How to Hunt and Forage for Wild Asparagus

foraging asparagus w words
I grew up a tom-boy, with a dad who was well versed in what to eat (and what not to eat!) from the woods, the yard, and even the roadsides. Eating berries from the hillside and mushrooms from deep in the woods is one of the great pleasures in life!

I suppose though, if you didn’t grow up with wild edibles, and nobody has ever taken you foraging with them, chances are that you haven’t ever really tried it. But you should!

Foraging is nature’s treasure hunt. A scavenger hunt for adults.

Asparagus is the perfect gateway food into foraging. It’s all over the place, and you won’t mistake it for something poisonous. You don’t have to hike miles into the woods or climb mountains to find it.
And come on- it’s free food!

Now, I consider myself somewhat of an asparagus-hunter extraordinaire…
Here is how Karl and I find wild asparagus and harvest it:

How to Find Asparagus
Plan Ahead. Like, waaaay ahead.

The real secret to finding asparagus is to hunt for it in the fall time. When the air turns crisp and the leaves start to change color, the asparagus will really reveal itself to the universe. You will see the tell tale feathery yellow plants, sticking out like a city boy at the farm store. And once you know where the plants are, you’ll know exactly where to look for the spears in spring.

And actually, you can easily spot them in the middle of summer as well. When the plant “goes to seed,” the asparagus sends up a bushy, green, ferny stalk about 2-4ft. There are often a few in a cluster and they are easy to spot (that is, if you are looking).

But, even if you haven’t had the opportunity to scout an area before spring, there is still plenty of hope!

asparagus in hand

Know When to Look
In Wisconsin, I judge timing a few different ways. We almost always find asparagus on the path to our favorite (secret!) fishing hole. When the weekend of the fishing opener rolls around, I know it’s asparagus-time.

Another reliable indicator is the lilacs. As soon as the lilacs start to open their buds, I know I will find asparagus.

If you aren’t sure when to start foraging for asparagus (or other wild edibles) in your area, I bet you can find a great forum or Facebook group dedicated to finding wild edibles in your zone. The people in those groups will post when they start to find the first goodies popping up- it is a great help if you are a novice!

Know Where and How to Look
Asparagus loves light. You really won’t find it in the woods, or anywhere that is shaded from the mid-day sun. We almost always find it in the road ditches and on the edge of farm fields. That narrows down your search area considerably.

Instead of looking for the green spears of asparagus themselves, I look for two other things:

1. Dead stalks from last year, laying down on the ground. Sometimes they are almost as thick as corn stalks. And amongst a background of green weeds and green everything, their beige color is often easier to spot than an actual spear of asparagus. If you are tromping through a field or road ditch, this is one thing to program your brain to spot. And when you’re tromping through the weeds, don’t forget to protect yourself from ticks and Lyme disease.

dead asparagus stalk

2. Premature asparagus. Asparagus comes up over a few week period in our area, with stalks sprouting and emerging at different times and at different rates. This is very much to our advantage. Often there will be one or two (usually thinner) over-excited spears that come up first and then go to seed before a lot of the other stalks in the vicinity even come up. This is a great giveaway, because these are much easier to see! In fact, I can usually spot these from a moving car.

asparagus fern

And once you’ve spotted one plant, look closely because there is bound to be more. We often find multiple plants within a 10-20ft radius, and even some straglers a little farther out.

I’ve Found Asparagus, Now What?
Well, harvest it!

A knife is the best tool for the job, and you should try to cut it as close to the ground as you can. Just snapping the stalk off will also work if you don’t have a knife on you.

Once I’ve harvested one stalk, I pay special attention to where the dead stalks are connected to the ground. I have a hard time spotting the spears by themselves amongst the grass and weeds, unless I look specifically at the dead plant from last year. There is often more than one spear coming up from where the old dead growth is.

Wondering which stalks to leave and which to take?
This isn’t really a simple answer.

Ideally you should leave some of the stalks behind, so that they can grow and use photosynthesis to create energy for the roots so that the plant will remain viable for the following year.

If it is early in the season, I don’t leave any stalks behind. There will be plenty more that come up that I will miss and eventually they will grow out.

If there is a stalk that is really tall and just starting to develop buds, I will leave that one for the plant and take all the rest. When they get tall and bud out, they also become a little more fibrous. This is a good sacrificial asparagus stalk to leave.

If there are already a couple spears that have turned to fern, great- those will be the ones the plant gets to keep and I will harvest all the rest over the season.

If the wild asparagus patch is very remote, in an area that I don’t suspect anyone else will visit, and I don’t plan on coming back to it, I will harvest all the spears. The plant will send up plenty more that will have a chance to grow out.

But what about the little shorties?!
Inevitably I always find a short spear (2″-6″) that needs another day or two to reach its full potential. It’s a shame to take it young, but also a shame to leave it.

