Stalked by Wild Asparagus

Foraging for wild asparagus is a matter of knowing exactly what an asparagus plant—wild or domesticated—looks like at each stage of its life cycle. If you don't know, you'll probably have trouble finding it.

| May/June 1979

  • 057 wild asparagus - pie.jpg
    Wild asparagus is good eating, whether you just boil and butter the stalks or bake them into a pie.
  • 057 wild asparagus - winter stalk.jpg
    Mature dead stalks mark the location where new stalks will grow in spring.
  • 057 wild asparagus - young green shoot.jpg
    A young shoot of wild asparagus.

  • 057 wild asparagus - pie.jpg
  • 057 wild asparagus - winter stalk.jpg
  • 057 wild asparagus - young green shoot.jpg

Ol' Euell Gibbons "stalked" all the wild asparagus he could eat, and some of my best friends seem to gather the tasty vegetable by the cord. Unfortunately, neither Gibbons' inspiration nor my buddies' encouragement seemed to help me. I searched for the elusive 'gras spears for many a spring, but—no matter how far I roamed or how doggedly I scoured the ground—my gatherin' sack always remained empty.

Asparagus Finds Me!

Then one May morning as I was mowing the far corner of a too-long-neglected lawn, I started to get a very peculiar feeling. Call it a wild food lover's sixth sense, deja vu, or just a gnat buzzing in my ear—whatever the unusual sensation was, it kept coming back to me every time I went past that one bend. Well, when I get an itch I scratch it. So on the next circuit I stopped my grass cutter and took a look.

Right away, some dead plant stalks caught my eye. The dried "sticks" stood out from the rest of last year's weeds because they were light—almost tan—in color, and because each one consisted of a single, half-inch "trunk" with a few scrawny branches dangling from its sides. The three-foot-tall stems looked like pitiful excuses for needleless, discarded Christmas trees. But, clustered at the base of these "Yuletide rejects" were bunches of firm, young asparagus shoots! At last I'd found the evasive little vegetables ... and right in my own back yard too!

Know Your Quarry

Now, I've told you about my plant-finding experience to show that [1] there may be lots of asparagus growing right under your nose, and [2] you can find your own supply of tasty spears if you know what to look for! Or, rather, if you learn how not to search for these foraged delicacies.

Don't, for example, hunt—with your eyes glued to the ground—for the "l'il sprouts" themselves: Those purplish-green babies may be dwarfed by other plant growth or hiding under old leaves. Instead, learn to recognize the tall, dried stalks (which are all that remains of last year's mature plants). You'll find plenty of 6- to 10-inch goodies nestled under these easily observed "signal flags."

To be successful, you'll have to know exactly what those stalks look like. And although the photos and descriptions in this article can help, the best way to sharpen your asparagus-spotters is to actually see some plants "in the flesh." So if you know a friendly forager, get him or her to take you out for a lookin' lesson.

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