If you're a novice forager looking for a safe and very satisfying place to start a hunting hobby, start with wild asparagus. There's no guess work involved in identifying or preparing it, for it looks, cooks and tastes just like garden asparagus.
Wild asparagus, which is cultivated asparagus that has escaped, grows in sunny areas where the soil is sandy but moist. It likes "edgy" areas--alongside ditches, fields, fences--and is recognizable by the feathery yellow-green foliage. Search near the base of the ferns and if you see green spears poking through the ground, you've got it made.
Cut asparagus at or just below ground level and take only the spears with tightly closed tips--if they've splayed open, they've begun to flower and toughen. You can return to the same patch once or twice in a season for more pickings, but after that, leave some stalks so they'll grow and replenish the plant for next year.
Asparagus is very much a get-it-while-you-can seasonal treat, and since there's so many excellent ways to prepare it, you can serve it every day and never grow tired of it. To keep it fresh, keep it chilled: stand the spears in water, cover them loosely with a plastic bag and place them in the refrigerator as soon as you get them in the kitchen.
Grilled, roasted, boiled or steamed, asparagus can be sauced with any number of easy combinations: garlic and soy sauce, olive oil and vinegar, lemon juice and butter, mustard and mayonnaise. To complicate things deliciously, add asparagus to soups, sautés, risotto, savory tarts, salads, casseroles...and on and on.
..check with the appropriate authority before setting out. Foraging restrictions vary on public lands, and on private property you must get the owner’s permission. Reference a reputable field guide book, preferably one that’s specific to your region, or apprentice with an experienced hunter. Never eat a wild plant you can’t positively identify. And please, don’t get greedy: pick only a portion of what you find, to allow the plants to replenish themselves for next year.
In case you can't find enough in the wild or at the market, we've provided substitute ingredients for each recipe.
When you get home, take care to thoroughly clean your cache. Tender greens, especially, should be rinsed well under or in cold water and often require several washings. Dry them in cotton or paper towels and keep them chilled in plastic bags. This will help prevent loss of moisture and vitamins, but not for long--most wild greens decline after a couple of days.
If you’re new to a particular wild edible, make your first serving a small one. As with any food, allergic reactions are rare, but possible.
Finally, whether you gather, grow or purchase the wild foods of spring, get them now, for all too soon, they’ll be gone.