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Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Common Names:

Asparagus, Garden Asparagus



According to Wikipedia asparagus has been used for thousands of years even being seen in wall writings from Egypt as an offering. This is a plant that many don't realize grows wild but you will likely recognize it from the store. Asparagus is good raw or cooked and offers a hearty and tasty treat in my opinion. It is one I search for each summer to bring home and enjoy. It is also a plant that looks very different in it's old age compared to the young plant and of course it is the young spears that you will eat. When asparagus grows old and goes to seed it is called a fern and indeed it does resemble a fern to some degree.



The young spears or shoots are what you eat with this plant. This is a great example that shows how a vegetable in the wild can be eaten at the right time but becomes unpalatable later in it's life. This is typical of all wild edibles generally. They will ripen to an edible point and then pass that point at which time there is little to no food benefit. This is the case with the asparagus when it "goes to fern."

Asparagus is a diuretic which means it encourages the body to create urine. This is a good thing since the body flushes toxins through the urine. In addition this vegetable is loaded with vitamins and minerals. More details about the value of using this plant can be found with the resources below.


My Experience
I have harvested asparagus since I was a young boy. It is one of the few memories I have from my childhood. My father took us our to harvest this delicious vegetable from the sides of ditch banks when I was growing up in Blackfoot Idaho. It is one that I learned to appreciate young and I never forgot it. I also have the good memories of that activity spent with my family. I don't know if my father sees it the same way but it is a memory that has stuck with me and I"m grateful for the knowledge that I learned at that young age.
There are some variations to asparagus including a white variety mostly found in Europe. The asparagus you find here will generally be the green variety I would expect. I have never seen the white in the wild.

When and where to find it:

Asparagus is ready to harvest in spring or early summer generally. It can often be found along ditch banks around town and near farms. Be sure to get permission if you ever need to cross a fence to harvest. I've talked to a local farmer in Saratoga Springs when harvesting asparagus from his ditch bank and he was quite pleasant and not unhappy to see us there.
Asparagus spreads through rhizomes that run just under the ground but the plant once it goes to fern also creates seeds that will drop. This plant can be grown from a rhizome borrowed from an established plant or from seed.

When you harvest asparagus you will be cutting the young shoots. The best shoots (or stalks) to harvest are those that will bend easy and snap off when you attempt to break them. If they have become woody and hard then they are not fit to eat and will be much tougher. I suppose in a survival situation you may still be able to get some nourishment out of them even if the stalk is woody but the experience will not be as enjoyable as with a young healthy and tender shoot.

Look alike plants:

There are a couple plants that some novice foragers may misidentify as asparagus I suppose but in reality they do not look like asparagus. The young shoots of milkweed are edible and can be harvested in the same way but they do not look exactly like asparagus. The young shoots of dogbane look somewhat similar to milkweed and I supposed an inexperienced forager may mistake them. Dogbane is toxic and while it will not likely kill you it can make you sick. They should not be harvested as a food but dogbane is a great option for natural cordage from the old plant stalks.

Asparagus shoot
Milkweed shoot
Dogbane shoot

Working getting this one.

Additional info and resources

Asparagus plant images