The Wild Asparagus of Croatia: A Foraging Trip & Lunch in the Dalmatian Countryside

child running on grassy path hunting for wild asparagus in croatia

When spring returns to Croatia, residents do what they’ve done for centuries: take to the fields and forests in search of wild asparagus, known in Croatian as šparoge. The asparagus-hunting season has just begun here in central Dalmatia, and last weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited by Croatian friends to go foraging for it in the countryside, about 40 minutes’ drive from Trogir.

Before we left to go on our hunting mission, several locals explained how difficult it is to find asparagus. Everyone kept telling us that you “must have a good eye.” But when they marveled at how delicious the asparagus was – in risotto, soup, and with hard-boiled eggs, we concluded it was a challenge worth undertaking

hyacinths

lemons

Turkish coffee and hyacinths

We piled into our friend’s car, heading first to the home of her brother and her mother, an accomplished asparagus huntress. Though there was a chill in the air, it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday, and we sat on Božana’s mother’s terrace enjoying splendid Turkish coffee, which is rich, sweet, and has a thick sludge of sediment swirling at the bottom. We also sipped homemade Višnia, a local version of a cherry brandy. When Božana’s mother recognized our amazement that her garden had so much life in March, she generously snipped a bunch of hyacinths and rosemary for us, as well as a handful of lemons from a small tree. Božana’s young son also brought his mother a bouquet of wild hyacinths – something that can be found in the countryside.

Buckets of wild asparagus. A bunch can sell for $4 or more.

Wild Asparagus in Croatia, Dalmatia07

Božana’s brother explained that he’d once lived in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, but that when he was there during the grey winters, he found he missed the warmth of the coast.

“I need this daily dose of happiness,” he said, pointing to the rays of sunshine.

After a short drive to the rugged countryside, which looks otherworldly given the rocks and boulders that are strewn everywhere, we arrived at Božana’s charming country home. Stone walls delineated different villager’s plots of land, but there were no other homes in sight, only modern windmills in the distance. Božana and her mother told us that the atmospheric stone walls surrounding the land were probably constructed a hundred years ago. Small fruit trees lining the inside of the walls bore delicate pink blossoms.

stone home in croatia

The duo wasted no time in schooling us how to properly forage for wild asparagus. The instructions were short, but the mission proved to be challenging: scan the ground for the prickly, dead growth of years past, because stalks of asparagus often emerge in its vicinity.

foraging for wild asparagus in croati

Quickly, the ladies had found their first prize. For about 40 minutes, I wandered the area, unable to spot any asparagus among the dead growth that I now easily recognized. Sometimes when Božana found asparagus, she waited to harvest the stalk, allowing me the pleasure of plucking it from the earth. As I tugged at the stubborn plant, I was glad that I’d worn gloves, since the bush’s dead growth is sharp and needle-like.

foraging for wild asparagus in croatia

wild asparagus in croatia

picking asparagus in croatia

The rocky terrain that's so ubiquitous to Croatia. yellow flowers in countryside in croatia

We foraged for asparagus among groves of olive trees and twisty grape vines, stopping briefly at a pond with small frogs. Božana’s sons and mother gathered branches to fill the wood burning stove we’d be using to cook the meat we’d picked up at a butcher shop earlier in the day .

small pond in countryside

shepherd's stone shelter in croatian countryside

A shepherd’s stone shelter, to protect the flock during rough weather. This one was one hundred years old or more!

Among the bushes and rocky landscape, we happened upon a stone structure that resembled an igloo. We asked Božana what it was and she explained that it was probably built 100 years before and that it was used as a shelter for shepherds and their flock during unpleasant weather.

 

spring blossoms in Croatia wild asparagus growing in Croatia

Božana and I would continue hunting for asparagus for a while longer, while Shawn went off to play basketball with Božana’s two sons and Božana’s mother went to get the fire started in the wood-burning barbecue. Unfortunately, Božana’s husband had developed a cold, so he’d been unable to join us.

agriculture in Croatian countryside

Finally, I hit the asparagus jackpot – a tangled area in a corner, hugging a stone wall! I was happy to contribute to the meal that the ladies were working so hard to create.

Thirty minutes later, with small bunches of asparagus in hand, Božana and I wound back to her home, weaving through the family’s hundred or so olive trees, whose fruit they harvest to make their own olive oil in the autumn months. Our quitting time couldn’t have been better coordinated, for just when we returned home the weather had started to get dramatically cold. The brisk bura wind that we’d experienced the day before while sailing on the Adriatic, had returned.

olive tree branch in croatia foraging for wild asparagus in Croatia

an olive

An olive, left over from last year’s harvest. Above left, an olive tree, and on the right, ‘my’ asparagus harvest. In reality,I didn’t pick all this – our friend gave me her share so I’d look like a master harvester. :)

prayer flags

Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the wind.

Wild Asparagus in Croatia, Dalmatia54

breaking wild asparagus in half

Snapping the wild asparagus in half, before steaming.

Inside the home, the ladies taught me how to make the traditional Dalmatian dish that we’d be enjoying shortly:

Steamed Asparagus & Hard-Boiled Eggs (a traditional Dalmatian dish)

  • Wash asparagus, break stalk in two, snapping just to the point at which it bends.
  • Discard the woody ends (the bottom portion) and steam the top part of the asparagus stalks in salted water, with droplets of olive oil, for about 6 minutes.
  • Then, combine the asparagus with 6-8 hardboiled eggs. Toss them with a blend of olive oil and a splash of vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

wild asparagus and hard boiled eggs in Croatia

When we set the hot bowl of the celebrated Dalmatian dish on the table, steam danced up into the chilled air. Everyone quickly dove in. With many children averse to eating vegetables, I was impressed that the boys devoured them with such gusto. I guess their fervor illustrates how delicious the dish really was. The wild asparagus had a more intense flavor than its farmed counterparts. Simply put, it was delicate and divine.

wild asparagus and eggs in Croatia

Our lunch was rounded off with a 2008 Pinot Bijeli (a semi-sweet white wine), roasted chicken and pork, crusty, fresh bread, and strong Croatian coffee.

