what is having the direct effect, although some studies have shown a direct effect of chlorophyllin, the sodium and copper salt of chlorophyll a.
[NB: Both antimutagenic effects and anti-genotoxic activity of common dietary phytochemicals have been shown in vertebrate animals. It reduced the carcinogenic uptake of the environmental carcinogen dibenzo[a,l]pyrene (DBP) in a controlled study of rainbow trout (Carcinogenesis, July 1998).]
Wheatgrass is also high in enzymes, which determine the efficiency and health of the metabolic system. The most natural enzymes come from live food, such as wheatgrass, that has not been changed through processes such as preserving and cooking. Fresh wheatgrass is highly preferable over powdered wheatgrass.
Wheatgrass contains choline, magnesium, and potassium, which have been shown to work together to detoxify and regenerate the liver. Liver disease remains a major problem in companion birds, due many times to over reliance on a high-fat, seed-based diet. Wheatgrass can be invaluable while trying to get an overweight bird back in shape; it has been shown to change the color of blood and the color of the liver to a healthy red in studies on chickens and bulls.
Some studies out of UC, San Diego, have shown remarkable changes in damaged DNA upon the introduction of a compound found in young grasses like wheatgrass. These studies were done on reproductive cells, and the results suggest that wheatgrass may improve fertility and even restore fertility.
Vitamins that occur naturally in foods are far superior to those found in synthetic supplements. Doesn’t this simply make sense? If you’re putting powered, lifeless vitamins on your birds’ food stuffs, you are probably creating a false sense of security. Natural is better. Wheatgrass contains as much Vitamin A as carrots, as much Vitamin C as citrus fruits, and ample supplies of Vitamin E and B complex vitamins. Vitamins in this natural, raw state are so superior to synthetic vitamins that it is pure madness to choose the latter over the former. We as a society have become far too dependent on synthetic supplements. I am always shocked when skeptics decry the claims about fresh, live foods but then put powdered vitamins in their birds’ water bowls. In my opinion, many are victims of consumerism. They believe that paying $20 for a bottle of powdered vitamins is more useful than a $7 flat of fresh wheatgrass. Let’s get back to nature–our companion birds deserve it.
It can be difficult to regulate calcium levels, particularly in breeding birds. Wheatgrass is an excellent source of calcium and it has other minerals that are necessary for the body to use it. Calcium given alone has long been problematic. Wheatgrass has potassium, which is an essential ingredient in metabolizing calcium.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein. A lack of proper amounts of amino acids in our food can lead to allergies (anyone with birds who have skin allergies, feather-plucking problems?) , poor/slowed healing, poor digestion, poor immunity against bacteria and diseases. Anyone having problems with recurring bacterial infections in their birds should try fresh wheatgrass. Many people who feed wheatgrass will tell you they found that bacterial infections were no longer a problem among their breeding birds. Amino acids like valine control the ability to deal with stress: it literally calms the nerves.
Wheatgrass not only nutritionally beats processed superfood supplements like Chlorella (hard to digest), blue green algae (hard to control quality), and spirulina (like Chlorella, it loses much of its nutritional value during the extraction, preparation, and packaging process), but it also beats these supplements hands-down in price. Even if you don’t grow the wheatgrass yourself, most good Farmers’ markets will sell flats for as little as $6.00. To give you an idea of how far this will go, I can feed with one flat about 60 small parrots. If you grow the wheat grass yourself, the cost will be around $2.00 a flat.
I do want to point out one risk factor with wheatgrass. This is mold. I buy my grass as fresh as possible and leave it outside in a safe place where it can get a good amount of sun part of the day, shade part of the day. I don’t water it unless it starts to droop. Too much water is the most common cause of mold growth. When I serve the grass, I cut about a half inch up from the base so I don’t get into the seed/dirt area where mold could grow. If I see any beginning signs of mold, I trim the grass and then soak it in a mixture of water and grapefruit seed extract for a couple of minutes, then I rinse it thoroughly before serving. If I have any doubts about a flat’s quality I throw it out. I have rarely had to do this, but it is always an option if you see excessive mold growth. I also want to point out that the first growth is the best. You can serve the second growth of grass after cutting it, but the nutrients will be diluted. I definitely would not bother serving wheatgrass that comes from a third growth of the seeds.