Foraging for wild asparagus has become one of my favourite springtime activities.
The first time I learned of wild asparagus was one morning during my first year in Provence when I noticed a couple women on the roadside slyly carrying small green bundles. They were peering into the tangle of weeds in the nearby ditch. I knew instantly that there was something I was missing out on.
I found the cherished green shoots and asked, the next time the stealth foragers appeared through the undergrowth, what they did with them. Omelets. The French traditionally cut their foraged asparagus into their omelets or serve them steamed on the side.
Foraging for this wild vegetable is such a joy. Once you train your eye to see them- you’ll have guaranteed bundles of the stuff at this time of year.
The easiest way to find wild asparagus is to look for last year’s growth (what is left after the locals pick the forest clean). It looks a little like a prickly fern, a lot like a cultivated asparagus plant but more compact. They taste exactly like cultivated asparagus- although with a stronger onion flavour. I’ve experimented cooking them in many different ways and have found that lightly steaming them is best.
The stems shooting out of the ground, by the time you notice them, can be very long (sometimes up to my shoulder- quite tall for a plant despite my petite-ness). Sadly, only the very ends are palatable, which will be evident when you pick them. They snap at the ends, as would a garden asparagus. I tend to find these tasty morsels mostly under the shade of large conifers here in Provence. However, I hear that they are often found on sandy cliffs as well (in Great Britain and in abundance on the west coast of the United States). Here in Provence, the asparagus season starts around the end of March and continues for about 6 weeks.
So, if you’re in Provence and fancy a rewarding stroll- head for some woodland…but never with a basket- or people will follow you. If you don’t have time to forage (what incredible joy you’re missing out on) there is often wild asparagus sold at local markets- but only what the forest provides- be quick!
Wild Asparagus growing in fragrant Santoline (Lavandar Cotton)
Have you managed to find wild asparagus where you live? What did you do with it?