Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly
This is what Asparagus looks like in the fall. In the summer it would look a blue-green color.
Wild or from the store, Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) spears (young shoots) are a great food. They can be tricky to find in the wild however, not that they are rare. This is one of those plants I suggest finding in the late summer to fall, mapping, then going back in spring to harvest as it can be very hard to find in the spring when it is time to harvest. Read my Mapping blog post of September 09, 2016 to find out more about Mapping. Depending on your local weather, from mid April to mid May is when you should expect to get them at the right stage. Once the spears start to open up and start to look like ferns, you are too late - they will have turned woody. There is the reasonable possibility, in the spring, there will be the light tan, fat Christmas tree shaped plant on a single, finger thick stalk about three feet high, that you can use to find the new shoots, but in areas of hard winters, they often get knocked down, or animals like deer trample them down.
Not too hard to find in the summer or fall. In the summer, look for a blue/green plant on a single, finger thick stalk that is about three feet tall with a wispy look. In the fall, look for a tan/yellow version. The leaves are very thin, and the whole plant looks like a cross between a delicate fern and a small tree. In the fall, there should be red berries on the plant. There are actually many varieties of them, and some have foliage that stays closer to the ground, but these can be much harder to spot. Hard to believe they are part of the onion family. To be clear, onions, garlic, and asparagus are part of the Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis) family. They are not part of the Lily (Liliaceae) family, as you sometimes read on the web.
They like sun, so don't bother looking in woods, and they prefer a source of moisture and rich soil. If you do find them where the soil is poor and dry, expect only a few, very thin spears in the spring. Often, you will see them in ditches along roads. I do not recommend eating anything from road side ditches. But this is a clue to the type of area they do well in - moist, but not in water like cattails. Look for similar types of areas that are not ditches and you should find some. Once you get an eye for them, you will start to notice them all over.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Asparagus page.
- Plant Size: Up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) high
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Multi-branched, feathery, soft needle like, 4-15 leaves in clusters, bluish-green color (best to look at pictures with this one)
- Leaf Size: 6-32 mm (0.24-1.3 in) long and 1 mm (0.039 in) wide
- Flowers: 4.5-6.5 mm (0.18-0.26 in) long, bell shaped, green-tinted white
- Fruit: Poisonous red berry, 6-10mm (1/4 to 2/5 inch) diameter, spherical
- Habitat: open areas, prefers full light, rich, moist soil but not wet - fields, along fences, sides of ditches, not in shaded woods
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Drawing of Asparagus. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 514)
Up close picture of mature Asparagus in flower. (Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.)
Asparagus in spring ready to harvest.(Credit: C T Johansson, CC BY-SA 3.0)
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