There are a lot of things I like about May: migrating birds, wildflowers, warm temperatures and thunder storms, to name several, but one of May’s better blessings is asparagus. Asparagus pops up in May, and I enjoy picking bags of the green spears.
Wild asparagus seems to sprout wherever there is a high water mark.
It took me a while to figure out why until I realized that the bulbous seed pods of asparagus are quite light and are easily conveyed by water.
Hence, you will find wild asparagus in the flood plains of streams that have human habitations along them. People planted asparagus near their homesteads, which were often near streams.
Of course another place that you will find wild asparagus is along irrigation canals and laterals.
The seeds would have been deposited near the top of the ditch, and as long as the asparagus plants didn’t interfere with the flow of the irrigation water they were allowed to grow.
I know that a number of asparagus lovers have picking routes along some of the irrigation ditches in the Big Horn Basin, and I suspect that there are other asparagus seekers that patrol the ditches that come off the Yellowstone, Tongue and Bighorn rivers.
One of my favorite spots for wild asparagus is along the Bighorn River (I’ll not say in which state).
An island in the river has about 30 asparagus clumps on the upstream end and an equal number on the lower end.
I remember picking a small garbage bag full of that tasty veggie and having steamed asparagus with cheese sauce for a couple of evenings. Then I froze the remaining spears and enjoyed them throughout the winter.
At Fort Smith I have a half dozen or so asparagus patches I like to check on throughout May. There are not that many patches, and I have spent more than 25 years discovering the ones I do know.
People ask me where I find asparagus and would I please show them a patch or two. Well, I am a generous person, but to divulge my asparagus patches would be analogous to giving someone the password to my checking account, or lending them one of my credit cards; some things are just too precious to give up.
I will tell folks what I look for when I am in a new area. I search old oxbows, old stream meanders, irrigation ditch banks and old homesteads. If the area hasn’t been heavily grazed and most all of the old vegetation is present, I look for last year’s asparagus stalks. The old stalks are flaxen in color and might still have some of the fine twigs attached. Once a person recognizes old asparagus stalks, finding this years’ stalks is considerably easier.
Once I locate an old clump, it is usually fairly easy to spot the sprouts that are 8 to 12 inches high, but finding all the spears can be tricky if the asparagus clump is growing in a brushy area or among tall grass.
It pays to look at the clump from a couple of different angles.
The best eating spears are only 3 to 5 inches long and might be light green in color or have a purple hue. Those shoots are so tasty that I enjoy eating them raw, for they are rather sweet.
I often have steamed asparagus on the river. If I find a dozen or so stalks, I can easily steam them on my camp stove between two enamel plates with a half cup of water — it only takes a few minutes and they taste so good with a pat of margarine and sprinkling of black pepper.
While wild asparagus is pretty darned resilient, I quit picking it in early June so that it will leaf out and store plenty of starch in its roots and set seed.
If people pick an asparagus patch throughout the summer, they will kill off the patch.
May has warmed up amazingly fast. I hope two of my more remote asparagus patches don’t bolt before I can get to them.
I do hope, too, that you will try stalking wild asparagus — it’s lots of fun and can provide some tasty rewards.