Ditches across Essex County, Ont., are home to a delicious secret: Wild asparagus

Gerry Waldron is a botanist and asparagus grower, with a local property where groups can often be spotted picking asparagus in the ditches around his home.  (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)
Gerry Waldron is a botanist and asparagus grower, with a local property where groups can often be spotted picking asparagus in the ditches around his home. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)

The ditches of Essex County, Ont., are filled with a hidden treasure: Fresh, tender wild asparagus.

It's a secret known to some. If you've ever seen cars pulled over on rural roads and people rooting around the overgrown grass, there's a good chance they're hunting for asparagus.

Antonio Rossi has been picking asparagus on the sides of rural Essex County roads for more than 50 years, going out with a reusable bag and a small knife to trim the stalks.

This year's crop might not be as good as in previous years, by Rossi's estimation. The area needs more rain, he says.

Rossi says he picks asparagus for his family and friends, and will pickle some of it so he can enjoy it all year.

While he was reluctant to reveal too many of his foraging secrets — "If they go, I don't pick it," he said with a chuckle —he did have a tip for anyone looking to try their luck: "Just go out, have a nice walk and fresh air."

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

Gerry Waldron often spots foragers like Rossi along the edges of his property rural in Amherstburg, Ont. The land has been in his family since 1850 and Waldron, a botantist by training, says asparagus flourishes.

"Today it's nothing to see three parties of people going up and down the ditch," he said.

His family would forage for asparagus in the 1950s, he says.

And that it flourishes in local ditches because the areas aren't typically mowed, so it grows uninterrupted.

The ideal time to forage for asparagus is early spring, according to Waldron, with the season wrapping up by the end of June.

Waldron says he prefers to harvest asparagus taller than what you'd typically find in stores, noting it's still fresh and tender. Some stalks can grow as tall as 1.5 metres in height.

As for how best to enjoy freshly-picked asparagus? Waldron says he knows what he likes.

"I'm very partial to — I hope my cardiologist isn't listening — frying it up in butter," he said, adding asparagus is nicely served cut into pieces on the diagonal.

"You can keep the tender tips and put them in at the end."

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

Waldron welcomes the people he sees roaming the edges of his property foraging for the fresh vegetable.

"I always feel, 'Come and get some exercise, pick some of this stuff,'" Waldron said. "There's so much of it anyways."