Tips for Finding Wild Asparagus

asparagus

Picture by WikiMediaImages

A lot of people know by now that asparagus is very good for you and that there are a lot of tasty recipes for it. The plant grows well in many areas and wild asparagus is common in many locations. This plant is also native to Europe, Asia and Africa, and it is now naturalized through most of North America. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were all fond of asparagus.

Many people are surprised to learn that there isn’t a great deal of difference between wild asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and the kind that is grown in gardens and flower beds or sold at the store, though. The flavor is virtually the same, the look and health benefits are the same and they are harvested in the same manner. There is one major difference however. Wild asparagus is grown by nature, so the only expense and effort is usually in finding and harvesting it.

Growing locations

Wild asparagus tends to grow near rivers, streams and irrigation ditches, primarily in places where it can also get plenty of sunshine. It can grow profusely if the conditions are right. Wild asparagus also likes the same conditions that garden asparagus does.

For instance, there is a huge amount of the plant growing along ditch banks near the Oregon towns of Redmond and Bend, both of which are known for having bitter and snowy winters and hot, dry summers. This area is at the edge of the Oregon High Desert. These conditions are nearly ideal for asparagus.

Identification

In the wild, it might take a sharp eye to identify the emerging asparagus spears. The spears are what are normally harvested and also sold in stores. The growth from the previous year, grasses and other plants can hide the young, growing plants.

Later in the year, the spears normally grow tall and bush out into feathery growth, becoming much more noticeable, and this is the best time to locate the asparagus patches, though by this time the asparagus isn’t worth harvesting. Still, the plants come up year after year so knowing where a patch is allows a person to return to the same location the following year. People are often familiar with what the spears look like.

wild asparagus

Mature asparagus Picture by Rasbak

The older plants have a fern-like appearance, rather resembling mature scour reed (Equisetum hyemale), which often grows in the same areas.

When to harvest

Wild asparagus is normally looked for and harvested in the early spring, when the air and soil temperatures begin to increase. At this time, the roots begin to put up the shoots that people are most familiar with. The tender, young spears are harvested by cutting them off at the base, near ground level. Once the spears begin to open up, they become quite tough, though. This means that the shoots that are opening up should be avoided as they’ve passed their prime.

The actual harvest times can vary greatly from area to area as well. This is dependent primarily on the weather. Heat tends to hasten the opening of the spears, so if the weather rapidly turns hot, the harvest season can be short. However if the growing area is cool, the harvest season might be prolonged. The difference between these two extremes can be months. For example, in some places in Montana, according to a resident named Carmen who lives in the small town of Paradise, the wild asparagus is up and ready for harvest between mid April and early June.

I’ve gathered asparagus in the Bend area of Oregon in late March. By the end of April, it is usually too hot and the season is over.

Asparagus is a plant that is good tasting and packed with minerals and vitamins. It isn’t hard to collect, if a person looks in the right places and at the right time of year. It seems almost unfair that the harvest season is so short. On the other hand, the wild asparagus tends to come up in the same places year after year and there can be a lot of it when it does. This can make asparagus a special spring treat that can be enjoyed yearly.

It also freezes well after light blanching, so there is no reason people can’t enjoy it later in the year as well.

 


Posted in food and plants, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , by with 3 comments.

Comments

  • Sandy KS says:

    Wow, I never knew asparagus grew wild. Something new I learned today.

  • rextrulove says:

    Yes. The first time I saw anyone picking it, it was on a trip to Redmond, Oregon. I saw a whole bunch of people stooped over on a ditch bank and asked my step mother what they were doing. She had grown up in that area and just gave a shrug and said they were picking wild asparagus. She’d picked it for years.

    Right after that, I started picking it in that area, too. When we moved to Montana, the first time we went out fishing at the river, in a place people like to swim and whatnot, I saw…wild asparagus growing. I don’t think anyone even realizes that it is there. Normally the people around here pick it about 5 miles upstream, on the other side of the river.

    Truth is that it grows all along that river. 😀

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