Wild Food Foraging: Asparagus, Bulrush and More

Learn how wild asparagus, bulrush and other plants can be foraged for food.

| July/August 1972

  • asparagus
    Wild asparagus is one food you can forage for a delicious addition to your diet.

  • asparagus

Anyone who doubts that July is a good month for foraging wild food in the midwestern United States obviously doesn't know about the bushels of volunteer asparagus that—more than likely—surround him. Yep. The same luscious vegetable that costs so much in the supermarkets is available every summer, free for the picking, throughout mid-America.

While most folks are hoeing it in their gardens or squandering good dollars to buy it in stores and from roadside stands, the common asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is pushing succulent, free-for-the-gathering, finger-thick stalks up through the grass of almost every roadside.

Isn't it strange how we continue to think of asparagus as a delicacy in somewhat limited supply . . . while truckloads of the tasty plant grow, mature, wither and die in the fields and woods around us? Strange indeed, when you realize that the wasted volunteer crop is both more delicious and more healthful than the sprayed, forced and stored-for-long-periods supermarket variety (if you doubt the superiority of wild asparagus, a taste test should convince you on the spot).

Wild asparagus starts to grow very early in the spring . . . almost always right in the middle of grass or other vegetation where it's very hard to see. Many folks locate the plant's new growth by looking for old, brown, withered but likely-still-standing stalks from the previous year.

An even easier way to prospect new territory is to wait until the current season's asparagus stems have grown taller than the surrounding vegetation. They're already too tough to use by then but I cut them down, mark the spot in my mind and go away for about three weeks. At the end of that time—or sooner—every plant that I've cut off will have been replaced by a tender shoot just ready for the table.

One of the good things about asparagus is that it comes up again faster and better when you cut if off . . . the more you pick, the more you get. This will continue all summer as long as the rainfall is adequate and it only takes about a dozen small patches like the one in the picture to keep a family in fresh and frozen asparagus. There are literally hundreds of these patches in most areas.

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