Croatian lunch: chicken and wild asparagus

Croatian lunch consisting of wild asparagus and eggs, bread, white wine and chicken and pork croatian coffee in red bag

croatian coffee in cups

On the ride back to our home away from home in Trogir, we drove past a flock of sheep crossing the road, later stopping at an overlook point to glimpse the dwarfed Trogir far below. After a weekend of sailing and asparagus hunting, with such extraordinary food swirling in our bellies, we returned home utterly relaxed, and grateful to our friends for sharing such a marvelous part of Croatian springtime culture with us.

Trogir Croatia as seen from distance

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Croatia’s wild asparagus can emerge at different times, depending upon how cold the winter was. One year we found wild asparagus in March, the next season it emerged as early as February.
  • To find wild asparagus, scan the ground for the prickly, dead growth of past years, because stalks of asparagus often emerge in its vicinity. The asparagus bush’s dead growth can be sharp, so you might prefer to wear gloves when harvesting it.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell . All Rights Reserved.

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30 Comments on “The Wild Asparagus of Croatia: A Foraging Trip & Lunch in the Dalmatian Countryside

  1. Tricia, what a marvelous experience. Learning to hunt any wild plant is a challenge and a life skill requiring a practiced eye. As a child my uncle tried to teach me how to hunt wild morels – tricky, since there are many poisonous impostors! He would instruct me to look in a particular area – I saw nothing – he would come over and pick 10 in plain sight! Thus went the day. I’m so glad you found some asparagus. Did it taste any different than you expected? ~Terri

    • Terri, the wild morel hunting sounds as though it comes with some risk! In what part of the world did you do this?

      The wild asparagus definitely tasted different from what we’d purchased at a grocery store or market. It’s more tender, delicate and flavorful. In Germany, I’d also gotten accustomed to the white Spargel (asparagus) that’s so popular there during the spring months. I have to say that we were pretty spoiled by this tasty version in Croatia.

      Just got back from a walk, across the bridge from Trogir to one of nearby islands, and I kept hoping we might see some wild asparagus growing, but I think the area was too built-up, and the path too well-travelled. Hopefully we can make it out again before the season ends. I do love how so much of Europe embraces what is in season!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Marilyn. Putting the post together this afternoon definitely got me in the mood for some more wild asparagus. We just went on a walk, and I must confess that I was scanning the other side of the sidewalk, hoping to see some wild asparagus growing there. No luck! Looks like we’ll have to take a jaunt out in the countryside again.

  2. Asparagus is one of my favorites, and I would have greatly enjoyed hunting it in the Croatian countryside! Thanks for taking us along, Tricia. ;)

  3. Visiting your blog is always so uplifting. Thank you for sharing your beautiful part of the world with us.
    Take Care,
    Elisa

    • That’s really kind of you to say, Elisa; thank you.

      I wish this could be ‘our’ part of the world for a longer period of time, but I’m grateful for the adventures we’ve had. So many travelers only see Dubrovnik, which is of course, beautiful, but now very touristic. We’ve been lucky to get onto some quieter paths and meet some really wonderful locals.

  4. This sounds like such a fun day! Wild mustard grows like crazy along the river near our house, so last summer we went for a walk and picked enough for a big hearty salad for dinner. The leaves were tasty but the little yellow flowers really made the difference in the salad! There’s just something awesome and inspiring about wandering outside and coming back with dinner.

    • Jen, I don’t think I’ve ever had wild mustard before, but its flowers remind me of rapeseed flowers (the fields are plentiful with these yellow flowers in Germany, during the spring months).

      You’re absolutely right about the joy of wandering outside, collecting your own food, and then enjoying it for a meal. Perhaps it’s the joy of being in nature, connecting to our former hunting & gathering ways? :)

    • Have you done any wild asparagus hunting on Korcula yet? We were hoping to make it there this spring, but it doesn’t seem it’s in the cards. Yet another reason to return to Croatia. So, you’ve lived there just over 2 years?

    • Happy you enjoyed them, Marina. It was a beautiful afternoon to go wandering with new friends! I keep hoping that we can go asparagus hunting one more time before we leave this part of Croatia, but time is zipping by so quickly.

  5. What a wonderful down to earth experience , Tricia. That asparagus seems to be green, just the kind we have in the US. But I know from back in Germany the white Spargel Asparagus, they are quite different. I used to go with my father back in my childhood in Germany to hunt or pick fresh wild mushrooms in the forests, all different kinds, they tasted so delicious and so earthy. I remember that it was always an adventure to come home with a basket full of wild mushrooms.

    • Virginia, we are missing Spargel season soon, aren’t we? That’s something I always enjoyed about being in Baden-Württemberg during the spring months – Spargel everything!

      Did you find it difficult to differentiate between the poisonous mushrooms and the edible ones? How’d you prepare your pickings?

    • Indeed, we’re quite lucky, Himani – to not only see these places, but also meet wonderful locals. Without them, we never would’ve had this adventure. :)

  6. Pingback: The Reasons for (Eating by) the Seasons | Prepper Podcast Radio Network

  7. Pingback: What to do in Croatia – don’t miss the local market | Our Adventure In Croatia

  8. great story but you really do not need to take the plant’s roots
    next time leave it in the forest
    Greetings from Istria

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