This is what I call an asparagus conundrum.

If I can come back to this patch within two days, I will often leave the spear. If I know I won’t be back to the patch, and if the spear is over 4″ or so, I think it is worth harvesting. Little asparagus is better than no asparagus.

And what about the tall, monstrous asparagus?
I’ll take that too! The top half of the “spear” is still tender and quite edible. As long as it is not a “fern” and it is just a tall asparagus with little shoots coming off of it and buds forming, we think they are just great. (These are the ones I was talking about leaving for the plant, but if they are all like this, definitely take some).

asparagus tall

Plan a Return Trip
Once you’ve found a patch of asparagus, you’re golden! Add it to your list!

Not only should you visit this patch every few days over the season, in order to collect the new spears that have come up (asparagus can grow really, really fast by the way), but you should plan on visiting this patch for years to come.

On my parent’s property there are four HUGE beautiful stalks of asparagus that come up every year. And my dad remembers harvesting them ever since he was a kid. That is at least a 50-year-old asparagus plant!

What NOT To Do When Hunting Asparagus
Dress inappropriately

Asparagus season = tick season. Tuck those pants into your socks!

Forget a collection vessel
A plastic grocery bag works wonderfully.

Side of the road, great. Farmer’s field, not so much. Unless you have permission, of course.

Fat asparagus and skinny asparagus are equally tender. Just because they are larger, doesn’t mean they will be tough. In fact, I think prefer the thicker spears! The girth of the spear comes from genetics and plant age. Toughness comes from the age of the spear that season, so taller = tougher.

Give up
You may not find any asparagus the first, or even the second time you go out. Don’t give up- you’re bound to find some soon! Think of it as a time investment, because once you find a patch you can harvest from it your whole life.

And when you find your first young, tender stalk of wild asparagus- make sure you sample it right there in the field!

Want more from the homestead?

The Best Way to Freeze Eggs FI   How to Eat Your Christmas Tree Feature   Harvest Cobb Salad Feature

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32 thoughts on “How to Hunt and Forage for Wild Asparagus

  1. Greetings! I am a foraging fanatic, too. Question about wild asparagus. Is there a native asparagus, or are all wild asparagus in the US from old farms? The only “wild” asparagus I have found here (MA) have been on old farmland, where I imagine it was deliberately planted and cultivated at one time. Pinning this to one of my wild edibles boards!

    1. What a great question! I hadn’t ever thought about that before, and I’m really not sure. I think the only way to tell would be to do some sort of genetic testing on the asparagus. And thinking about it, almost all of our “wild” asparagus is found near/on farmland. However, pretty much everywhere in Wisconsin was once farmland. :)

      I wonder if a lot of the “wild” asparagus is actually from seed planted naturally by animals. So, probably a “wild” seed of a cultivated variety of asparagus. Ha!

      1. Hi! Wonderful post…
        I’m Italian and here there is wild asparagus not cultivated, and they are not near farms…

  2. Thank you for posting this on your blog. I am planning a trip to go asparagus hunting in a few days in Delta, UT and I am sooo excited! This has been helpful for me, because I have little experience with identifying asparagus plants. I have only ever seen the finished product at the store, which actually looks quite different from the photos you posted. I am hoping to collect enough to freeze and/or can in mason jars. Have you ever tried that? Is it worth it?

    1. Hi Ann- “I hope you hit the mother load,” as we sometimes say when finding a big patch! :)

      I have frozen some before- you have to make sure they are really young and tender for freezing, otherwise it turns out as mushy asparagus insides wrapped in a tough, fibrous shell- not too good. Of course, you’ll want to blanche them for the best quality also.

      I have not ever canned them, but I think that is a great way to preserve them and a lot of people do that. Pickled especially! Ball even makes special jars with asparagus canning in mind: here!

      Best of luck,

  3. Hello. I have just found my first wild patch of asparagus. it is the second week of June and all I find bar what should I cut the languages what do I do now am I too late or can a crop come back multiple times later in the summer?

    1. Not entirely sure what you were asking there, but if it is already ferned out, just leave it. It will not produce anymore this summer, and the ferny asparagus will make energy and provide for the roots so that it will grow back next year. Check your patch early next spring! -Crystal

  4. I remember my mother telling stories about how asparagus is like a weed and grew wildly around her childhood farm in SD. I’ve always wanted to go hunting for it and now that I’m more concerned about farming practices and pesticides (and it’s so expensive at the Store!), I’d really like to try.
    First, does it grow natively in Colorado, and if so what areas (foothills, plains, suburbia)?? Also, would it be ethical to spread some seeds and see if it grows? I’m talking about a mostly dry creek bed in a large, open field area that’s just grassy brush (it is public land). I wouldn’t want to introduce something that could disturb or take over the natural ecosystem.
    Also by the way, I’ve pickled asparagus and it was awesome!!
    Any advice?? (I know this is an older post but thought I’d ask anyway). Thanks!

