Now is the time to find wild asparagus in the Thompson, Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Now is the time to find wild asparagus in the Thompson, Okanagan

Asparagus stalk photos taken on April 17 and April 23. This is the beginning of the short wild asparagus season in the Thompson Okanagan.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED /Scott Moran

PENTICTON - As April rains begin to green the Thompson and Okanagan valleys prior to the summer heat’s browning effect, a delectable wild crop begins sprouting along the valley’s roadsides, trails and fields.

It’s wild asparagus season in the region, with asparagus tips popping out of the ground from Osoyoos all the way to Kamloops and beyond at this time of year.

Local foodies and foragers are very familiar with the wild form of the vegetable that heralds spring in the region.

Scott Moran is a Kelowna-based forager who, like many wild asparagus aficionados, has his own favourite foraging areas.

Like many others, he’s reluctant to give up those exact locations, but says the vegetable is commonly found up and down the Okanagan.

“It was carried by old waterways, through orchard irrigation systems,” he says of the perennial plant, which is not native to the region.

Common consensus is asparagus seeds spread in the wind and waterways after being grown in pioneer gardens more than a century ago.

“There is a record of First Nations adapting to eating it when it first appeared after European settlement,” Moran says, adding the species is non-native, but not referred to as invasive.

“We refer to plants that settle into the environment the way asparagus has as ‘naturalized'," he says.

Moran says the region’s wild asparagus could be its own variety by now.

“I think it’s adapted over the last 100 years. It sometimes has different colours than what is grown on the farm, and the wild ones grow in such a way they get stronger. I think the wild form has probably taken a huge step above farmed asparagus,” he says.

Moran says best bets for finding wild asparagus is near older orchards, where it was sometimes grown as a cash crop between young orchard trees in pioneer times.

It can also be found along road and trail sides, in ditches and in grassy areas throughout the Thompson, Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

The problem with asparagus is it hides well until it grows mature enough to flower. It takes a trained eye to spot the stalks in new, growing grass.

One should also be aware not to trespass on private property in their search for the vegetable.

Moran says the best time to eat wild asparagus is the day it’s picked.

“It’s so sweet, I like to eat it raw,” he says. “Just snap the stalks off and juice goes flying everywhere. One day in the fridge and you’ll start losing all the sugar. There’s nothing like eating it just out of the ground."

"The sugar turns to starch once it’s picked. Initially, the stalks are tender and sweet. Supermarket asparagus has lost all its sugar and it doesn’t really have the same nutrients in it anymore,” he says.

Oliver’s Tinhorn Creek’s Miradoro Restaurant Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest calls his wild asparagus patches “a closely guarded secret.”

“It grows all over, in grassy areas but not generally in forested areas,” he says.

“Everyone seems to have their secret patches. The picking season generally runs from the end of April, hitting its stride at the beginning of May. It can run into June if spring weather is cool enough,” Van Geest says.

Van Geest uses wild asparagus in his restaurant cuisine, when possible.

“I don’t go out and get 10 pounds at a time. I use it sparingly. If I get a few handfuls in the morning I’ll use it for a pizza or pasta feature for the day, and it’s generally gone by the evening. It’s always super fresh that way,” he says.

“It’s pretty dear. You don’t get a lot when you go looking for it, certainly not restaurant quantities, but you can get enough for home use,” Van Geest says.

It takes a trained eye to pick sprouting wild asparagus spears in grassy areas like this patch located south of Penticton.
It takes a trained eye to pick sprouting wild asparagus spears in grassy areas like this patch located south of Penticton.

According to the Kamloops Trails website, the wild asparagus can be found in moist, open areas throughout the region.

Best bets are in flood lands near Kamloops Lake, along roadside ditches, in grasslands near ponds and seeps and open hillsides where a natural seep keeps the ground moist.

Asparagus can be found along the Valleyview Silt Bluffs Trails, where it turns yellow and fernlike in the fall after flowering.

A wild asparagus recipe can be found on the Tourism Kelowna website.

One last thing about asparagus in general - its effect on urine is legendary and long known.

According to Wikipedia, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was quoted as saying asparagus “transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”

Asparagus’ distinctive odour in the urine is the result of certain compounds in the plant that are metabolized to yield ammonia and various sulfur-containing products, giving urine its characteristic smell.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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