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Christine Szalay-Kudra

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The word asparagus comes from the Greek word “asparasso” which means to tear or rip. This is presumably a reference to ripping the sharp scales off the plant stems. The wild version of this now-cultivated vegetable is native to wind-blown coastal regions in Asia and Europe and it was introduced to the United States by European settlers in the eighteenth century.

How to Harvest the New Spears

Since asparagus does not produce spears for the first two years, it will be exciting to see the first ones make their appearance after three years of waiting. These should be finger-sized. You can cut the spears off the plant or snap them off. If you are going to cut, take care not to damage any of the new, emerging shoots. The shoots (spears) ought to be about eight inches long and the scales on the tips should still be closed.

You can harvest the asparagus for up to four weeks in the third year and then leave the plants, so they can top up their strength. After that you can keep harvesting asparagus until the weather turns too warm for the asparagus spears to get thicker.

Wild Asparagus

Wild asparagus should be harvested in May or June, before it goes to seed. Wild asparagus looks like the cultivated kind, but with thinner stems. The branches are fern-like and feathery.

The spears, which are a pale green color, are the only edible part of the asparagus plant. Some other parts can be toxic. You can eat young wild or cultivated asparagus raw, roasted, sautéed, baked, or cooked and then pureed into soups. Growing and harvesting asparagus is easy, and so is making delicious recipes with it.

Is Raw Asparagus Safe?

Although most of us only eat our asparagus cooked, rumor has it that raw asparagus might not be safe, so what exactly is the truth about this? According to the Michigan Asparagus Board, asparagus is safe to eat raw. Just rinse it in water to remove any sand before you serve it. The reason for people being worried that raw asparagus is not safe is perhaps down to the purines in asparagus which can cause gout in susceptible people, but that is just as true about cooked asparagus.

The components in asparagus can cause a distinctive smell in the urine, but again that happens whether the asparagus is raw or cooked and it does not happen to everyone either. Eating asparagus raw means you will not be losing any nutrients in the cooking water, so why not add some sliced or shaved raw asparagus to your next salad recipe? It adds a lovely fresh flavor and will complement any green salad, tossed salad or creamy mixed vegetable salad, amongst others. Try tossing it with shrimp, pineapple and mayonnaise, or with a mixture of salad leaves, thinly sliced radishes and a citrus vinaigrette.

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