    1. Hi Joy- I think that asparagus does grow wild in Colorado. As far as spreading the seed- you could try, but I think there’s a 99.8% chance that it wouldn’t take. Asparagus seed is finicky: very slow to germinate, needs to kept moist, and should ideally be started indoors. If you don’t have a space to grow your own, my best advice would be to connect with a local foraging group and learn if other’s are finding it wild in your particular area, and if so- set out to find some. It’s so much fun! -Crystal

    2. Hi- I live in Fort Collins and there is wild asparagus that grows around the lake and creek in my parents neighborhood. As the neighborhood has grown, it has been over cultivated so there isn’t very much anymore, but we used to pick it all the time when I was a kid.

      1. Hi I just moved to Maryland and I think I might have found some wild asparagus but it has leaves at the top rather than those buds and they are purple so not sure if it’s just not ready yet or if it’s something I don’t want to eat. I broke one in half and it definitely smells like asparagus but I have read that there are others out there that look like asparagus but are poisonous. I would love to go pick what I found but now I am scared lol. Help!

        1. Hmm… I’ve never seen any asparagus with leaves before. I’d recommend joining a plant identification group on facebook and asking there. -Crystal

  5. Hi,I live in Wisconsin..would somone tell me the best months in the spring to find wild asparagus?Is it the 2nd and 3rd week of May?

    1. Hi Terri,

      We start checking now! I actually meant to go out and check a few days ago. Usually the first and/or second week in May… we also like to use nature’s cues: when the crabapples and lilacs are blooming is when you’ll often find the asparagus. Hope that helps! Happy hunting! -Crystal

    1. Hi Terri,

      We start checking now! I actually meant to go out and check a few days ago. Usually the first and/or second week in May… we also like to use nature’s cues: when the crabapples and lilacs are blooming is when you’ll often find the asparagus. Hope that helps! Happy hunting! -Crystal

  6. We recently bought and built on old farmland in WI. I found asparagus ferns last summer along the ‘ridge’. This morning I went out and refound the asparagus sprouts. Some were quite short yet, I live near Lake Michigan and the gowing season does seem later than other areas I’ve lived. I picked the stalks that were taller and left the rest. But, I did pull up the dead fern stalks from last year. Did i just ruin my wild aspagus???

    1. Hi Becci! I doubt you killed them… maybe damaged a tiny bit. I might be careful “pulling” the fern stalks up, as you could damage the top of the roots if they are still firmly attached. In the future, “clipping” them might be the safer option if you want to get rid of the dead stalks. Hope that helps! -Crystal

  7. Yes we do have wild asparagus here in Colorado, I live in Northern Colorado and I have found it in ditches. It is the SWEETEST I have ever had, such a treat to eat !!! I am a native of Wisconsin and I enjoyed it back there as well. We are moving to Texas and I plan on growing it down there. Question? Do I plant the Crowns ?

    1. Hi Vickie- we love the wild stuff too- so good! I actually haven’t planted much asparagus myself, so I’m afraid I’m not much help. But generally yes, the quickest/easiest/best way to plant asparagus is to buy the roots/crowns and plant those. Good luck! -Crystal

  8. Hi Crystal,

    I have 2 large patches I found at our new place.. we harvested in the spring.. have let them grow to seed over the summer. They are now tall and bushy.. should I trim them now before winter.. or just let them go naturally. ?


    1. Hi Trina- once the plants turn brown you can cut them back if you want. Otherwise feel free to just leave them and let nature take care of them. :) -Crystal

  9. My grandparents purchased some farm land in southern Minnesota where an old church once stood. There were patches everywhere. Grandma said they used it as filler in alter flower arrangements. Lucky for me, when my grandpa passed he left the ground to me. The patches get much better treatment today than discarded alter decorations.

    1. In flower arrangements- never heard of that before! But I agree, I’d much rather eat it! Thanks for sharing the story- love it! -Crystal

  10. I think I might have found a clump of wild asparagus today near where I live on the Central Coast in California. However, the green parts that were not part of the plant that formed a spear, were long, fairly thick grass-like shapes- not ferny. Because I know asparagus when it is domestic- the spears were to my eye very familiar and I tasted one. But I am wondering about the lack of ferny growth along with the part that has the spear shape ??

    1. Hi Yvonne, I think I’d have to see a picture to be able to help you. And I’m not familiar with California plants and dangerous asparagus look a-alikes there, sorry. But if it has grown past it’s spear stage and doesn’t look ferny, I’d say it’s probably not asparagus. -Crystal

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