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 šparoga.
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 a 40-minute drive from the historic town of 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, or with hard-boiled eggs – we concluded that it was a challenge worth undertaking
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.
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.
Dry stone walls delineated different owners’ plots of land. However, there were no other homes in sight, just modern windmills in the distance. Small fruit trees lining the inside of the walls bore delicate pink blossoms.
Božana and her mother told us that the atmospheric stone walls crisscrossing the land were probably constructed a hundred years ago. Farmers would have cleared the rocks from the landscape so that they could engage in agriculture. Croatians call these stone walls gromače or suhozid. As with drystack walls in other parts of the world, they’re made without using any mortar.
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.
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. When Božana found asparagus, she sometimes waited to harvest it, 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.
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.
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.
Božana and I would continue hunting for asparagus for a while longer, while Shawn went off to play basketball with Božana’s two sons. Božana’s mother also 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.
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 headed back to her home. To get there, we wove 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 timed, for just when we returned home the weather started to get dramatically cold. The brisk bura wind that we’d experienced the day before while sailing on the Adriatic, had returned.
Inside the home, the ladies taught me how to make the traditional Dalmatian dish that we’d be enjoying shortly:
Croatian Wild Asparagus and Hard-Boiled Eggs Recipe
A traditional Dalmatian dish.
- bunch of wild asparagus
- sea salt
- olive oil
- 6 to 8 hard-boiled eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the asparagus. Break off the woody ends (the bottom portion of the stalk) by gently snapping the stalk just at the point where it easily bends. Discard the woody ends of the asparagus stalks. (Note that you can use the bottom of the stalk for making stock; I haven’t tried this yet.)
- Boil the top portions of the asparagus in a pot of lightly salted water. Add a bit of olive oil to the water. Cook until tender — about 6 minutes.
- Combine the asparagus with 6 to 8 hardboiled eggs. Toss them with a blend of olive oil and a splash of vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Dobar tek! (Enjoy your meal.)
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.
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.
On the ride back to our home away from home in Trogir, we encountered a flock of sheep crossing the road. We briefly stopped 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.
We felt grateful that our friends shared such a marvelous part of Croatian springtime culture with us.
Where in the World?
Wild asparagus grows in Croatia’s Dalmatia and Istria regions. It also grows in other parts of the Mediterranean. After this experience, we encountered wild asparagus in Montenegro and Malta, too.
It’s possible to buy a bunch of asparagus at one of Croatia’s local “green markets.” However, if you get the chance, it’s much more fun harvesting your own.
Tips for harvesting wild asparagus in Croatia
When is Croatia’s wild asparagus harvest season?
Croatia’s wild asparagus can emerge at different times, depending upon how cold the winter was and how much rain there’s been. In general, you’ll find it in Dalmatia between March and mid-April.
The only certainty is that once it appears in the landscape, it’s quickly harvested by locals with eagle eyes!
How can you identify wild asparagus and harvest it?
Several different types of asparagus grow in Croatia. Oštrolisna šparoga or thorny-leaved asparagus — the type we harvested on our friends’ property — is common in coastal areas. Its Latin name is Asparagus acutifolius.
Oštrolisna šparoga isn’t a protected species. However, Croatia does protect other species of wild asparagus, so be certain you’re picking the unprotected variety. If in doubt, ask a local with expertise.
To find wild asparagus, scan the ground for the prickly, dead growth of past years, since stalks of asparagus often emerge in its vicinity. The asparagus bush can be thorny, so you might prefer to wear gloves when harvesting it. Often, you’ll find asparagus shoots emerging from rock walls.
Instead of pulling the asparagus shoot out with its root, simply find the point where the stalk naturally snaps. Gently break it there.
The upper part of the stalk is tender, whereas the bottom portion tends to be woody in texture. You can discard the bottom part, but I’ve also read that you can also use it for making stock.
Be wary of snakes and ticks, too.
Here’s a video showing how to find wild asparagus.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
30 thoughts on “Foraging for Wild Asparagus in Croatia’s Dalmatian Countryside”
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!
What a great story!
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.
Asparagus is one of my favorites, and I would have greatly enjoyed hunting it in the Croatian countryside! Thanks for taking us along, Tricia. ;)
Ruth, perhaps when you return to Croatia next time, your trip will coincide with the šparoge season. :)
It’s always fun finding new ways to prepare foods; do you have a favorite way of cooking up asparagus?
I love to brush them with olive oil and roast them…
Sounds perfect in its simplicity!
What a wonderful adventure .. and the treat at the end – wild asparagus. Lucky you. Virginia
Virginia, it was! There’s something quite rewarding about foraging for your own food and then appreciating the flavor of it even more.
Visiting your blog is always so uplifting. Thank you for sharing your beautiful part of the world with us.
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.
What a wonderful meal, it looks as good as it must have tasted…
It was, Valerie. I really appreciate how the locals we’ve met prefer to eat whole, natural foods, this meal being a great example.
Another cool day out.
It was, Mark. So much fun to participate in an activity that people have been doing for centuries (and then eat our pickings).
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? :)
Wonderful photos, really capturing the moment. The food looked delicious, my stomach is now grumbling!
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?
The series of photos are so beautiful in this post Tricia!
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.
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?
I loved the post. You’re lucky to visit such serene and wild places.
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. :)
great story but you really do not need to take the plant’s roots
next time leave it in the forest
Greetings from Istria
Glad you enjoyed the piece, Kost, and good to know about the root too. Thanks for sharing.
Did you forage for asparagus in Istria this spring?