A roadside ditch may be the last place you'd expect to look for gourmet food, but for wild asparagus, (Asparagus officinalis) such a place is heaven. Every spring, just as the trees begin to green in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, wild asparagus spears begin popping up in drainage ditches, on abandoned farmsteads, along fence rows and beneath old telephone lines where birds once settled to devour cultivated asparagus berries and drop their seeds. Harvest them quickly, or they'll be too stringy to eat.
Tramping through wild-asparagus terrain requires advance preparation:
- Carry and use a plant identification guide. Recognizing wild asparagus isn't difficult, but identifying plants that sting, cause rashes or other unfriendly plants may be.
- Wild asparagus loves water. So do mosquitoes and biting blackflies. Carry a bug repellent and use it as needed.
- Ticks and chiggers lie in wait for unprepared foragers. To thwart them, dress defensively in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, heavy socks, and boots or closed-toe shoes. Tuck your pant legs into the boots or socks, and your shirt into the pants.
Roadside asparagus plants may be growing on private property, or contaminated with pesticides and weedkillers from municipal spraying programs. To avoid trespassing and guarantee a safe harvest, confine your searches to off-road sites on public lands where harvesting wild edibles is permitted. Double-check that it's legal before you take anything.
Stalking the Stalks
The quickest way to find tender, newly sprouted wild asparagus stalks is to look for the dried remains of their parent plants. Unharvested stalks grow into feathery, fern-leaved plants. After dropping their foliage in fall, they resemble small, needle-less straw-colored Christmas trees.
Learn to distinguish the dead asparagus plants from the surrounding plants, and use them as street signs leading you to the baby asparagus sprouting within 3 or 4 feet of their bases.
Harvesting the Spears
Once you've found a wild asparagus patch, the hard work is over. Harvesting is quick and easy; the spears are ripe for pick at 8 to 10 inches tall.
Things You'll Need
- Sharp, clean knife
Strong rubber bands
Holding an asparagus spear between the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and cut it at or just beneath the soil line with the other.
Bundle the harvested spears and secure them with rubber bands.
Lay the bundles horizontally in a clean container, taking care not to snap off their tender tips.
Cutting at or below the soil signals the roots to send up replacement stalks, allowing multiple harvests from the same plants.